When bedtime rolls around, my whole family knows that I am the enforcer. I’m the one who makes sure the teeth are brushed and hair is untangled. I’m the one who sings the nighttime lullaby, and reads the last book. But I’m also the person who puts my foot down when my daughter starts asking for just one more drink of water and just one more nightlight. If she wanders into the living room, I direct her back into bed. If she’s playing with stuffed animals at 10 o’clock at night, I’m the one who comes in and demands that eyes be closed and lips be zipped.
My husband’s parenting motto seems to be, “You’ll learn.” If our 4-year-old wants to stay up until 11 o’clock, he believes that she’ll learn her lesson about staying up late when she has to wake up the following morning at seven a.m. If she wants to eat a whole fistful of candy, he believes that she’ll figure why that’s a problem when her stomach hurts a short time later.
For plenty of children, my husband’s style of stepping back and letting kids learn from their own mistakes works wonders. And in many ways, I think that his commitment to letting our daughter learn for herself will help her later in life. In her teen years, I’m hoping that I can follow in his footsteps a little more and allow my daughter the space to figure out things for herself.
For now, however, my stubborn and extremely opinionated little girl needs a little more involved discipline. She needs boundaries and a coherent and consistent system for handling misbehavior. My sweet, wonderful, adorable daughter needs a bit of an enforcer. I’ve come to fill that role. And I have to admit, I don’t mind it so much.
It’s not that I enjoy powertripping on my 4-year-old. It doesn’t make me feel big and strong to put a little girl in her place. But the battle of wills that can occur between my daughter and I feels productive. I feel like I’m helping her understand where control comes from, and how she can earn a little of her own.
I can still remember an argument my daughter and I were having a couple months ago. She didn’t want to take a bath. I said she had to. It was as simple as that. But the situation escalated into an all-out battle. My daughter was literally screaming at me. I sat calmly on her bed and told her, “Brenna, being the loudest doesn’t make you the strongest. Yelling the most is not what puts you in charge.” Throughout the entire exchange, I kept my voice quiet and reserved.
As the argument drew to a close, and my daughter started preparing for her bath, I gave her a big hug. I reminded her that someday, she would get to make these choices for herself. But at the moment, Mom was in charge and she was going to have to listen to me. No amount of yelling changed that.