Childrearing

Dear Husband: You Don’t Get To Make The Rules If I’m The One Enforcing Them

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I’m sitting on the couch, mostly silent and probably looking a little stunned. I’m not angry, just confused and frustrated and frozen by my inability to form a strong opinion. Plus, it’s late. I’m friggin exhausted. This is definitely not the ideal time to have an in-depth conversation with my husband about enforcing rules – especially not when our three-year-old should be sleeping but is instead calling my name incessantly from her bedroom upstairs.

But that’s precisely the problem. It’s bedtime, and my husband and I are disagreeing (for the 48th time) about just that. He speaks passionately about his belief that our three-year-old should be sleeping in her own bed, every night, and that we need to lay down the law on this point. As he’s talking, I’m just sort of staring at the wall, hoping that I’ll decide in this instant which side of the debate I fall on and then be able to articulate why I agree or disagree. But that never happens.

My ambivalence on the matter is far more concerning to me than the possible negative effects of allowing our daughter to decide where she sleeps. Shouldn’t I just know, instinctively, what is best? I’m her mother, after all. But it’s not so simple. The same ambivalence applies to screen time, as well. I know the facts, I’ve read the recommendations, but I’m still not 100% convinced that watching more than two hours of PBS Kids programming is doing a lot of damage. Plus, it helps me. While our daughter is hanging out with Sid the Science Kid, I’m able to peacefully fold the laundry or even get some work done. It makes my life easier. Is that so bad?

Aha! I’ve arrived at the very heart of these two issues, and a host of others that I’ve been wrestling with for months now. I make some choices for my children based on what’s easier for me. There, I said it. The truth is, I don’t mind if our daughter sleeps in bed with me because it means I can sleep, too. If I try to win the nightly “I don’t wanna sleep in my bed!” fight, I tend to miss out on precious hours of sleep while Lionelle cries, screams, and then wakes up repeatedly throughout the night. So I always initiate the bedtime routine on the assumption that she’ll sleep in her big girl bed alone, but if she starts to whine about it I almost instantly capitulate. Am I being weak? Or, as my husband argues, terribly short-sighted? Maybe both. But, again, I’m friggin exhausted.

We have learned this lesson before. It took us until Lio’s third birthday to draw the line on the pacifier issue. We told her the Paci Fairy was coming to get her pacifier to take it to our friends’ new baby because big girls don’t need pacis anymore. The benevolent Fairy left Lio a “big girl present” and we all moved on with our lives. This darling little girl, who had never known life without a paci (okay, that’s a little melodramatic) stopped asking for it after a couple of days.

My husband and I were amazed. She’s so resilient! So adaptable! And we, of course, discovered the same to be true of our little boy when, at eight months old, we finally committed to the Cry It Out method and had him sleeping through the night after five (pretty rough) nights. My husband internalized these experiences and is much better able than I to think long-term and be willing to suffer in the short-term.

But here’s the catch: He’s not always home. I am the primary caregiver during the day and the one who puts our children to bed at night. If my husband is away (as he is, often, for days at a time), I have to be The Enforcer and sometimes, honestly, I’m just not up to the task.

So what’s the right answer here? Who wins? If I am to be the parent who is most often enforcing the rules, shouldn’t they be my rules? And isn’t it okay to have some of those rules benefit me personally? It may mean I’m a pushover but, hey, it’s a chance I’m willing to take for some much-needed sanity.

(photo: Shutterstock)