I have what most parents would call a “strong-willed” daughter. Honestly, though, she’s just a typical three-year-old. It takes a lot of work to understand that she’s just trying to test her boundaries and determine what she can and can’t get away with. This actually is no different from what many of us continue to do beyond the toddler stage. How much can I talk to my friends in this teacher’s classroom? How late can I be to work before someone says something? Except, like any kid her age, she’s testing boundaries for any and every decision in her life because she’s legitimately seeking answers.
And it is EXHAUSTING. It’s so tempting to just throw in the towel when she does it. The easy thing to do when she pushes back against our demands is to buckle, to give in and say “It’s fine.” But what tends to happen is that this process has a snowball effect that turns into uncontrollable tantrums, ultimately leading to a full-blown personality that my husband and I aren’t going for.
I ask myself about the type of person she’ll become years from now and how responsible I am for that now. Remembering that her older brothers went through the same thing and moved past it is reassuring. It’s just a phase, and she’ll have to learn. But it’s messy in the process.
My husband and I are constantly searching for a balance between the idea of “Pick Your Battles” and “Don’t Give Them an Inch.” These ideas came to a crossroads recently over a hash-brown of all things. Yes, you read that correctly. A hash-brown.
Recently, we grabbed a quick drive-thru breakfast on our way out of town. They had accidentally given us one extra hash-brown, so we offered it to our daughter, knowing she would love it.
This is probably a good time to mention that we have a weird rule about food in our house. The kids are in no way obligated to like all food, but they must try it before they make a proclamation about not liking it. Always. They may never say, “Ooh, I don’t like that!” before they’ve ever even given it a try. Nope.
Sure enough, as soon as we asked if she’d like it, she committed a cardinal sin: “Yuck! I don’t WIKE that!”
(Sigh) Well. Now we have a decision to make.
Sticking to our food policy, my husband said, “Try it first.”
And that was it. Simple enough, but there’s a lot to this statement. Once it’s out, it can’t be taken back. Once he gave the command, we must follow through. I even groaned, knowing what was on the horizon. We certainly pick our battles, but once we issue a directive clearly, we also must–MUST–follow through. We don’t have to enter every battle, but we must win every battle we enter.
The way we see it, it may lead to a tantrum and tears now, but it will save us innumerable ones later. From the moment my husband gave the three-word order, her fate was sealed: she was going to take a bite of that damn hash-brown come hell or high water. And thus began the Hash-brown Showdown.
It wasn’t pretty. There were tears. We assured her that her tablet would be taken. We told her she couldn’t get her chocolate milk until she tried it. And then we let her decide. And I know how petty it sounds–it’s a fast-food side item, lady! Gimme a break!
We kept in mind that The Battle of the Wills manifested itself in a hash-brown this time, but how else have we seen or would see the same battle in other forms? Shoes in the morning? Holding hands in a parking lot? Following a teacher’s directions? Any number of decisions that parents make, especially in regards to our kids’ safety. Literally as I’m writing this, my daughter is in time-out for not following my husband’s directions about riding her bike. He told her not to ride down the driveway without him, and she did.
We even explicitly tell our kids that our job is to help them make good decisions and keep them out of trouble–that the things we tell them to do are to keep them safe, healthy, and happy. But we also directly tell them that “If you try to fight us, Mommy and Daddy will always win.” Thankfully, they usually come to fully understand this around their fourth birthdays.
And we did win. The Hash-brown Showdown came to an end when she ultimately, inevitably took a bite. Afterward she exclaimed, “I LOVE IT!” and inhaled the entire thing. Just like I knew she would.