You know that phrase, “Pick your battles?” Oh, if you’re a parent, I’ll bet it’s not so much a phrase as a mantra. That and “this too shall pass” have gotten many a parent through some dark hours.
I don’t like to pick my battles. More to the point: I want to pick ALL of the battles. Not because I enjoy fighting. I don’t. But I want to be in charge. And I want it done my way. Let’s face it; my job is to turn these kids into functioning members of society, and that means inflicting my will on them until they stop acting like crazed baboons.
Still, sometimes I decide to try this whole “picking my battles” thing. It rarely ends well.
Take, for example, the case of The Playroom. My spoiled brats are lucky enough to have a room completely dedicated to their altar to materialism. It’s actually an all-season porch, and I would love to have an all-season porch at my disposal, but I love not having legos all over my family room more.
I used to insist on daily tidying of the playroom. It involved lots of whining and cajoling and yelling and in the end, I did most of the cleaning. The playroom was clean, but I was cranky. And the children were afraid.
I decided to PICK MY BATTLES! And so I decided that I would PICK not to BATTLE them on the state of the playroom! Yessir! I would allow them to wallow in their filth and not be able to find their stuff and they would discover the consequences of their actions and I would just let it go and be calm and not even say I TOLD YOU SO when they—inevitably—saw the light.
The best laid plans….
The result of this strategy is that the children spend approximately 37% of their time crying and whining that they can’t find [some very important item] and they really NEED [some very important item] and will I help them FIND [some very important item]? (Answer: No. You cannot find it because the playroom is a pigsty. Clean it up and you will find [worthless piece of crap].)
Although this means I spend 37% of MY time hoping that they will get a clue before I give up and go lie down in traffic, it’s not a terrible system.
The problem is when a certain young lady decides that the status quo simply isn’t meeting her needs and decides to take matters into her own hands. And then I happen to come downstairs and find the children playing dollhouse in my living room (the ONE ROOM of the house they are not to hang out or otherwise spread their stuff out in) because, after all, there isn’t any room to PLAY in the playroom.
What happens then is quite simply what I like to refer to as “Mama losing her shit.”
It’s all kind of blur, what exactly happened. I believe it started with “OH. HELL. NO.” and ended with “… and then I am coming in here with a garbage bag and THROWING AWAY THE REST.”
While I lay down on the couch with a cold compress and my beloved vapors, somehow the playroom was magically cleared and set to rights.
Could I just enjoy the moment? Appreciate the fruits of their labors? No, I could not. I congratulated both kids on a job well done and then said:
“Now WHY do I have to yell and scream and get angry to get you two to clean up? Wouldn’t this have been SO MUCH NICER if you had just kept it clean in the first place?”
My children exchanged looks, silent commiseration. Chickadee cleared her throat.
“Yes, Mama, you shouldn’t have to yell. We should be better about cleaning up. But you know, it’s clean now, so you can stop talking.”
I sure am glad I let them figure it out all on their own, and they came through it with such tremendous character growth. Another job well done.