Bear with me on this post…it’s long…it starts off sounding like I’m telling you my child is perfect but I promise it’s an honest post about parenting.
I have an inherently good child. She is kind. She is thoughtful. She is more compassionate than most adults I come across. She sees the beauty in places I’m too busy to look. She makes us cards, writes us notes and is quick to tell us what great parents we are. She skipped the terrible twos. We breezed through the trying threes. I can only remember two tantrums she ever had by age 5. I did not take this for granted. I was not smug about it. Because I knew the wheels would fall off the wagon at some point…they have.
In the past few months she has become defiant and if I’m being honest…bratty at times. I understand she’s her own person. I know she has an opinion, she is, after all, my child. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with her voicing her opinion if she does so with respect. However, lately she’s been downright defiant and disrespectful. Not all the time but enough that it needed to be addressed. Mike will tell her to do something as simple as getting in the bath. If she responds, it’s usually with, “NO! I don’t want to!” Most of the time she just ignores any request that is made of her. It’s frustrating and becoming more frequent. She acts as if she’s running the show and she kind of is.
Then comes the whining, the begging, the negotiating and if none of those work…the complete meltdown shows up to the party. And all of this usually comes in the morning, when I’m on my own with her. I ask her to brush her teeth. She says no. I tell her to brush her teeth…we have to go…we’re going to be late. She responds with, “If you give me $5, I’ll brush my teeth.” I say no. She says, “You’re the meanest mom in the world!” I get increasingly frustrated and repeatedly ask her to brush her teeth. It usually ends in me yelling and her crying and I’m brushing her teeth for her so we can get out the door. Brushing the teeth is just the example I’m using here…but it’s pretty much anything we ask her to do. Get dressed, do her homework, clean up, take a bath, turn off the tv. You name it, the answer is no and she’s ready to fight with how unfair we are.
I cannot live like this. Mike cannot live like this. Ava cannot live like this. Our house has become a war zone in the mornings. Half the time she’s crying before we leave the house and I’m crying after I drop her off at school. I hate that I’ve raised my voice and then the mom guilt kicks in. I’m sure that I’ve damaged her psyche beyond repair…of course I know this isn’t true…most of our interactions are fun and loving. I know we’re good parents. I know we praise her and love her and give her the attention she deserves. I know we provide a stable and safe environment where we encourage her to learn and grow and love.
I’ve reached the end of my rope. I know I have to regain control. She talks back and is defiant because we have allowed it to happen. I don’t think we were even aware at first…we never experienced tantrums or defiance at 2 or 3. At first when she started acting out we figured she was tired or it was a bad day or she was transitioning to first grade. It never occurred to us that we were creating a pattern. We ask her to do something, she says no, we repeat, she says no, we raise our voice, she either does it or we do it for her. So basically she knew that until we raised our voice she still had time to continue negotiating and that we weren’t serious yet. We first decided to start with a marble jar reward system and it worked for the first week brilliantly…the second week was mediocre…this week it didn’t much matter to her if she got a marble when she brushed her teeth. Although on Friday when it’s time for allowance I’m sure there will be a giant meltdown because she wants more money that she simply didn’t earn.
So I found this parenting book on Amazon that had received rave reviews. I bought it and read it in a few short days. Mike read the parts that he needed to read. We discussed it last night and the plan went into action. Basically the book works on an “If ______, then_______” strategy. So I asked her to please brush her teeth before bed. She said, “No. I don’t want to.” So I told her, “If you do not brush your teeth now, we won’t read your library book before bed.” She said, “I don’t care.” What she really meant is, “You’ve said this before and when I throw a big enough fit and you’re tired of hearing me scream you give in.” I could hear it in her voice. She simply did not believe me. She had no reason to as we’ve both been pretty bad at following through with consequences.
So she didn’t brush her teeth. When it was time for bed she went to get her library book. I calmly told her that we wouldn’t be reading the library book tonight because she didn’t brush her teeth. I told her to use the restroom and come to bed. I heard her in the bathroom…first she brushed her teeth, then she flossed, then she used her tongue scraper. I honestly felt bad for her. Surely she thought that being this thorough would earn her the privilege of reading the library book because the girl never flosses without a fight. She came into her room and said, “I brushed my teeth, flossed and scraped my tongue. Can we read my library book now?” I told her, “I’m sorry sweetie but we can’t read your library book. I told you earlier that if you didn’t brush your teeth when I asked that we couldn’t read the book. You chose not to listen so you don’t get the privilege tonight.” You guys…World War III broke out.
It was 41 minutes of her crying, pleading, begging, offering me money…she started at a dollar and was up to a million dollars within minutes. I ignored all of it. I stayed with her but would not respond to any of her requests or what soon became demands. She told me I was the meanest mom in the world. She told me that I was being unfair. She just kept hurtling things and I just kept quiet. It was the hardest 41 minutes of my life. After about 30 minutes I told her that if she didn’t stop crying that I would leave her room and give her time to calm down. She kept crying. I left. She stopped crying. I went back in and she was in her bed reading the library book! How I remained calm at this point is beyond me. But I did.
I asked her for the book. She handed it over and then said, “It doesn’t matter. When you leave I’ll just get another book off my bookshelf.” I said, “Actually you won’t because I’m taking all the books out of your room.” She said, “You can’t do that.” I said, “I most certainly can.” I called Mike in and we started moving the books out of her room. She was shocked and just said, “Okay mommy. I get it. You can move all of the books out of my room. Please stop.”
We moved quite a few of the books out of her room. Enough to make the point. It would be so easy to just read her the book and have this whole thing end. I know that. Mike knows that. But now I also know that is where the problem originated from. If she doesn’t get her way she cries until she does. She tries every trick in the book. She wins every stand off. And we just can’t do this anymore. This is not the way I want to parent. I don’t want us to be angry with each other. Finally…after 41 minutes I walk into her room. She says, “I’m sorry I didn’t do what I was supposed to do when you asked because now I don’t get to read my library book.” I hugged her and told her I was sorry she didn’t do what she was supposed to do either but now it was time for bed. I told her that I loved her. She asked if she got up and did her morning chores before school if we could read the library book before we left the house. I said, “If you do your chores and are ready to go by 7am, then I will read your library book before we leave.” She said she understood.
Then…she broke my heart a little. I put her to bed every night. Last night she asked me to leave. She said she would rather put herself to bed. I went and sat in the bathroom attached to her bedroom and cried while texting a good friend who knows all about parenting and the challenges it brings…a woman who is honest and real…a woman who’s parenting style I admire….a woman who says, “I’ve been there.” But the most profound thing she said to me last night was, “[Some parents] are the type that always have to hold things together. I just can’t connect to that. Our vulnerabilities are what bring us together. I wish more people understood that.” I wish more people understood that too. Being a good parent doesn’t mean having perfectly behaved children. If children were perfectly behaved then parenting would be useless. To me being a good parent means continuously seeking out new ways if old ways aren’t working. It’s having the courage to reach out to friends and be vulnerable. It’s knowing that sometimes the right way isn’t always the easy way. We have many more beautiful moments in our family than bad moments…but when we reach times of struggle it’s nice to know that there’s other moms out there who get it.
Eventually I heard a little voice say, “Mama? Can you please come back? I tried to go to sleep alone but my bed isn’t the same when you’re not here.” I may or may not have done a flying leap from the bathroom into her bed.
I know this isn’t the last battle we’ll have. I know there will be more. But I’m hopeful. I know I can be strong when she’s pushing every button I have. I know I can hold my ground and remain calm. I know I can manage my emotions even when hers are out of control. I can be the example she needs when every emotion of hers is overflowing.