M has been really been exercising her right to be in control lately. Her response to everything is “I don’t wanna”. Last night at bedtime, I tried to get her to wear pajamas. “I don’t wanna wear pajamas, I don’t wanna dressed”. She reluctantly agreed to wear an Elmo pajama shirt with shiny buttons, but when it came to pants, of any kind, she really dug her heels in.
If there’s one part of parenting I truly loathe, it’s physically restraining or physically forcing a child to do something. Holding down arms, or legs, or dragging a human being around feels so terrible to me. For M, I can see that it’s a matter of dignity. When we physically force her to do something against her will, I see her spirit curl up and die a little. I see the agony in her mind as she perceives herself to be violated. So, often, I “give in”, or decide that it’s not worth sending her a message that she is not the one who makes decisions about her own body. That’s a message I just really don’t want to send to anyone, let alone a little girl.
Why is it that we applaud grown-ups, especially grown women, for making their own decisions about their body, for saying NO loudly and forcefully when they are being made to do something that feels wrong to them, and yet we force our children to comply to whatever request we make? If M doesn’t want to wear pants, if she feels more natural and comfortable without pants, well… she’s not the only person in the world who likes to sleep naked! Who am I to pin her body down while she cries and force the pants on? What’s more important, her wearing pants because that’s what I deem is appropriate sleepwear, or her learning that she is capable of making decisions about her own body, and that she not only can make them, but should?
Yes, she needs to sleep on a pad to keep the mattress from getting peed on in the night. She didn’t want to sleep in my bed, even. She wanted to sleep on the couch! At first I insisted on the bed, but then… ok, she wants to sleep on the couch. There have been many times in my life when I wanted to fall asleep on the couch! So I covered my half-naked child up with a blanket, gave her her milk, and her bears, and she was asleep within minutes. I waited a half hour, and transferred her back to the bed, with the pad under her, then put a diaper on. And I felt really good about it, even though I “gave in”. It felt right.
Another situation where this comes up is getting into, and out of, the car seat. Usually when she gets home from school, M refuses to get out of the car. So lately, I’ve been locking up my make up and wallet (stuff she’ll make a huge mess with or lose) and just letting her play in it. It’s not like she has the key and can drive away!
I’m grateful to all of the reading, the blogs and books, that have led me to look carefully at the messages that I send my daughter about the value of her opinions, her feelings, and her decisions. I’m glad that I can sometimes see when it’s only about control, and not about safety or necessity. I still have a lot to learn, and always will, but I feel so much better about parenting these days than I used to!