It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Holding the line that is. It’s one of the hardest parts of parenting, but also one of the most important.
You’re getting ready to leave for the day, kids have been fed, all their school belongings are gathered, lunches packed, coffee in hand… “H put your shoes on so we can be on time.” Read that again. Notice my careful choice of words? It’s a command, not a request. I’ve recently learned the importance of not confusing the two. Also notice how the focus is on the outcome I want which is to leave on time. I didn’t say, “H, please put your shoes on so we are not late” That is a request that he can say no to, and the focus is on being late which is exactly what I want to avoid. I’m not perfect at my word choice all the time, in fact it’s something I’m working on every day, however, I will say, when I say it right, and my word choice is on point, it’s much more effective.
Back to the story. I could see it coming a mile away, this was a day for battle. This was a day where my line holding had already been tested and I knew there were going to be more tests. And those tests no matter what I do are unavoidable. “Shoes.” I reminded him. I could see him getting frustrated, eyebrows furrowed, stalling at the whiteboard to draw a quick monster truck. I handed him his shoes and asked, “Would you like me to help you?” Now if you ask any parenting expert they would tell you that I’ve already lost the battle, I shouldn’t give him so many chances, I shouldn’t have even offered to help him because it is something he most certainly can do on is own, and does often. But at that moment in time not being late for work was more important than waiting for my son to finish his drawing and put on his own shoes at his leisure. I asked him again, “H, would you like help with your shoes?” He looked at me, scowled, said nothing, and returned to his drawing. Immediately I got my wits about me and realized it was time, I needed to hold the line.
Without saying anything I grabbed my things, and headed for the car. H came running after me in tears shouting “I need my shoes!” I responded in a calm voice, “It’s time to get in the car.” At this point he was screaming, raging mad, begging for his shoes. My husband stood by me communicating with just his eyes, “Are you really doing this?” I responded with just my eyebrow “Absolutely.”
We drove to school, H screamed the entire way, and I said nothing. Less is more, there was no need for words. Mine would probably be less productive then necessary, and he already knew what was happening. When we arrived at school, I gathered my things from the car.
H asked me, “Can I have my shoes?”
“I’m sorry, I do not have your shoes, you chose to not wear them today. Let’s go” Inside I was dying. I did have his shoes, and I didn’t tell him that. Is that a lie? Or is a necessary part of this lesson? We walked into school. H followed behind me, while I shed a few tears with him just footsteps ahead.
When we were inside school I put my things away, and so did he. His breath was that kind of staccato breathing that happens after you’ve been crying really hard for a long time. I quietly grabbed our classroom peace flower and walked over to him. His eyes were red and puffy, and his cheeks were stained from tears. “I can see you are very sad. You don’t have your shoes and you want them. I feel sad too. I didn’t like it when you ignored my words, and when you made an ugly face at me.” He looked me in the eyes, his extra long eyelashes were drenched in tears. He said, “I’m sorry Mama.” My heart was beating fast, and I felt both sad and relieved. Sad because he was truly sad and truly sorry and I don’t like it when my kids feel anything other than happiness and joy even though it is necessary. I felt relieved because I knew he got it.
“H, I need you to be more helpful in the mornings so that we can get to school on time, and part of being helpful is putting your shoes on before we go.”
“Okay, I will, I promise.”
“I know you will. I brought your shoes today but I need you to understand that if this happens again I will not bring your shoes and you will spend the day at school without them.”
“Okay, I believe you” And he did.
“H, one more thing… can we declare peace?”
We held the Peace Flower together and said, “We declare peace.” We hugged it out. I held the line.
It’s hard, that line holding, but it is so very important. Sometimes it hurts, often it’s the harder choice and is met with a battle. But if we don’t hold the line now, if we don’t set limits, and hold boundaries who will? When you hold the line you are creating safety and predictability for your children. You are allowing them to experience disappointment an discomfort in turn, helping them develop a sense of empathy and minimize narcissism as an adult. You are allowing them to struggle just a bit which is important because there is no learning or mastery of anything without struggle. So I encourage you – make the hard choice, stay strong, and hold that line, you be glad you did one day I’m certain.