Confession: Most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing as a parent. I know most moms, especially first-time moms, probably feel this way. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult to figure out how to set limits and enforce rules.
My son is strong-willed and fearless. He wants to do things that are sometimes dangerous. I find myself saying, “No, please don’t do that” multiple times a day. Don’t stand on that chair. Don’t jump off the sofa. Don’t play on the stairs. And each attempt is either followed by me giving in – “Oh, just forget it, do what you want” – or me forcibly stopping him from doing the activity, which will be inevitably followed by a tantrum.
I know I have to be clear about what the rules are. I know I have to show him that I’m in charge. But he constantly testing me and testing the boundaries of how far he can push the envelope.
My husband sometimes lets him do things I wouldn’t. He says he has to pick his battles.
But I’m alternately worried that I’m spoiling him and that I’m crushing his spirit. I want him to be well-behaved, to follow my instructions without me having to raise my voice at him. I want to remain in control at all times (Remember, you’re the grownup, I tell myself). I want him to just f’ing listen to me! Wait, remember, you’re the grownup.
While I was pregnant I read Bringing Up Bebe, an account of an American mom living in France and her observations about why French children are so better behaved than ours. But blaming mommy and/or pregnancy brain, I can’t remember what she finds out. I meant to re-read the book. I got one chapter in and got distracted. Probably by a tantrum.
One thing I do remember is that French parents set strict limits, but then allow their children lots of freedom within those limits. This sounds great in theory, but I need some specifics about how to practically apply that philosophy. For example, is it OK for LM to run back and forth on the couch – does that fall within the boundaries of what’s acceptable? No clue.
If he’s doing something I don’t like, I try to distract him with something else. But that doesn’t always work. He won’t sit in his high chair – he wants to sit on a regular kitchen chair. Of course this means he can get up and down at will, which is not good for mealtimes. It also means he can’t reach the table and I have to feed him, so teaching him to eat on his own isn’t really working.
And when it comes to meals, since we’ve had such issues with food, should I just let him eat what he wants? Or should I only give him the option of what we’re having? Is too many options not a good thing either? Kids need structure, right?
He wants to go in the stroller. OK, fine, we’ll go for a walk. Halfway down the block he says, “All done.” Do I take him home or keep walking? I either end up with a screaming child, or we go home only to have him say, “More.” Really? Why won’t you f’ing make up your mind?? (Remember, you’re the grownup.)
Diaper changes. I don’t even want to mention diaper changes. He has no choice – he has to have them. And yet they elicit from him such blood-curdling screams that I’m sure the neighbors think I’m torturing him (Foggy Daddy’s response to that, “No. They’ve had kids. They know.” Hope you’re right, FD!).
He can’t have his way all the time. I don’t want to reward his tantrums, but sometimes it’s hard to hear him scream.
I’m really at a loss with this one. This parenting thing just keeps getting harder and harder.
Any advice for setting limits for strong-willed toddlers?