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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tug of War

One of the challenges of being a parent is trying to negotiate the balance between maintaining control over your children, trying to protect them and shape them into compassionate, responsible adults, and encouraging their independence and supporting their individuality.

Big A is "Quirky" and this sometimes leads us to butt heads. She wants to wear purple socks, striped pants and and orange shirt and have 3 ponytails. I just want her to wear the perfectly coordinated outfit I picked out for her, with her hair neatly brushed into one ponytail with a hair elastic that matches the outfit.

At first I wondered if I was getting too caught up in worrying what others would think of ME if my child dressed this way. But I have begun to realize that I don't really care about that...I worry about Big A being ostracized by the other kids. I clearly remember how painful it is to be rejected by your peers, and I will do anything to try and avoid my children having to go through that. Of course this is something I probably cannot do.

The irony is, although Big A is very needy and clingy with Adam and I, this does not come from general self-consciousness or shyness. In fact, she shows little concern with what other kids think. In addition, she has not yet had any problems with other kids. We get nothing but glowing reports from her school and daycare about how she interacts with the other kids and they seem to like her. She has already formed a little clique with 3 other girls and has not reported any teasing, bullying, exclusions or colluding either within or outside this group.

So really it's me that has the problem and I need to let go.

The past few weeks of project "Say no to tantrums" with Little A has gone very well. Why oh why did I not learn the importance of being firm sooner???

She no longer expects any snacks when I pick her up from daycare and I no longer expect that there is any food or toy I can bring that will make her behave in the stroller on the way home. Why? She desperately wants to walk.

Before I had kids, I fantasized about taking long, leisurely strolls with my kids sitting placidly in the stroller, stopping to sip a latte while they just looked at me silently. After all, I saw other kids doing that while their parents relax and re-caffeinate.

Ha! That never happened with either one! They both have always hated the stroller and have protested having to be in it constantly. Looking on the bright side, at least my kids were born liking physical activity! But it did irk me the other day when Big A said she wished she could be a little baby again so she could get pushed home in a warm, weather-covered stroller, like Little A (who was loudly protesting), instead of having to walk home in the cold. I reminded her that she screamed almost every day too and from daycare while I pushed her in the stroller.

Although allowing her to walk makes me anxious (what if she darts into traffic?), I finally gave in and allowed Little A to walk home from Big A's school after we picked her up yesterday. My screaming, grouchy, sullen toddler was instantly transformed into a ray of sunshine. She was so happy she was beside herself. She allowed Big A to hold her hand the whole way, and held my hand part of the way.

I was surprised how briskly she could walk and we only ran into trouble once when she wanted to cross a busy street on her own (I had to pick her up and endure her frantic screams while everyone looked at me like I was torturing my child). She was jubilent and showed her pleasure by repeatedly flinging her arms around Big A and I for hugs and kisses. Oddly, she has suddenly started saying, "No bites!" after she kisses us, which has prompted me to wonder who she HAS been biting lately...

In any case, not giving in when Little A screams for something she can't have or has a tantrum has been very effective at decreasing the frequency of this behaviour.

The only thing I am still really struggling with is how to mediate the fights between the girls. Their adoration for one another is clear, but like any siblings, they battle too. The minute one of them has food or a toy, the other wants it. I have had to break up frequent tug-of-wars between them that result in said item being taken away and me telling them to stop fighting. But lately I have been troubled by this.

I vividly remember feeling the injustice of having my parents order my brother and I to stop fighting and refusing to listen to our claims about who was instigating the fight and who is the innocent victim (I was always the victim, of course). As a kid, I felt that there was right and wrong and my parents should not punish us both, but should side with the child who was right (which was always me).

Yesterday morning I was already in a bad mood because Big A insisted on having me pour her a huge bowl of raisin bran just so she could pick out all the raisins. Soon after, I heard screaming that escalated to crying. Little A had grabbed Big A's bowl (not because she wanted the cereal, but just because she wanted to piss her off) and Big A was upset. Without a word, I took away the bowl. Big A started screaming and protesting and things escalated. She refused to put on her shoes and she was rude and disrespectful while I tried to get everyone out the door. I told her daddy and I were going to discuss a suitable punishment for this inappropriate behaviour.

But all day it bothered me. Did I handle the situation correctly?

I decided that if I didn't want Big A to fight with Little A over food and toys, I need to tell her what she should do when Little A grabs her stuff. So when I picked her up from daycare, I told her that next time this happens, I want her to let go of whatever it is that the girls are battling over, come directly to me and let me handle it. A better solution yesterday could have been to simply pour Big A another bowl of raisin bran. Then I could have sat down with Little A and explained to her that she is not to take her big sister's food while she is eating. Then there would not have been a tug-of-war resulting in spilled cereal, pushing, shoving and screaming, Big A would have gotten what she wanted, and (hopefully) Little A would have learned something about what is, and is not acceptable behaviour.

So I made a mistake, but I learned from it.