Ever since my son threw a tantrum because he didn't like where I parked, I've been thinking a lot about the balancing act between needs and wants. It isn't always obvious when you start going down a road you don't want to be on, but the only thing to do when you find yourself on that road is to head back and decide which way you want to go.
Your toddler wants the blue cup instead of the green one. Why not?
Your toddler wants the other cereal for breakfast. Why not?
Your toddler wants popcorn for a snack. Why not?
There are so many instances in our day where we are being asked to pick our battles, and since many of them are not a big deal, we say "why not?" and give them what they want. But sometimes, choosing your battles is not a very effective parenting strategy.
I'm not saying that we should never give our child their choice, especially when it really doesn't matter. What I am saying is that all of these little interactions add up, and pretty soon we're parking in a different spot because our child has suddenly developed a preference as to where we park.
I wish there was a hard and fast rule that could help us decide when we should say no and when we should say yes. Or maybe a counter that counts how many times they've had their way? Unfortunately, as with everything in parenting, there are no strict guidelines, and regardless of how well we consider everything, we still might not be happy with our choices after we've made them. It's still important, however, to try to find some balance, so with that in mind, I'd like to talk about boundaries.
When we are trying to decide whether or not to allow our child to have the cup they want, to jump on the couch, to jump on us, or any other parenting decision, we are making the decision based on our values. The decision we come to is a boundary. Yes, you may have the cup you want, because I value your independence. No, you may not jump on the couch because I value my couch and I don't want it to get broken (or I value you and don't want you to get hurt). No, you may not jump on me because I value myself and I don't like to get hurt.
Janet Lansbury talks about boundaries in this article and the thing I appreciate the most about it is that she gives permission for parents to set any boundaries they want. Don't want to get your child the blue cup instead of the green one? No problem. Your reasons may not be reasonable, but "I don't like that" is an acceptable reason not to want to allow something. Feel free also to use "I don't feel like that today" or "I'm too tired." Again, you don't always have to say no, but for me, the big problem isn't always saying no, it's always saying yes. If this is your problem as well, give yourself permission to say no more often, even if you don't feel like you have a good enough reason to say no.
It can be difficult to get into the habit of opening up the space between their request and your response, but it will be well worth it. If you're often feeling unappreciated, or like your children have become a little too demanding or even (*gasp*) spoiled, give yourself time to answer your children's requests. Ask yourself, "Will I feel annoyed or resentful if I do this?" If your answer is honestly and truly that you don't mind, by all means, go ahead. Sometimes it can just seem easier in the short run to give in to the request. We've all been there, and there's nothing wrong with doing so occasionally. If it happens more than occasionally, however, you probably just need to bite the bullet and put your foot down.
It's easy to get into a rut and parent on auto-pilot. But every now and again something will happen that lets you know it's time for things to change. Change isn't easy for anyone, and it will definitely ruffle some feathers when you start saying no more than you used to, but eventually it will become the new normal. Your needs and wants matter, so don't be afraid to say no.
For Further Thought:
1) In what ways do you find yourself "choosing your battles" throughout your day?
2) What are your reasons for saying "yes?" What are your reasons for saying "no?" Are these reasons consistent with your values?
3) How can you help your responses be more consistent with your values?
For Further Reading:
Not Just Cute: Setting Boundaries Helps Kids...and Also Your Sanity
Peaceful Parent: The importance of healthy boundaries in the family
Positive Parenting Connection: Boundaries: Building Block #9 for Positive Parenting
Respectful Parenting: Parents' Needs MATTER!- The Art of Self-Care and Respectful Parenting