Knowing Where To Draw The Line

Lessons In Parenthood: Week 12

This is a big parenting question I’ve been asking myself: where do I draw the line? When do I say “yes” and when do I say “no” and when do I ignore it all? Are there certain things that should just always be non-negotiable? When do I cut her a little slack? When is it ok to be totally strict? GOD! Don’t you sometimes wish parenting came with a manual?

I don’t believe there’s a linear route to raising a child. I don’t believe in strict rules. I believe in few rules, few strong boundaries, a lot of love, and a lot of room for error. With that wishy-washy kind of parenting style it leaves a lot of room for questions. I always want to be understanding of what my child is going through in life, but when do I make exceptions and when do I stick to my guns? This has been running through my mind for weeks. Although, usually it just comes up when my child is not cooperating.

A week ago we brought home our second child. Olivia is now a big sister and that is a big change for her. It’s a big change for all of us, but for her it’s extra daunting. Change is hard for anyone, especially kids. Any change is hard. They can’t understand it and they probably feel like their world is spinning out of control. Even before Leia was born, I was mentally preparing for the tsunami of emotions that would follow her birth. However, kids are also intuitive, brilliant little creatures and I am pretty sure Olivia was feeling the change before her little sister was born. She was extra clingy, extra needy, extra challenging, extra everything. I had little to no energy left for parenting and that gave me even more reason to question myself and all of Olivia’s antics. I found myself asking this question over and over again,

Where do I draw the line?

On the one hand, it’s not acceptable for her behavior to spin out of control. On the other hand, I understand that she is trying to cope with change and she may not be developmentally ready for it so I want to give her a lot of grace as she makes her way through it. What I’ve come to understand is that the line changes. It changes depending on how tired I am, if we’re hungry, if we’ve had a great day or a rough one, or if we’re trying something new. The line seems to shift around as much as our day does. No two days are alike so how can I expect us to always behave exactly the same? If I’m honest with myself, my behavior can be as erratic as hers.

I’ve come to feel that the line is nothing more than a representation. It represents the best and our best is measured on that line. And this varies daily. Our best will be different if we are hungry or full, if we are tired or rested. When Olivia or I are not our best, the figurative line will move around. And that is ok. I don’t have to be a militant mom and Olivia doesn’t have to be blindly obedient to all rules all the time. This is the conclusion I came to.

How does this work in real life? Let’s take a look at a real life example: Olivia putting away her toys. Now, she is perfectly able to put away her toys and has been for a while. Normally our routine is that she puts everything away before dinner. I usually start this process just before I start dinner so that she’s already on the move when I start cooking. Now, it’s not my job to pick up her toys. She’s capable, she’s able and I’m not going to be the one picking up after my kids every day when they destroy everything. We started this practice as soon as Olivia was able. As angelic as my daughter is, she doesn’t always want to pick up her toys. Shocking, right? Well, on days when she refuses, I normally insist. My stance is, “Olivia, we aren’t dong anything else until you pick these things up,” and I will calmly wait until she concedes. Sometimes that takes a minute and sometimes it takes half an hour. And sometimes we skip it altogether. If we came home late, we’re hungry, and the most important thing is food, then the rule about cleaning up isn’t a priority. If I were to draw the line in the sand and say, “No, we are not eating or doing anything else until these toys are put away. Those are the rules,” then we would both be miserable and probably both be crying by the end of it. In that case, I would say, “Let’s do it after dinner.”

The line is supposed to benefit us both. It’s supposed to give me structure and order and it’s supposed to give her boundaries, teach her skills and discipline, and give us both a sense of direction. It should never be used as a weapon or a means of punishment.

In these few weeks of transition, Olivia and I both needed a little extra understanding. I wasn’t always my best so how can I expect more from my 2-year-old? The reality is that no one wants their life dictated by a line. Why should I impose it on, of all people, a child?