Monday, May 9, 2011


I am standing on the sidewalk glaring at Elli while she glares right back at me.  We have a long walk ahead of us and I have told her that she can have a ride on my shoulders for part of it - but not until she has walked 4 blocks on her own.  She has decided that walking 20 meters is plenty and now she is entitled to be carried the rest of the way home.  Somehow although I feel like I should be able to address this situation calmly and rationally I just can't and my mind is filled with twisted visions of punting a unruly child into traffic.  I have tried asking, I have tried giving her time to come around to my point of view and I have tried explaining.  Nothing has worked.  Finally I end up tossing her over my shoulder in a fireman's carry and walking down the road.  My mind churns with doubt - what exactly should I do?  She is screaming and wailing the whole way but would rather be carted than walk so I am really faced with either standing on the street corner until she is willing to move on her own, carrying her home over my shoulder or initiating some greater level of violence.

It is amazing how *trapped* this makes me feel.  I will not live my life as a parent a slave to my child's whims so I simply will not sit on the sidewalk waiting for her to decide to obey.  Never mind the fact that she would use this as leverage to do absolutely anything she wanted and make my life a misery but I would be entirely derelict as a parent; children must have boundaries.  On the other hand I absolutely hate the idea of constantly carting Elli around over my shoulder with her screaming and attacking me.  This isn't good for her or me to say nothing of the passerby.  Just putting her on my shoulders is just as bad since then I have established that she has absolute authority over my body and that tantrums on the sidewalk are a great tactic.  I know I can just grab her ear, twist it around and drag her along with me.  This is how things would have been done in years past and after a fairly short walk with her ear feeling like it was going to be ripped off I am confident she would walk on her own... but I really don't want to be inflicting serious pain on her multiple times a day to get her to obey basic instructions.

My natural inclination is toward demanding obedience by any means necessary.  Something very deep in my brain insists that she must obey and violence in the pursuit of obedience is acceptable.  This creates so much conflict because Wendy and I often don't see eye to eye on these things.  Wendy is the softy of the two of us and wants love, patience and a gentle touch to solve all problems while I instinctively play the hardass.  I know she would find ear twisting and dragging to be unpalatable at best and although I usually do things more her way than mine there are times when my spirit of compromise is very severely tested.  Is it okay to have a different set of rules entirely when Mom is around and when she is not?  How do I balance my own gut instincts and the compromises we reach when both of us are around?  The rest of the world has opinions on the subject but quite frankly it is challenging enough making rules between just two parents and one child - I have no intention of giving anyone else a vote.

I stand in front of a pouting child and I am thinking about the fact that she makes me so frustrated, that she has cost us $225,000 so far at age 4.5 (I calculated it one day awhile ago) and that she creates conflict in my marriage.  I need to be thinking of how to calm her down and jolly her along and my mind just can't focus on those things with all the messes swirling around in there.  The trouble with raising children is exactly this I think; you might be able to sit around and come up with ideal solutions but you don't make decisions in ideal situations.  You end up having to decide what to do when you are hungry, late, mad at someone else, and tired.  You fight because you are just so mad that the little person won't or can't notice that *you* need a little slack right now!  That slack and those ideal conditions are not the norm in real parenting though because children act up at the times you most wish they would not and then you must come to grips with the fact that you lack the implacable will and unending patience you imagined you possessed.  Child rearing is very much about good enough for right now and not so much about perfection, which is hard when you have as much of a perfectionist streak as I do.


  1. I think a major part of the frustration you have stems from your own perspective of how your child acts. Elli is old enough to make decisions (probably not good ones) but certainly ones that have a reasonable effect on her happiness.

    So why not give her a vote in her actions? Obviously she will make some doozies, but those are the learning experiences that are in safe environments where children can learn from. It also gives you ways of punishing her without resorting to physical abilities (which I don't disapprove of, but would get tired of).

    Honestly, I think I lean towards Wendy on this. Obedience is good, but self-monitoring and decision making is better... and to do that we need to learn from doing stupid things. Parenting is going to be time consuming, and giving kids responsibilities is going to take longer still, but that's how they learn what the real world is like.

  2. Ha,ha,ha. This one made me laugh. Maybe now Dad & I will appear in a better light for the (few!) times we weren't perfect. And just imagine the lifestyle we could be leading with all the money you 2 cost us! I'm thinking a beach house in each continent.

    One suggestion is to think, "what would Grandma W. do?". She is very creative and all about fun. I think she'd have had Elli skipping for one block, walking backwards for another, side-stepping, hopping on one foot, twirling, marching to the old war chant..."first they hired me, then they fired me, that's the reason I left, left, left". Or make up your own marching rhythm with each step matching the name of one of her school mates, or relatives, or animals. Dog, cat, horse, chicken, fish, owl, etc. That should be worth more than 4 blocks. When we were young and had to walk a mile or two we'd 'walk-a-pole, run-a-pole' (know what I mean?) and that went really fast. It may not be smart to run in the city unless you can keep up with her though. Think creative. Think fun. It really helps for both of your sanities.

  3. Children absolutely must not get a vote and they must understand that they do not. It is a great idea to give them autonomy whenever possible and respect their choices but actually letting them decide simply is crazy. Example: Elli and I are on the sidewalk with a half hour walk to get home ahead of us. We are expected for supper shortly and we are both tired and hungry. Elli demands to go to her Grandparent's house which is many hours walk away. However, she doesn't get a vote and we go home instead. If she asked to take a particular route home that takes us past a fountain she likes then I would grant that request but only one vote would be cast: mine.

    There are children out there who exist comfortably in an environment where no physical force is used and where they are always given time to come around to the adults way of seeing things rather than forced. There are also children who use and abuse that strategy by refusing to cooperate whenever adults are constrained. It is certainly true that different children necessitate different rearing techniques.

  4. Playing games to get her moving forward definitely works - at least 40% of the time. But once she's decided that she's in a battle of wills with you, there's no backing down. She's one of the stubbornest little kids out there. The trick is getting her moving forwards before she has engaged in battle...and that is super hard when you're tired and hungry and in a hurry. I'm not physically capable of carting her anymore, so I've got to be a bit more creative...but I can totally see how Sky just doesn't have the patience to deal with her sometimes...I wouldn't either if I had to pick her up from school everyday. Going places with me is a treat, and still she'll dig her heels in and resist up a storm just because she can. I think that's just who she is.

  5. Being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn? I can get behind that!

  6. I understand that there are situations where children don't get a vote... but there are certainly others where respecting her requests and idiosyncracies makes for learning moments.

    you say you need to be at dinner in 1/2 an hour. Why is there a fixed time limit? Is it because you are meating people or is it because you are hungry and that's when dinner time is? If elly has to go hungry because she missed dinner due to not walking, would that not serve to reinforce the idea that making decisions has consequences?

    How is her actions (no compromise and taking advantage of "constrained" situations) not a reflection of your own responses to her requests? Certainly you are the parent with the final word, but if you are unwilling to inconvenience yourself to difficult situations, how can you expect her to inconvenience herself to situations that she finds "unbearable"? you state with absolute certainty that childen do not get a vote, but under those circumstances, what choice does she have but to make your life miserable enough on everything so as to force you to concede small points to win major ones?

  7. I am more than happy to let Elli absorb the personal consequences of her making bad decisions. If she wants to skip dinner and play I let her and she has to deal with going to bed hungry. In that I entirely agree with you and I live very much the way you suggest.

    However, what I won't let her do is make decisions that make me and other people in her life unhappy on a whim. If my wife is going to be worried and hungry and I am going to be hungry and irritable for hours because I wanted to let Elli make a completely idiotic, selfish decision then I am failing as a parent. Children need to be given the latitude to make mistakes and learn from them but that latitude should not include making everyone else's life miserable too.

  8. But she already is impacting your life in a negative way. Instead of coming up with a plan that will possibly change how she makes decisions (hopefully in your favor) you instead remove the choice and yet still make youself irritable with the situation.

    I don't think you are failing as a parent to have your children make completely idiotic and selfish decisions. I think you're failing as a parent if you restrict your child's choices to the point where they are unable to see the consequences of their decisions.

  9. I think you are missing my point. I will state it again, to be clear. It is good and useful to let children make many decisions and let them suffer the consequences of their idiotic and selfish choices when those consequences are within the scope of what they can deal with and understand. I do that, as does any parent who wants to raise children who can deal with the world.

    It is *not* a good idea to let children make bad choices that will cause both them and other people substantial distress or be destructive in ways that are outside their abilities to understand or deal with. Letting a child who is not rational based on hunger, exhaustion and inexperience make a decision that will make many people miserable is foolish in the extreme.

  10. You've already stated that she's making your life miserable already with the actions she is taking... your issue with her actions is not really whether or not it inconveniences you but rather who should have the final say. And in the end, you are making Elly miserable in order to satiate your own desire for control. You cannot deal with a child as a rational, thoughtful adult. You should expect that she will test boundaries (which seem to be very tight) and be flexible enough to deal with them.

  11. Dealing with a child 'as a rational, thoughtful adult' is a concept that is preposterous. Children are not rational (as if adults even are... but more so) and are not and cannot be responsible for their actions. The idea that treating them as such is either feasible or correct is one that could only be dreamed up or supported by those without any actual experience in the matter.

    I dislike resorting to the 'you aren't a parent so you don't know what you are talking about' argument but it is entirely appropriate in this case. Have a kid, wait 4 years and come back.