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.
In the scuffles my daughter and I have had since, she rarely tries to out-scream me or drown out my voice. I know that this single argument had an effect. It taught my little girl that volume does not equal power. She’s respected the lesson.
When I was a child, my mother always took the role of disciplinarian. My dad was the fun, laid-back one. My mom was the person who made the decisions. As a child, I resented that she always told me, “No.” I hated hearing, “Go ask your mother,” whenever I tried to be sneaky and check with my dad about something first.
As I got older, even before I had my own child, I began to appreciate my mother’s strength. I could see that she made the hard choices, and dealt with the consequences of them. She let me be mad at her. She let me dramatically claim that she was ruining my life. She held her ground, because she knew that she was helping me learn.
With my own daughter, I’m hoping that I can follow in my mother’s example. And I’ve come to accept that Brenna and I will go through many of the arguments and disagreements that my mother and I endured. When she’s older, hopefully she’ll look back and see the love that I saw. Because honestly, I believe that helping your children become responsible, moral, and respectful human beings is a form of love. Maybe the greatest form. Parents accept their anger and hostility because we want to help them be better in the future.
Over the next decade, I’ll be the “mean parent.” I’ll be the one my daughter doesn’t want to ask about sleepovers or school parties. I’ll be the one sitting on her bed and telling her that screaming doesn’t make her any more powerful, that she still has to obey her mother because I’m the adult and I have her best interests at heart. I’ve accepted that this is the role I’ll play. And I’m just going to pray that once we get through it all, she see that it was my way of loving her and making her more prepared for the life ahead of her.