Picking battles, one by one

Like most parents I know, I was an infinitely better mother before I actually had children. I was a career babysitter as a teen, and a nanny as a young adult. If there was one thing I KNEW, it was how to handle kids. So naturally I was going to be completely awesome at it and never have any issues with my own children.

Ahahahahahahaahaaaaaaaaaaaa. Yeah.

Parenting, first, a sharp and cranky clone of myself, and then second, an overly-sensitive yet completely rigid and filterless little ball of energy has certainly disabused me of any delusions of my superior child-rearing abilities. A dozen years of raising humans has taught me that most of what they do and think is dictated by the aliens controlling their brains, not through my loving interactions with them. (“Please stop singing that song over and over. I don’t want to have to stab you.”)

Only one mantra remains unchanged: Pick your battles.

(Well, that and “this too shall pass” and “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!”, so I guess it’s three. Details.)

The circumstances change and the rules shift, but I maintain that despite my flailing as Chief Shepherd Of Their Developing Lives I actually HAVE improved on this particular score. Just allow me a few minutes to pat myself on the back. You know, before some kid storms into my office here and tells me how much they hate me.

Battle: Clothing
Fight it? Only covertly

Neither of my children are willing to let go of outgrown items. Nothing pleases them more than a pair of pants suitable for crossing rivers, or unintentional belly shirts. Why? Possibly because they cause my eyes to bug out of my head. And my son, though not colorblind, is prone to odd color combinations… while my darling daughter loves nothing more than to dress head to toe in a single color. I smile around gritted teeth and say nothing. But I fish outgrown clothing out of their closets and laundry baskets and they disappear, like magic. And perhaps I sometimes still lay out my son’s next-day outfit for him at night. Because I’m NICE.

Battle: Food
Fight it? Never

Dinner is dinner, and your choices are to take it or leave it. The house rule is that you taste what’s on your plate. That’s it. There is no “clear your plate” rule, and when I’m making something I know someone isn’t terribly fond of, I make sure there are other more palatable options as well. Last night I made split pea soup for dinner and Monkey—who staunchly maintains an unwavering anti-soup policy—sniffed suspiciously at the crock pot and then asked if he could have an after-school snack. I fixed him a generous plate of salami and cheese and crackers, then later served him approximately 1/4 cup of soup at dinner. We understand each other. It’s so much more pleasant that way.

Battle: Hair
Fight it? Never

Hair grows. The fact that the children’s current hair choices (super-short for Chickadee and long for Monkey, OH NOES) appear to deeply offend their father is a fringe benefit, I’ll admit, but that was unexpected and really beside the point.

Battle: Tidy rooms
Fight it? With cooperation

We have tried umpteen different “systems” for keeping rooms clean and the reality is that we’ve yet to find anything that works for very long. And until I’m a paragon of neatness, myself (stop looking at my desk) (I mean, I’m sure it’s under there SOMEWHERE), it’s not reasonable for me to expect the kids to maintain cleanliness all on their own. We have cleaning days. I sometimes do a major clean-and-toss while they’re away. Sometimes I just close the doors and pretend I haven’t seen anything.

Battle: Chores
Fight it? Yes

Everyone in the family has chores. You don’t feel like it? Well, hey, neither do I. I guess you can pack your own lunch and drive yourself to school. Oh, you can’t do that? Well then I guess you need me to. And I need you to take out the garbage. Deal.

Battle: Lying
Fight it? To the death

This is the last battle in which I find myself still emotionally involved, possibly moreso than I should be. I love my children dearly, but they are pathological liars and it drives me INSANE. And no matter how many times I try to teach them that they’re at least going to have to get BETTER at it to have even a hope of getting away with it, they seem not to get the point. Are you a terrible liar? Try my handy Choose Your Own Liarpants Adventure to find out:

1) Your mother asks you if you brushed your teeth. You say yes. This is because:
A) You actually brushed your teeth, like you were supposed to.
B) You realize you were supposed to brush your teeth and hope not to get in trouble.

If you answered B, when pressed, you:
A) Admit that you hadn’t. You go straight upstairs to brush.
B) Reiterate that you absolutely DID brush your teeth.

If you answered B, when asked to come breathe on your mother, you:
A) Admit that actually, you haven’t brushed. Apologize. Go straight upstairs to brush.
B) Come breathe your putrid, unbrushed breath on your mother and continue insisting that you are completely minty fresh.

If you answered B, in the ensuing dark assurances that your dishonesty will cost you privileges and benefits, you:
A) Apologize. Cry. Brush your teeth while laden with sorrow and repentance.
B) Continue to insist you are truthful. First say you just didn’t use very much toothpaste, then insist you brushed, but without toothpaste. Cry about no one believing you.

If you answered B:
A) You are a terrible liar, my child, and also something of a dumbass.
B) Now you’ve gotten a consequence, AND a lecture, AND we are openly mocking you.
C) You are so, so sad. With the sadness. And the misunderstoodness. And the tragedy of it all.
D) All of the above. GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH.

Hey, on the up side… only ten or so more years of this stuff, right?


  1. StephLove

    I think that lying thing is going to be a tough one for me because my oldest child is utterly and completely honest. This means we are completely unbroken in and much more trusting than we should be of the younger child, who is sometimes truth-challenged.

  2. Alicia

    What is it with the tooth brushing? Do they want to savor the day’s eggs-toast-pasta-oranges-baked chicken in fear that they same flavor could never be recreated? Or that teeth are like bar soap…adding water makes it slowly disappear?
    And the lying! It starts so young! He’s only 4 and is getting pretty blaise about the whole thing already!

  3. Headless Mom

    Yeah, right you brushed your teeth. That’s why they are still orange from the Cheetos that you ate 8 hours ago, growing fuzz and possible actual hair from all of the organic material that remains.


  4. Jenn

    Just made my daughter change out of a belly shirt this morning. She claims it still fits because the sleeves are loose. Never mind that’s the style of the shirt. But once I mentioned we could give the offending shirt to the neighbor girl, everything was fine.

  5. Sara

    Oh! The lying liars and the untruths they tell! We fight to the death on that one too. And why is it that my children will argue to defend their untruth for minutes and minutes (very, very loooong minutes)longer than the actual task that they are lying about would have taken them to complete? They never see that logic. Tooth brushing? A two minute task. In the time they spend lying about it they could have brushed their teeth and the fuzzy teeth of five of their friends!

  6. Cheryl

    Hysterical! I can related on So. Many. Things. I also pretty much let them wear what they want, only drawing the line when 1) it’s 45 degrees and they’re trying to wear shorts and tee shirts or 2) when my son tries to wear his fave striped shirt with plaid shirts – hurts my eyes! Can’t do it!

    They also want to wear clothes that are too small – what is up with that? And yes – it takes longer to whine/lie about brushing teeth than it does to actually DO it!

    We also get the “not me” answer when questioned about something that’s been broken or a big mess has been made.


  7. Mara

    I remember lying about brushing my teeth… but I can’t remember WHY! As an adult I can’t think why my sister and I didn’t just brush. Were the legos just that much more important?

    Also LOLing at the hair offending the ex. Fringe benefit, indeed.

  8. MeganM

    My lying, un-brushed 10 year old just went back up stairs to change out of his to small belly shirt. This post is my life…

  9. Lucinda

    Oh my gosh. My son is a total liar! You could have described the nightly scenario in our house. LOL

  10. Heather

    Okay, I definitely laughed out loud (at school!) at the part about their hair maybe possibly not being Dad’s favourite thing. And the choose your own liarpants adventure. You’re rather brilliant, Mir :)

  11. Missy

    Ha, we have a Phillips Sonic toothbrush that you can hear run. My children will say that they have brushed their teeth, but I never heard the toothbrush going. So I say to my daughter that I didn’t hear the toothbrush going so she went back in to brush her teeth. I could hear it running, but it sounded really loud. I snuck in there to see what was up and she turned it on and sat it on the counter as she was looking in the mirror. REALLY people, you can take the time to go stand in the bathroom and turn on the toothbrush, but not put it in your mouth? I guess that would be too much work.

  12. Dawn

    Yes, only about 10 more years to go and then sweet, sweet peace.

    And then no more pants on fire. Unless you fall asleep with a lit cigarette in your hand.

    Is it a sign of how much we’ve changed as a society that I’m vaguely uncomfortable making a joke about smoking?

  13. My Kids Mom

    I agree with the lying issue. I’m trying this approach (right now. It may change.) “Did you brush your teeth?” “No” “Since I can still see cookie in your teeth, let me give you two choices. You may go brush your teeth. Or, you may have a consequence for lying… and then brush your teeth. The consequence would be x.” And as for your other issues, I’d agree on your take for all of them. We’re in the season of your-sweats-might-be-in-the-laundry-still answer so that I can hold them hostage as the weather gets too warm for wearing them.

  14. meghann

    For us a main battle is showers. I mean, when I can smell you from across the room, it’s TIME. And then said child acts like I am asking them to cut off a limb or throw out their legos.

    Totally with you on the food thing. That’s pretty much our system too. At our house, you don’t have to eat what I made for dinner, but heck if I’m making something else. (except if I’m making something I know they won’t like, then I will make something extra, like mac n’ cheese.) Whatever child turns their nose up at dinner is free to fix themselves a sandwich or some cereal. We also do the tasting thing, which actually worked last night. My 7 year old turned up her nose at the pot roast I made. I forced her to try it, and once she did, she ended up eating two full helpings, heh.

  15. Katherine

    I do ask my kids to clean their plates, however, if I know its something they don’t like, they get a very small helping. like 4 black beans or half a (tiny, tender) brussel sprout. Basically a taste, but I get to define a taste – otherwise they would declare a miscroscopic wave near their mouth to be a taste. I do not go for letting them make something else though. If you’re not hungry enough to eat the dinner I prepared, you’re not hungry enough to need something else.

  16. Katie in MA

    I only draw the line with clothing if it isn’t weather appropriate. If they’re inside the house and the girls want to run around sockless in a t-shirt during the middle of the winter, they can be my guest. I’m pretty sure they’ll ask for a sweatshirt if they’re cold. But no way am I letting them go off to school that way.

    Then again, they’re only 6 and 4. I have it easy – we haven’t even *begun* to battle.

  17. Scottsdale Girl

    I was not allowed options for dinner. Mom made it, you ate it or you went to your room to read. As the world’s pickiest eater from age toddler to 18 I read a LOT of books.

  18. dad

    Did I bring you up to publically call my grandchildren dumbasses?


  19. Ironic Mom

    I like to use the Empty-Threat approach to parenting. Clean up ALL your toys or Daddy’s going to vacuum them up. Well, I guess it’s not completely empty, since the little pieces would (and do) get sucked up. Still, fear is a great motivator.

    Great post!

  20. Casey

    I started lying back to my son. CRUEL I know but it cured him in less than a week. “Can we go to McDonald’s after school?!” “WHY YES!!” *after school* “oops, I lied. No Micky D’s” you can imagine the outcome. Took maybe a week, seriously. Sometimes you have to fight mean! :)

  21. Andrea

    I think I am going to forward this onto my husband because he choosed Fight It every time for every thing. It is getting us nowhere.

  22. txelz

    Ha ha, love your dad’s comment!
    We are firm believers in “pick your battles.” Fortunately our kids are still small, so the battles are smaller scale…for now. But, our philosophy is the same as yours for clothes, hair, eating, and chores. Thankfully we haven’t entered the realm of lying yet. My little one can’t even keep a secret, they went shopping with daddy for my Christmas present and she said “Don’t tell mommy, it’s a secret but we got you boots!” Choosing to believe she will never lie to me…hands in my ears on the river of denial here.

  23. Mare Martell

    ROFL @dad.

    I have no children, but if I did, those are pretty much the rules I’d have. I have, however, had a husband who was pretty much as you describe. He would go without bathing AND brushing of teeth. Same response if I’d ask him if he had. He was four years older than me. He would also grow his hair to great lengths. I can honestly say, I’d much rather your children than an adult that didn’t care about hygiene.

  24. anne

    Loved this post. We too, pick our battles.
    But the teeth? That was TOO funny.

  25. Karen

    Ahahahahahhahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…. wrong. It never ends. Never.

  26. Ann Menk

    When my kids were old enough to pick up after themselves (but far too lazy to do it), I employed the old “If I have to pick up your toys, you will not get them back”. I lived with an entire Barbie village set up in my livingroom for a week, and when my daughter refused to put it away, I picked it up. Little did she know that I took each and every doll, accessory, piece of furntire and Dreamhouse and packed them away in the trunk of my car. She was frantic when she did not find them. I let her believe for a month that I had thrown them away. I never had to pick up after her again. Then we got a new dog who thought anything on the floor was a chew toy and I never had to nag again.

  27. Tracy

    This is so funny. Only because, Been There, Done That and got a wonderful Daughter out of it. Believe me when I tell you, it gets better. Choosing your battle is the best attitude to take. Just a thought though, what happens when they get old enough to pack lunches and drive themselves to school…does that mean, NO more chores? Whatever happened to, “Because I said so!” haha

  28. JennyM

    I remember lying vehemently about stupid stuff like that. I have absolutely no idea WHY I did it — especially since the whole process was gross. I mean, I knew I was lying, my parents knew I was lying, I knew they knew I was lying, I knew it was going to end badly, they knew… etc., ad infinitum. All I can say is that I grew out of it and became a more or less reasonable, rational adult who is more than capable of recognizing that it’s a lot easier to just *DO* Pathetically Simple and Otherwise Inconsequential Task A than to go to these insane lengths to *KEEP FROM* doing PSOITA and then lying about it. I genuinely have no idea — perhaps it’s some boundary-testing psycholgical mechanism or something.

  29. Chuck

    My mother had two girls first, then me. She seemed to feel I tended to be more honest than my sisters growing up; I don’t know. I do know that I have a natural tendency to be honest so I sometimes can be fooled by a lie more easily than some…but usually if I catch a person lying more than once, we don’t stay friends. Definitely not an option with your kids, I know, but hang in there, Mir…they’ll be thanking you, someday, in about 15 years or so.

  30. Anna

    Recently, I was at the local rec center, watching my family play racketball. The next court over had a mom, dad, and teenage boy with the craziest hairstyle. I thought it was really awesome that he was able to express himself and his parents still went out in public with him. :)

  31. Therese

    Only 10 more years? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! They go to college, and then they graduate. Then they move back home because they maybe can’t find a job in their chosen field because the economy sucks. Then they stay out all night and can’t understand why you have called out the National Guard in the morning because you haven’t heard from them all night, and they don’t answer any of your calls and your imagination sees them dead in a ditch somewhere. Welcome to my life…..SIGH

  32. Flea

    My husband’s recently taken the Red Foreman approach with our boys as well. Almost 16 and 13 and they’re both grounded right now for lying. Blatantly. Gah! I think I’m liking the intentional lying back to them, though. Might try it.

  33. Adrienne Breaux

    I think you’ve definitely amassed a perfect list of which battles to fight and which ones don’t! And I totally know what you mean about the thinking you were a pro before kids…


  34. Lindsey Petersen

    Great post! Loved the expressive words of what it is really like to be a mom, (not the glamorized version in magazines and on tv.)

  35. carolyn

    My 17 year old daughter is just now consistantly telling the truth, even when she knows she will get in trouble. It is refreshing, and a long time coming. The 14 year old boy? Not so much yet. It will come though, I have faith.

  36. Kira

    Oh, no, I’m sorry. You forgot. You’re taking Sophia in about ten years. Sorry, sweetie. You should totally have it all figured out by then. Kisses!

  37. Lady M

    Really cool categorizations. We haven’t come to lying as a big issue yet (still working on complete sentences for the little one), but I working on making food a non-battle. Mostly it’s about reminding myself that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t eat something.

  38. mamaspeak

    My oldest is pretty much really honest. And if she isn’t being truthful, she’s an awful liar.

    My youngest came out lying. I swear. I had to start picking all my battles with her by age 1. She’s about be 4 and it’s only getting worse. I joke w/our friends that by the time she’s a teenager we’ll be old hats at this stuff. They’ll be freaking out over their kids & we’ll have been used to it.

    Please tell me I’m right.

  39. Dragon

    My Aspie daughter started throwing rocks at her friend because the friend lied to her. Want me to send her over to your house for a good Old-Testament style stoning of the liar?

  40. Heather

    I am so glad I don’t have the only lying liar McPants! I keep asking him if he thinks it might be much easier to tell the truth? I guess not!

    And can I just say, I love your dad! And if my dad asked me that question, I would say “yes, yes you did!”

  41. chris

    We have the same tooth brushing scenario here every single day. And as an added bonus we have the hair washing scenario, too! The latter perplexes me even more, because you are in there getting wet why would you pretend to wash your hair?

  42. Kristen

    I like the lying back to them suggestion, but I’d take the McDonald’s scenario a step further:
    [kid]: “Can we go to McDonalds?”
    [me]: “Absolutely.”
    [kid, after we don’t to go McDonald’s]: “I thought you said we could go to Mcdonald’s?”
    [me]:”We did go to McDonald’s.” [we didn’t]
    [kid]: “No we didn’t.”
    [me]: “Yes we did! We did go to McDonald’s! We did! Why don’t you ever believe me??? It’s not fair!]

  43. ramblin red

    OMG, I think we have the same children! The Lying is something I cannot stand either, and yet they continue to do it in the manner you described!

  44. Julie

    So nice to find i”m not alone in my parenting techniques and the way the children respond to them. I keep trying to put the too short pants away and my 6 year old keeps finding them and still wears them to school.Why can i not care like he does!

  45. Susan Getgood

    Oh god. This was my life this week. Everything but the hair and the tidy rooms thing.

    Plus we had 2 incidences at school.

    And I am on deadline for the book and have to go “La la la Can’t hear you saying how much you hate me. Need to focus.”

    4th grade sucks.

  46. Lynda O

    Kristen, that is rich… I can so see it with my now-24-year old too. Some days I still seek in vain for the truth.

    Parenting–the gift that keeps on taking.

  47. Rini

    I remember not wanting to brush my teeth. (I also remember my step-mother FEELING MY TOOTHBRUSH to catch me in the lie… After that, I always made sure to not only wet the toothbrush, but also stand in the bathroom for a reasonable amount of time with the water running, so that they would think I was brushing. Kids, hmm?)

    When I was a kid, I really couldn’t tell the difference between brushed and not-brushed. That nasty, fuzzy feeling? The disgusting taste? Absolutely was not noticed. Brushing my teeth just seemed like the most ridiculous thing for a person to make me do – especially when I didn’t have a single cavity anyway!!

    I require my kids to brush to create the habit, but I also totally get that they don’t understand the benefits yet…

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