Tough question my little D posed to me over the weekend. Had to ponder this one for awhile. First, I had to think about whether or not this is a 3 year-old embellishment, or consider that I might say “no” more than I’d like to admit. I swore when I entered this parenting thing that I wouldn’t be the harsh, dictatorial “no mommy” who negated all my children’s requests and laid down the law all the time. I kept telling myself that an inundation of too many rules and requirements breeds resentment and rebellion. No, I would be the kind of mother who would be flexible and open, weighing each decision fairly and objectively before ruling with an iron-fisted, big, fat NO. Have I lived-up to the promise I made to myself five years ago when A was born? Or is D right? Have I turned into that mom who says no to everything?
Let me give you some context for how the question arose. Yesterday, our daughters each had birthday parties at the same exact time inside the same mall, just in two different stores – Sweet & Sassy (yes, that’s really the name) and Build-A-Bear. So, my husband and I split-up and he took D to her party and I took A to hers. Afterward, we met-up at the food court to discuss the remainder of the day’s agenda. Last week, I finally finished clearing out both girls’ closets and drawers, moving the summer stuff out and the winter stuff in. They each had plenty of shirts and leggings from last year that would fit, but it became evident that neither of them had any new dresses, should a special occasion arise. A and D have grown so much this year that most of their dresses from last year really are too short. So, I decided on the way out of the mall they could each go pick out a new dress at the department store. Of course they both headed straight to the hideously sparkly, hot pink, “gag-me” tacky section and went nuts going through the racks deciding which dress to get. Being a lifetime tomboy, it is hard enough for me just to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve spawned to uber-girlie girls, but when we go shopping, it really can overwhelm me. They always pick out the very last thing I would ever choose. But I roll with it because it makes them happy. At least both of the dresses they chose were on sale!
Later, when we get home, A and D run upstairs to their room while Daddy and I unload the groceries from the car and put everything in the fridge and pantry. While we’re doing this, the girls come downstairs and of course, are happily wearing their new dresses, claiming they were so excited they just couldn’t wait to put them on. My knee-jerk instinct was to tell them absolutely not. I wanted to say no way, get your little tushies back upstairs and hang those dresses back-up on their hangers and put them away in your closet. I am sooo sick of doing needless loads of laundry because my daughters constantly change clothes. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it. They put an outfit on for school and then the minute they get home they want to change again. And then somehow, without my noticing, an hour after that, they’ll have another new outfit on. There are several wardrobe changes throughout the day and it’s driving me ka-razy!!! But, I can see them glowing from the inside out because they really are loving their new dresses. So, I let it slide and tell them to be careful not to get them dirty and it’s okay just this once.
It’s such a nice afternoon, so we all go out back on the deck and the girls work on various art projects in the warm autumn sun while Daddy bangs away on his laptop doing work and I actually get a chance to read a few chapters of my book. We really were having a lovely, relaxing afternoon at home without any wrinkles. I should’ve known it wouldn’t last! After about forty-five minutes of playing and coloring outside, D announces that she needs to go inside to go potty. I ask her if she needs me to go with her and she says no. She tells me she’s a big girl and wants her privacy (god how I love her!) I put my nose back in my book and keep reading. After about five minutes, D still hasn’t returned to the deck. So, I dog-ear my page and go on a hunt for her inside. And this, my poops, is when all holy hell breaks loose and our peaceful Sunday afternoon turns into psycho-Sunday!
D is nowhere to be found downstairs. She isn’t in the bathroom and she hasn’t gone down to play in the basement. I yell up from the bottom of the stairs to see if she’s up there and I get a loud, defiant “yes, but don’t come up here!” in response. Shit. That is never good. What has she gotten into now? Seriously. She’s only been gone five minutes and part of that was spent on the potty! I walk-up the stairs slowly, trying to retain a sense of the tranquility that I was just immersed in while sitting outside reading my book. After all, I just blogged on Friday about letting go of control and trying to go with whatever the universe is trying to teach me. So, I really don’t want to be a hypocrite. It’s important to me to try to lead you poops by example, and stay in touch with the Tao. So I tell myself, no matter what I find upstairs, I’m gonna deal with it calmly and have a controlled, measured response that keeps me in, at least, a semi-harmonious state.
I open the door to the guest room (otherwise known as the “dumping room” for all of mommy’s current projects – the most recent one being the closet change-over) and there is D in her new dress with at least 4 more layers of clothes on herself. I’m not kidding. My daughter is wearing her brand new dress, a pair of leggings, two skirts under it and a shirt over it. “D, what in the world are you doing???” She says, “Mommy, I like it this way! I want to wear my dress with these clothes too!” Not only am I instantly furious with how many clothes she’s wearing, but I glance around the room and in a matter of a few minutes, D managed to un-do a good portion of my closet change-over organization. I had precise, neat piles and bags of “to be donated” and “to be stored” that were now messy heaps all over the floor and the chair. Remember that part earlier about my trying to be the mom who makes fair objective decisions before ruling with an iron fist? Yeah, you can forget about that.
I told to D to immediately remove the additional clothing she put on and to start helping me reorganize the mess she just made. “But, Mommy, I really like my outfit! I really like all these clothes together! I love the way I look! Mommy, please!” To which I say, “absolutely not, D. I already let you put your new dress on. That was more than privilege enough. You know better than to be up here in this room making a mess out of all these clothes. Now get undressed and start helping me. You may not keep all that on! I’m tired of doing unnecessary laundry because you and A need to change into a zillion outfits all the time and layer-up when it’s 75 degrees outside!” And you know what she said, right? Wait for it….yep, here it comes. “Mommy, why do you always say no???”
My immediate reaction was to defend myself. “D, that’s ridiculous. I don’t always say no! You know that. Look I already said yes to wearing your new dresses when you already had clothes on. I don’t always tell you no.” Being defensive was not a good option, never is…with kids or adults for that matter. D insisted on arguing her case, “but why do you care if I wear this outfit? I like it, it looks pretty and I don’t want to take it off!” And at that moment, poops, what she said stopped me cold. I had to ask myself, why did I care? On the one hand, yes, I am tired of being a slave to my washer/dryer all the time and the constant clothes changing was getting a bit out of hand. But, on the other hand, she wasn’t harming anyone. She wasn’t doing anything deviant or dangerous. She was actually really excited to show me her Punky Brewster-esque ensemble and I totally burst her bubble by getting so upset about the mess. So, how do I find a middle ground here? How do I let her have her fun and exercise her creativity and still make her understand that she can’t ruin mommy’s hard work by digging recklessly through the clothes and making a mess? What other way besides saying “no” works????
And then I realized what word I needed to introduce more frequently into our family lexicon besides yes or no: “compromise.” I told her that we could work out something where both of us could be happy. I would allow her keep the layers on, conditionally, but only if she helped me pick-up the clothes she had wrecked and tidied-up the room. And, I was enacting a new rule for both she and her sister. If they exceed more than one outfit on any given day, then they need to either wear it again the next day, even if it’s dirty, or they have to start helping me with the laundry. I told D that I didn’t want to say no, that I never like saying no. In fact, I would much rather say yes to everything. But sometimes that’s really hard for Mommies because it causes problems that kids can’t always see at their young age. But, I told her that I will look more closely at each situation that may arise and see if we can find a compromise before they hear a definitive “no.”
Parenting is so tricky. If we become the “yes” mom all the time, then our kids will never understand limitations and boundaries and respect for rules, which is necessary for emotional growth. But, as D unintentionally but nonetheless eloquently pointed out with her 5 layer outfit, if we say no all the time, then we run the risk of stunting our children’s creative freedom and imagination and fun. Thus, taking away things that may bring them great happiness. Poops here never wants to look back on these years when my kids were so young and impressionable and full of exploration and regret that I didn’t allow them just to be who they are as often as possible. Did D tick me off when I saw the mess upstairs? For sure. But, in the big picture of life, in the grand scheme of things, was it really that big of a deal? Of course not. There is always a choice, and now I see that it doesn’t have to be either yes or no parenting. There is room for something much better in between. We always have the option to weigh things and formulate a compromise, even if it may seem insignificant at the time. What if I had forced D out of those clothes? Would it have ruined her life? Probably not. But, would it have possibly made her just a little bit less of who she naturally wants to be? I don’t know. Could it have made her less likely to creatively express herself the next time? Perhaps. And I just can’t live with that.
It’s hard enough in this world to be exactly who you are. There is so much external influence and social pressure as girls age in this often fucked-up society. I want nothing more than to encourage my daughters to be their own person, to love themselves exactly they way they are and to feel whole and good inside no matter what anyone else thinks. And if that means letting D wear a zillion types of clothing all at one time because it brings her joy and makes her feel good, then so be it. I’m doing a ton of laundry anyway, how can I not run one extra load if it means a little less “no parenting” for me and a little bit more self-esteem for her?