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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?