Originally posted September 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...