Monday, September 12, 2011


Many days - most days, in truth - it feels like a battle of wills. She who is four versus she who is 30...something, clashing all the day long. Please eat your breakfast. Please use your spoon. Please come and get dressed. Please help pack away your pencils. It occurred to me, sometime around two (years old) that one of the things I struggle with most is hearing 'no' all the time. Having endless requests turned down politely, refused defiantly, ignored totally. No, no, no, no, no. And though we have happy days where it feels like our goals align, there are so many stretches of day after day where her ears seem to stop working and I'm on the hamster wheel of shouting, then feeling bad for shouting, then shouting again, then feeling bad again...

She is so spirited, a little fire burning in her. And on the days when she behaves beautifully, trying so eagerly to please me, that spark is somehow diminished. Because her natural inclination is to do as she wants, follow her imagination, meander about in conversation and in thought. And that means, when you're four, that boring requests like "pick up your fork and eat your dinner" or "say goodbye to the little dog and come home now" have to be ignored. And a mummy who has asked for the same thing a dozen times and been ignored or refused several dozen more can sometimes lose her cool.

Yet, here's the clincher - everything's easier when I bend and flow with her rhythm rather than trying to force her to fall into step with mine. She is so alive, so sociable, so curious, I fear that 'fixing' the part of her that is defiant, disobedient, sometimes downright naughty, will damage those other qualities. Do I want the perfectly well-behaved, compliant child who's too afraid to speak lest she say the wrong thing, or do I want my kid, she who is four, who'll stop and chat to anyone, and whose enthusiasm for life can't help but bubble over, even when the more socially correct thing to do is to sit quietly? Obviously that question's a rhetorical one.

Today I listened to this podcast that has been waiting on my iPhone for months, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. Psychologist Hara Estroff Marano talks about the over-supervision of children and how little time and space we give them to play, make their own mistakes and solve their own problems. And she hit a chord with me when she talked about wanting her children to have a backbone - as in, she didn't mind if they answered back, if they were outspoken, if they expressed strong opinions. She said compliance wasn't high up on her list of values.

And I think, until listening to this, compliance has been up there for me. Who is this four-year-old who lives under my roof and still thinks she can defy me? Fall into line, kid! Perhaps it's because I always fell into line. I was so polite. I didn't want to do the wrong thing. I didn't want to step on any toes.

Well, I'm removing 'compliance' from my list. At least, I'm going to start trying. I still want her to understand respect and good manners and courtesy. I want her to be kind and compassionate and to have empathy. But I'm going to stop demanding obedience all the time.

 I want her to be strong and gutsy and funny and vulnerable, and to learn and appreciate my and her dad's values. I want her life to be a series of great bursts of happy, and for her to have resilience against any sad, angry, hurt, disappointed or scared that falls in between. But ultimately, I want to give her the resources to make her own decisions, recover from setbacks and follow her own path.

So when she tells me, as she did recently, that she wants to be three things when she grows up - a princess, a "doctor-nurse who drives an ambulance" and a farmer's wife - I'll say, "Go get 'em, sunshine."

:: I'm hoping lots of people listen to the podcast and take on the ideas, because if I ever work up the courage to open the door and send my girls out into the street for a morning of unsupervised play (like in the good old days when we were young), it'd be nice to think there'll be some other kids out there to play with...


  1. this was really lovely to read. i am happy you found something that spoke to you and helped you in your parenting journey.

    i have two daughters who when they were small behaved very much the same way (actually they still do). and i remember advice given to me by my wise mother in law: don't stamp out their spirit.

    so like you, i always felt it was a fine line i walked with them.(for some reason it wasn't as trying with my sons). and now that all my children are grown, i've come to learn what my own mother would tell me, set the example you would like them to follow, and they will.

    i feel i am very lucky, i have 5 amazing children, who have really taught me much more than i have ever taught them.
    best of luck with your little sweetie. love your post title!

  2. Wow, you've evoked something in me here. Often I look at myself and the way I try to maintain control of my brood, only to wonder why they almost defiantly do the exact opposite to the request. Or other days, when they are so testing that frustration bubbles over and my control over the situation has disappeared, I wonder "why can't they just do as I asked?". You've made me re-look at my parenting, hopefully reign in some of my idiosyncrocies, to allow them to be the people they need to be.

  3. Hi Greer! I've finally worked out how to follow your blog properly (I love it). This is such a timely post for me. Just as we are hitting, to put it mildly, a lot of no's in this house too. Sometimes it's a no...yes!, but mostly it's just no no no no. Drives me to distraction. It's such a simple idea to just let them be, far harder in reality! I'm off to listen to that podcast. Kellie xx

  4. Dear Sis great post and I will definitely listen to the pod cast - may come in handy as i feel my patience wither! But I have one thing to point out - you know the old saying the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! I remember as kids you too were always the one who held true to her beliefs and wouldn't comply for the sake of compliance and keeping others happy. I am not saying you were a naughty nor troublesome child you just believed in what you believed in even if it was in opposition to Mum! I was always more fearful and trod the line of compliance for the sake of keeping the peace! Miss 4 is so much like you it is amazing. I love you both very much! Love your big sis xoxoxoxoxoxoxo
    PS If we ever live in the same street I am sure my kids will be out there playing with yours!

  5. Great post, I loved the podcast - alot, and Great pics. Ah yes spirited children, ahhhh yes. Mine barks at me like a dog when I say something he doesnt want to hear.....perhaps I should meow back


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