Thursday, January 24, 2008

She's not strong-willed, she's "spirited"

Lately I have really been struggling with Emma. She has these really annoying opinions..about everything. She is going through a phase where she only wants to wear dresses, which is just fine I guess, but she doesn't always want to wear tights with said dresses and don't even think about trying to convince her that it would be a good idea to wear a shirt underneath a sleeveless jumper. What are you, insane? The struggles begin when she wakes up and pretty much don't end until bedtime. Here are the things we argue about:

1. Brushing her hair (specifically we argue about when, where and how to accomplish this task)
2. Brushing her teeth (this requires a special cup and sink very nearby to spit into. If the sink is not close enough then she will spit wherever she happens to be standing and this will require a change of clothes and a fresh discussion about how one can't wear a sleeveless dress with bare legs in 20-degree weather).
3. Whose turn it is to use the computer (mine or hers)
4. What to eat for breakfast
5. What to eat for lunch
6. What to eat for snack
7. How to pass the hours we are stuck at home during Charlie's nap (which leads to a debate about why you can't play computer games for 2 hours straight...why can't you do this again?)
8. What to eat for dinner
9. Why she can't have more ice cream for dessert
10. Why she can't have more bubbles in her tub
11. Why she can't wear "Olivia's nightgown" (her cousin's hand-me-down nightgown is her absolute favorite and all she wants to sleep in lately), which is currently in the dirty clothes.
12. Why she can't read three books before bedtime. (We have a 2-book limit at our house. I think if we had a 3-book limit then we would be arguing about why we can't read 4 books.)
13. How to properly adjust her covers for bedtime

And just when you think you're done for the day and you're closing the door to the kids' bedroom and tempted to high-five your husband because it is finally all over for the day, she is popping her head out of the door and asking you to re-adjust her covers, please, and do it the right way this time.

Am I a terrible mother for being frustrated with this situation? I know that I need to be more patient, more understanding of her needs, more selfless, and less forceful when it comes to pushing my own agenda. I need to be proud that she has a will of her own. But I also worry that she is taking over this household, that she is becoming Queen Emma and we must bow down to her or suffer her wrath. I don't really want to live like that. I want to be Queen Mommy and have everyone bow down to me or suffer my wrath. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

What should I do? Give in? Let her have her way? Or should I be Mean Mommy all the time and show her who's boss? Right now I'm probably doing some sort of combo of the two of these and so the poor kids don't ever know who they're dealing with. I hate being Mean Mommy, but sometimes I actually convince myself that Mean Mommy is not just being mean for being mean's sake, but is actually teaching everyone a lesson here, so you can either do what I say or park that bottom in time out. This is a page from the you-better-stop-crying-or-I'll-give-you-something-to-cry-about school of parenting. Is that really the solution here? I hate Mean Mommy and I think everyone else does too.

So what's a Mommy to do? What is the answer? Anyone have any ideas?

I feel terrible writing about my best girlfriend Emma this way, but I need some answers. I'm sure if she had a blog of her own (which, I guess it's just a matter of time until that happens) she would have plenty of things to say about me and my less-than-stellar parenting moments. We don't need to talk about those right now though. We're talking about Emma and how to fix her and this giant personality of hers. This is the same personality that draws people to her like magnets. I am always amazed at the effect Emma has on other kids. They think she is the coolest. She can walk into any room, no matter if it's the child care place at the gym, her Sunday School class at church or the DMV, and the room adjusts to fit her. It's like the energy in the room rearranges itself to accommodate this dynamic little 3-foot-tall person that just walked in and claimed the space as her own. Mean Mommy's got nothing on that.


Anonymous said...

I've forgotten. Do y'all have the "Olivia" books? They're great, and that Olivia is very "spirited" as well. Maybe it would help Emma to see how much Olivia wears her parents out with all of her negotiating and creative ideas. You're not Mean Mommy, that implies that you're being arbitrary in withholding pleasure. Our kids all just have to know there are rules everywhere on this earth: school, work and home and the rules help us all get along and stay healthy and happy. She's a reasonable girl, she just needs to get a copy of the house rules.

Tell Emma that Olivia (cousin) is so proud that she loves her nightgown! We should have a slumber party soon.


Anonymous said...

Does every little girl wish to rule the world? Perhaps. We have a Wanna-be Queen Clara at our house. But she (usually) responds quite favorably when the rules are presented as such: RULES. As in, "There is no discussion to be had about X." I am guessing Clara appreciates the stability that comes along with such an approach. I completely agree with are SO not Mean Mommy. Especially since you are trying to help Emma figure out how to live in a world in which (sorry, Emma) she will not make all the rules herself. There is something very "uncool" (according to the world) about the TRAIT of obedience, but it is so very vital to learn for the Christian walk. Something I am still learning and may have had an easier time with if I hadn't been allowed to be such a Queen myself as a child/teenager. Which reminds me, as hard as it is now to make our sweet litle girls follow our rules, it will be 1,000 times harder when they are 10, 13, my thought is NOW is the time to work hard at it...we will reap the benefits later. And I don't think we're in any danger of killing their spirits!


The Taylor Family said...


Stacey mentioned to me that I should read your blog because my Emma is causing me the same headaches and has me asking the same questions. In fact, the other day she told me that I never snuggle with her anymore. After I thought about it some I realized she was right. I keep on waiting for her to do her little white lies or boss me around and never seem to relax. I have to convince myself to relax and enjoy her and I feel so bad for that. I do not want to be the mean mommy or the bad mommy or be told that I don't snuggle anymore, but I also have to be the parent. Where is that fine line? I really enjoy your blog and will keep checking in. According to Stacey our lives are in some ways parallel because of our children being almost the same age. I am sure that your little boy, like mine, is into cars, is rough and tumble, and is a mommy's boy. What a combination!

Later, Leslie

Elizabeth said...

Hi Leslie! I think we are leading parallel lives. : ) I'm glad I'm not the only one with a spirited Emma at home. I think I do need to relax and not be so quick to say "no" all the time to her. I think I almost expect her to give me a hard time and therefore I am quick to reprimand for even the smallest offences. I read this article on about just saying "yes" as an experiment. It's a funny article and the little girl, Susannah, reminds me so much of Emma. The author does an experiment where, for one week, she says "yes" to all of Susannah's requests. Susannah binges on TV and candy and opts to forgo preschool so she can hang out with her mom. Obviously this is not a parenting philosophy many people would support, but I think it would be an interesting experiment. I think so much of the time, the crazy, strong-willed, obstinate Emma emerges when I haven't been giving her enough positive attention, i.e. I have been saying "no" a lot because it suits my needs and helps me accomplish my goals in the quickest way possible. While my goals (getting in and out of Target, being able to read a book, cook dinner, type an email or take a shower without being interrupted every 5 seconds) are important, the ultimate goal is to raise kids who are confident, obedient, sprited leaders who have opinions about things and who know that they are loved and treasured beyond belief by their parents. This definitely requires a delicate balance of saying "no, you can't hang from the ceiling fan while your brother flips the switch," with "yes, I will play Princess Go Fish with you for 10th time today." Okay, I'm going to go hang out with my kids now. :) Happy Saturday!

Susan said...

But it's so mind-numbingly repetitive, isn't it?

"Daniel, sit down. (10 secs) We sit while we eat. (5 secs) Use your fork and spoon, please. (15 secs) Sit down, please. (12 secs) We leave the table when we are finished eating, are you finished? Would you like me to take your dish away? (20 seconds) If you leave the table, that means you are finished. So I guess you are too full for pud-pud (ahem, dessert, that is). (15 secs) We sit while we eat."

And so the cycle repeats itself, at every meal, three times a day...

If someone were on my case like that, I'd go mad. I can't blame him for tuning me out, but what are the alternatives if I don't want to use the Mean Mommy voice, either??? Passive and pleasant just doesn't cut it...