Last week I posted about having one of those days when you feel like the most horrible mommy ever and everyone around you knows it and thinks it too….
I got so much wonderful support and feedback that I felt comforted and embarrassed all at the same time (I’m not good at being reassured — I’m the reassure-er, not the recipient!!). Anyway, you guys are fabulous and it was greatly appreciated!
I mentioned at the end of the post that my plan was to drop Ben off first for the rest of the week to get him used to the idea. Most of my commenters felt that was a good call, and that preparing him for it in advance would help. My mom dissented, suggesting taking the “path of least resistance” and avoiding a power struggle. Now, my mom has had a lot of experience raising inflexible, headstrong children (Not me, mind you. I was perfectly pliable and obedient. My brothers, on the other hand…well, I’m sure you can imagine… and if they want to dispute that, they’ll have to start their own blogs) so she knows what she’s talking about, but in this case I felt that it was a power struggle worth having.
A note on power struggles – I think sometimes we give “power struggles” a bad name. There are parenting philosophies and experts that espouse responsiveness and equality between parent and child but these do not sit right with me. I believe that there is (and should be) a power imbalance between parent and child, and like in any relationship in which there is a legitimate power imbalance (employer/employee, teacher/student, therapist/client, etc.) the onus is on the more powerful party to use and not abuse that power.
It is the parent’s job to guide their child’s development, encourage appropriate and discourage inappropriate behaviour, enforce safety rules, etc., just as it is the employer’s job to support their employee’s professional growth and monitor their productivity and the teacher’s job to impart knowledge and test the students’ retention and understanding of that information. Using that power in a way that violates the bounds of these relationships, such as to humiliate a child or force a sexual relationship with a student however is abuse. Finally, within these relationship it is also important for the powerful party to create opportunities for the other to experience autonomy and power over their own decisions.
I have a little bit of an obsession with child development reference books – one that I acquired a while back (long before I had children of my own) was The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross Greene. This is an excellent book and well worth a read. Dr. Greene gives good advice for parenting and for life (and agrees with my mom) when he posits
inflexibility + inflexibility = meltdown
and outlines a framework for choosing your battles. He suggests figuratively placing your child’s behaviours in 3 baskets: Basket A contains decisions that must be enforced and are worth enduring a meltdown over (power struggles worth having); Basket B contains behaviours and decisions that are important but that you are willing to discuss and problem-solve with your child (opportunities for compromise); and Basket C contains behaviours that you are willing to simply ignore (opportunities for your child to experience complete autonomy).
Dropping Ben off first was a Basket B issue – I had decided that it needed to happen, but was willing to discuss with him how it would happen. When I picked Molly up at lunchtime on momminus horriblis day, I had a quick word with Ben’s teacher to explain the situation, and she agreed to be at the door to help bring him into the classroom if necessary (and I agreed to be on time!).
On the way home that afternoon I explained to Ben (this time calmly!) that sometimes I would have to drop him off first without him getting upset, so we would be doing that for the rest of the week to get him used to it, and once he was not getting upset about it, we would take turns dropping him or Molly off first. Then we talked about why he likes dropping Molly off first – it makes him feel special to be the one to bring her to her classroom and kiss her goodbye – and what he could do that would be special when he gets dropped off first. He decided that he would give her hugs and kisses for her pocket (I give him hugs and kisses on his hands to put in his pocket before he goes into his classroom so he has them during the day if he needs them).
The next morning I reminded him again in the car what we were doing when we got to school, and it all went perfectly smoothly. Naturally, I assumed it was a fluke, but Thursday went well too, so I think we’re on a roll! Momminus horriblis has returned to her cave to hibernate indefinitely, and this particular issue seems to have been resolved successfully. I will remember in future to examine my Baskets A, B and C regularly, and I have learned that with a situation like that, in the moment it’s probably best to toss it into Basket C and deal with it in advance next time.
Of course, several days of pathetic sickie children has made it all the easier to banish momminus horriblis and welcome back momminus cuddlius protectivus on an indefinite basis!