We are late for nursery school. Again. Sophia is refusing to put on her sweater. Since I have already told her that she needs to put on the sweater, even though whether or not she wears the sweater is really not a big deal to me, I feel I can’t back down.
Kevin and I had a parenting discussion the other night. He noted that I have been some bargaining with Sophia: setting a boundary and then letting her negotiate me down from it. It’s true, I do this, particularly in front of others because I don’t like appearing like such a hard-ass all the time.
But when I’m alone, and there is no one I feel I need to appear sweet and understanding in front of, I turn into Mean Mommy.
Thus, when Sophia tells me, “I am NOT putting on that sweater.” I say, “Oh yes you are,” stick her in the depression formed by my crossed legs and thrust each of her arms into a sleeve. As I reach in front of her to fasten a button, she gets an arm free and hits me.
Yes. My daughter hits me.
I see red. “YOU DO NOT HIT,” I yell, remembering with shame that I used to say I couldn’t imagine ever yelling at Sophia. “YOU NEED TO GO CALM DOWN!” Why am I still yelling?
Because I need calm-down time.
I pick her up. She’s kicking and bucking in my arms as I carry her to the bedroom, drop her in her toddler bed, and tell her, “Take a few minutes to calm down.”
“I need Snakey-Pie to calm down!” she sobs.
I give her Snakey-Pie, turn out the light, close the door and go to the living room to take a few deep breaths.
I lost it that time. I am deeply disturbed by the fact that, sometimes, more and more frequently, I don’t enjoy parenting. Maybe because I’m constantly feeling like I’m the heavy. Setting boundary after boundary. Making her bathe, dress, comb her hair, eat, go places—do thing after thing that, in the moment, she just doesn’t feel like doing. The deep breaths aren’t working. I start to cry.
What is happening?
It’s true that for the past three years most conflict between Sophie and me was preventable. I made sure she was well-rested, adequately-fed, appropriately dressed…and she went with the flow.
But now, suddenly she is getting her Own Ideas. She wants to do what she wants to do.
For example, it’s hard for Sophia to conceive of a future that is better than the present. She’d rather stay right here and read books than go through the trouble of donning her sweater, boots, coat, hat and gloves to get in the car and drive half-an-hour to nursery school. Even if they are acting out Goldilocks and the Three Bears today, one of her most favorite stories.
And though that makes sense to me, it’s not acceptable.
So I push through her resistance, physically making her do what I want her to do, feeling a mix of sorrow and resentment: How long do I have to keep doing this? When will it be fun again?
I have to remind myself: feeling utterly powerless, children crave power. But once they have it, they don’t know what to do with it. It feels all wrong, terrifying. If I want her to feel in control of herself, I have to be in control of myself. Of her. Of us.
Right now, I don’t feel in control.
As her will grows more formidable, her ideas more expansive, as she begins to assert herself in the world, I , who was her primary playmate have become her primary combatant. This is hard to come to terms with. I’m still the same; why does she have to change?
I try to reframe it in terms of what she needs. I can remember how much happier my students were when I held the boundaries, stood firm, gave them something they could push back on, but not push over. I need to reach deeper, to find something stronger, to stop taking this so damn personally. I need to act from what I know to be true and not what I want to be true.
I retrieve her from her room. She is contrite and compliant. At nursery school, she gets to be Goldilocks. At the end of the day, she is happy and spent. We are driving home when Sophie suddenly says, “I could also be your mommy.”
“Oh?” I say, glancing into the rear view mirror, “What would you do if you were my mommy?”
“Take care of you,” she says, simply.