Yesterday I was listening to Scott Rodgers (of themindfulparent.org) talk about resistance in parenting. The inevitable “no” that we say to our kids and the inevitable resistance with which that “no” is met. And then the way that we dig into our response. As though there was something immutable about our response. How often do we say no to our children when in fact there may be other possibilities? And what are we modeling in any given moment?
My daughter is a master of negotiation because so often in our house we invite her to negotiate with us. This is not necessarily something that I was brought up knowing how to do. And even today, negotiation always brings up a good deal of fear. But for my kid negotiating is how you reach compromise. Often when I say no she comes up with an alternative. I like to think that I’m teaching her good problem solving skills.
Recently we were going to pick up her friend to carpool to school. This means that in addition to E.s regular car seat, we would use the booster seat that we have borrowed from friends. E. woke up in the morning insisting that she wanted to sit in the booster seat. I said no, when she is in my car she can sit in her own car seat. Because it’s safer. Not missing a beat, E. said that it would be safer for her friend to sit in the car seat than the booster. Then she started screaming at me about wanting to use an old car seat for her friend. Somehow she got in her head that it was about no one sitting in the booster seat. I wasn’t buying this, I didn’t want to go out to the garage in the snow and look for the old car seat. No, your friend can sit in the booster and you can sit in your car seat.
After more yelling and telling me that I didn’t love her, she realized that if she couldn’t negotiate with me, maybe she could negotiate with her friend. My friend will let me sit in the booster. She loves me and she will let me have my way. While internally I was impressed with this line of thinking, out loud what I said was: Sorry, your friend doesn’t get to make this decision.
Still mad at me. Her third try was the best yet. Well, what if we split the difference? I’ll ride in the booster over to my friend’s house and then she can sit in the booster to school?
Hmm. Did I mention that my kid knows how to negotiate? I stop and think about this proposal. It’s not unreasonable. But I just want to keep things simple this morning. And somehow the more she whines and fusses, the less I feel like “giving in.” Honey, I say as gently as I can muster, the more you fuss about this the more I can’t actually give you what you want. This is a mean trick. I know. But it’s one that we often use. I don’t negotiate with terrorists. If you can’t present your argument calmly I’m not going to consider it. So she takes a big breath and tries again. More calmly. Still no.
Finally we get in the car. I can’t even find the f@#$%g booster chair that has taken up so much of our morning conversation. Well, we’ll just go without it.
I leave my daughter in the car as I go and collect her friend. Who has come equipped with her own booster chair. We put the booster chair in the back seat, next to my daughter’s car seat and strap her friend in. We drive to school. There are no more comments about the car seat. Ever.
More often these battles end with some sort of compromise. I’m not a big believer in saying no for the sake of saying no, and I’d actually rather save no for the big things, where safety is concerned. I also want my daughter to know that I can be reasonable, that I’m open to the conversation when we have different opinions. And sometimes no just means no.
The difference is usually what’s going on inside me. Why does her sucking on an old teething toy drive me insane? Stop it! I stop the car on the side of the road and grab the teething toy out of her hand. She wails. And I examine my motives. What is this about? Why can’t she have this in her mouth? What is it that I am objecting to? And what if she really is teething (a recent visit to the doctor’s office for an ear ache confirmed that her molars are coming in). How does this response give her the space to make decisions that feel good for her body? There are so many things that go through my head in this moment after saying no. Maybe I’m overthinking the whole thing but I want my daughter to feel good about making choices for herself. Really I was hoping that she would be able to hold the teething toy and not suck on it, but clearly that was just too much of a temptation so I stepped in and took the temptation away. At the same time I took away my daughter’s ability to self-regulate and sent the silent message that I don’t trust her to self-regulate. Or is this just reading too much into the situation?
What do you do when your kid is doing something that drives you crazy? What are the messages that you say to yourself? What do you say out loud to your kid?