How many times have you found yourself in a full-out battle with your child? And not over something important, but over some silly little thing that honestly isn’t worth a fight. But here you are, afraid to give in or back down on your word. Stuck dueling over something that you realized too late doesn’t even really matter. But you can’t go back on your word now, right? That’s what the parenting books you read said. That’s what your mom friend said. That’s what your grandma said. You can never give in to your child throwing a fit. That will spoil her. You have to be in charge. You have to win.
With my first child I started off like this. When Mama says no, that means no. Period.
And do you know what that got us? Constant power struggles. Constant fits. Constant tears and frustration for both of us.
How would you feel?
How would you feel if your husband never changed his mind, regardless of your needs or wants? How would you feel if your boss “laid down the law” and with no room for negotiation?
Wouldn’t you want to throw an adult temper tantrum?
That’s just not how people relate to each other! Human interactions are full of give and take. We find solutions. We compromise. We talk it out. We negotiate. We make sure everyone is taken care of.
So why is it so different when it comes to our children?
Can Giving In be the Right Choice?
Do you always carefully think through everything you say before you say it? Consider every angle before giving an answer?
‘Cause I sure don’t!
I’ll be busy with the dishes when a little voice asks to watch a movie, or eat ice cream, or blow bubbles outside. “No. Not now.” I’ll absently say without even really noticing. Then after a minute I wonder, why on earth did I say no? What’s so wrong about icecream? Often the child asks again before I realize my answer was unfounded.
Should I stick with my “no” on principal? Show my child who’s boss? Teach her not to nag?
Or go find her, apologize, tell her I changed my mind, and let her see that Mama is human and makes mistakes too?
Are We Better than God?
I often hear Christians using the bible to support their “no negotiations” stance. After all, it says to obey and honor your parents, right? Won’t giving in just teach your child to nag? Thus disrespecting you? Good Christian children must be taught to accept Mommy’s answer, the first time and without complaint! (here’s what I wrote about obedience)
Hold on. Let’s look at how our Heavenly Father handles this with us. Does God demand we not nag him? Does He staunchly refuse to change his mind? Does He refuse to negotiate?
In Genesis 18:16-33 Abraham executes a preschooler-worthy negotiation with God.
In John 2:1-12 Jesus changes His plan for the whole timeline of Salvation, at the request of His mother.
In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells a parable encouraging us to nag God constantly, even after He ignores or refuses our first requests.
So the God of the universe is willing to negotiate and compromise with His children…
Shouldn’t we do the same?
We just got back home from a long road trip. Well, it’s long now. The drive to Grandma’s house that took us 5 hours before kids takes us 7 hours now. That’s a long time for everyone to be in the car!
On the way down there, we had just stopped for food and fuel. Back on the freeway, I was driving to give my husband a “break.” Ha! Sitting in the second row, with a baby beside him and 2 small children behind him was anything but restful! In the rear view mirror I watched from safety as he handled a 3-year-old moment.
“I want the big cookie please.” the almost-3-year-old said from the 3rd seat. We had come out of the truck stop loaded up with goodies: caffeine for parents, and chicken nuggets and a giant cookie for the kids.
“Okay, after you finish your chicken.” Dada said.
“I finished! I don’t want chicken anymore.” she called cheerfully as she tried to hand him her nuggets.
“You need to eat it all gone. Then cookie.”
What followed was a crisply breaded and chocolate chip WWIII. She wasn’t going to eat her chicken. Period. And if it was within her reach, it would be on the floor. He wasn’t going to give her the cookie. Period. No matter how angry her screams at him. Stalemate. She threw a massive fit until finally she needed a break.
After the dust settled, we drove on in silence for several minutes. Then, our little girl broke down in the most pitiful, gut wrenching sobs. “What’s wrong sweetheart?”
“I’m so sad because I don’t get my cookie.” she said.
Matthew and I exchanged looks in the mirror and smiled. She was having a hard day. She was tired. She was stressed. “How about a little piece of cookie before your chicken?” Dada asked as he broke off a piece and handed it back.
“Oh! Thank you Dada!”
…A half minute later: “Can I have my chicken now?”
My kids are a perfect mirror for me to see my own behavior, good or bad.
When I’m snappy, unyielding and impatient with them, that’s how they act toward each other.
But when I’m patient, kind and generous, they are too. (Well, within reason… they’re still kids!)
The way we treat our children really does lay the foundation for how they will treat others throughout their lives. And knowing how to relate to others in kindness is, after faith formation, one of the most valuable treasures they can have.
Whenever the doubt creeps in, and I start hearing the cultural voices that say gentle parenting “spoils” them, I just watch my kids. As they interact, I try to notice the dynamics and themes. And every time I see them yield to the other, compromise, work things out, it just reaffirms that: