She Says… Exceptions to the Rules

I am a rule-enforcer. Like, sometimes even if I know it wouldn’t be so bad just to say YES to something, I hear myself saying NO. I stick to my guns. Call it stubbornness, call it an effort to be consistent, call it an unaddressed control issue… whatever it is, it’s a powerful thing. It’s hard for me to make exceptions. For myself and for others.

Strict bedtimes. “We don’t eat treats like that” rules. Screen time limitations. “Lovey stays in bed and is only for sleeping”. You must take one bite of everything on your plate before you can say, “No thank you” and leave the table. No climbing up the slides on the playground (yes, even though that other kid is doing it RIGHT NOW).

In general, this philosophy has served me pretty well so far. I’m a very hard worker. I stick to my schedule. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it, even if it’s an inconvenience. This personality trait has given Owen stability, structure and boundaries as a toddler, which I think has been excellent for him. I’m not a tyrant… I like to think I don’t have too many unnecessary rules, but when there’s a rule, there’s a rule. But still, sometimes I wish I could just lighten up and let some things slide (without stressing and torturing myself internally when I do loosen the reins).

Believe me, I’m working on it.

Benjamin, whose strengths so often complement my flaws, is my “you are being crazy about this rule” compass. He will almost always back me up in the moment (which I SO appreciate!), but will mention later, “You probably could have just let Owen do _____ instead of saying no”. And whenever he says it, I know he’s right.

While we were on the plane to Florida last weekend and Owen was entertained by his individual tv the whole way there (HAPPILY made an exception there!), I actually had time to catch up on some reading and tv watching myself. I read this article in Parents magazine that validated my sometimes-possibly-too-strict-approach by saying that sticking to your guns is one of the best things you can do for your kids’ development. Whether it’s letting them eat crappy food at grandma’s house or letting them stay up way too late on vacation, exceptions can confuse them and lead to lots and lots of whining/negotiating down the line.

I’ve definitely seen this with Owen. If I make an exception once, it haunts me for days/weeks/months. I know he’s in a stage right now where he’s trying to make sense of rules and exceptions to rules, so I get why it’s confusing to him. (His latest thing is OBSESSING over people not wearing helmets when they are on bikes/motorcycles on the road. He screams at the top of his lungs and won’t rest until everyone in the car has acknowledge that, yes, that person isn’t wearing a helmet, and no, that’s not a safe choice.). But still, there are times when exceptions are ok, like eating too many M&Ms on Easter and staying up late to go out to dinner with family who we don’t see very often. Those are the times I try to keep my mouth shut and let the kid live a little, even if I know it will likely backfire with an upset stomach, a bad attitude or some lost sleep.

Of course he has adjusted fine to these exceptions whenever we make them, albeit with a little extra fussing at bedtime or trying to get out of eating his vegetables the next night at dinner. It’s good for all of us to work our flexibility muscles once in a while, right?

Have you made an exception that haunted you for longer than you expected? Are you a stickler like me, or do you regularly go with the flow and let the rules slide? Is there a particular age or developmental stage when kids become better at understanding “just this once”?


10 responses to “She Says… Exceptions to the Rules

  1. I could have almost written this entire post verbatim, Kate! I am just like you! I also do try to let my toddler “live a little” too but that always haunts me later! I usually think that sticking to the rules is easier in the long run.
    Again, only rules that are necessary, not having rules just for the sake of rules. I also read that article in Parents magazine and it made me breathe a sigh of relief too. 🙂

  2. I’m definitely on the other side of the fence here. My husband and I are very go with the flow. Bedtimes can fluctuate by a few hours, I nurse on demand, we frequently make plans last minute and are out and about a lot. But I feel that my kids are well adjusted, tolerate any changes without freaking out and have a really great time most days. I see where the schedules and rules are great too, but I don’t feel like my way is wrong either. My kids are very well behaved because they’ve learned how to act in public and at home without strictness on my part. I think there are a lot of ways to raise a child “right”.

  3. I’m not a rule person. I’m not going to be saying “No, no, no” all day long. I think the perk of this is that when I say “no” about something, my kid really listens to it. She is normally really well behaved so I don’t HAVE to enforce too many rules, so I have that on my side.

    I find that rules are hard to stick with because toddlers change so much so things like “you HAVE to eat X food” is silly because they could love that food next week and hate a different one. I stick with stuff like “No running from me in the parking lot” and “Stop licking your sister”…you know, the important stuff.

  4. After reading this post, I started feeling like a bad parent. A really bad parent. Kid in bed at 10 more often than not, icecream before dinner every so often, etc. I can’t tell you how often it is 9 pm and we are out kayaking, gardening, who knows what, but hey we are living life.

    This made me really go back and think of what type of parenting my parents did. I don’t really remember “strict rules” at all. Somehow they made us kids become harder on ourselves than they were on us. If that makes sense. Two kids, all straight A’s, didn’t date until college (not bc parents didn’t allow it), both employed now, one is a doctor and one has a masters. No strict rules but parenting that was a success none-the-less!

    Regardless of bedtimes or vegetables, I hope my kid turns out to be nice, respectful, and successful, whatever it takes to get him to that point.

  5. @Megan, It’s a blessing and a curse, I think. Glad to know I’m not the only “mean mom” 🙂

    @Amber, That’s exactly what I wish I had a little bit more of. Sounds like you’ve found the balance that works for you — that’s awesome! I completely agree there’s no “one way” to parent and different kids need different styles. I love hearing what others do.

    @Kara, I hear you. As I said, I don’t have too many of these rules, I’m just not very good at being flexible with the ones I have. I would hate to be saying “No” all the time as well. Thankfully I don’t feel like that’s the case.

    @Christy, Oh my goodness, please don’t feel bad! That was not my intention at all. I firmly believe there are a MILLION ways to be a great parent to your kid, and your way and my way don’t have to be anywhere near the same. I envy (not judge) your schedule and just wanted to share a little bit of how parenting has challenged me to stretch outside my own comfort zone a little. Certainly did not mean to imply that being strict was the only way to raise a good kid — I don’t think so at all. And I didn’t think that’s what the Parenting article was trying to say either; it just happened to make me feel a little better about one of my own personality traits that I struggle with a bit as a parent.

  6. I have let the screen time one slide in the last few months and I’m regretting that. We were moving out of state in Dec. while I had all day morning sickness and was adjusting to the high altitude (and still am). I work from home and we had no childcare at first in our new town. I know you do what you have to do sometimes, but I get frustrated with the hissy fit that ensues when I say “no, we’re not having family movie night tonight, you have already watched enough shows”. I know it will get better and I will have more energy and we’ll get out more, but I feel guilty about letting her watch more than an hour or two some days. (Not like she’s in front of it all day, but still).
    I think you do have to stick to your guns when you can and realize that giving in will have consequences, not that they aren’t worth it and there isn’t room for it. We let her stay up late when went to the local minor league baseball game on Friday night. She wanted to stay for the Fri. night fireworks but by 9:30 (and hour past bedtime) they were only in the 5th inning, and there was just no way. We are still suffering the sleeping consequences of letting her stay up so late but she had a BLAST (she had been asking to go to a game). Maybe not worth it for my already pregnancy induced sleeping issues self, but seeing her jumping around to the music and enjoying the game and people watching was fabulous.

  7. We definitely have rules that we follow in our house, but we aren’t afraid to make exceptions either. Eli is just shy of 3 and we haven’t really had exceptions backfire, yet. He is pretty understanding when we explain that “chocolate milk is something we only get for lunch on vacation” or whatever it may be. When it comes time to follow the rules again, he might ask for the exception, but is 90% of the time willing to accept that it was just that… an exception.

  8. Kate, I totally hear you! I am the exact same way. Or at least used to be. I definitely feel like I am starting to let up a bit on being so strict with rules (my husband would laugh at me if he heard me say that though…). I definitely think the older they get the more you can relax. By age 5, Esme now understands that “this is just this one time” and you can reason with her why that is. It doesn’t mean, however, that she won’t whine about it the next time. We still get that–but it’s easier to remind her about how it was an exception etc. etc. I also wonder if part of my relaxing has to do with the fact that most people around me aren’t strict with rules and schedules. Maybe it’s an Irish thing, or maybe it’s my in-laws, but I always seem to have the strictest rules of any of the parents and I’m always the one that has to drag the family home from the get together because it’s bed time or nap time and I’m always moaning about the amount of candy the girls get given when we’re out and about. I was complaining the other day about how I’m annoyed that Esme’s school claims to be a “healthy school” and that they don’t allow candy and chips and stuff in their lunches but on Friday they are allowed to bring a small treat in. I was saying that this made me feel pressured into giving her something on a Friday when I normally wouldn’t have at all and the other people I was talking to looked at me like I was crazy–one man ( a priest nonetheless) said “the poor child isn’t even allowed to have a small chocolate bar!). So there you have it. I am clearly the strict Mom as well. But the fact is, I do give her the treat on Friday and they usually have a few other treats on the weekends even though I think they eat way more than they should. And yes, I do have strict bedtimes because the fact of the matter is my kids need them otherwise we all pay! To each their own. I think it’s good that you set boundaries that you are comfortable with and it will really stand to Owen. But know that the older he gets the more you can get away with relaxing a bit and making exceptions. The key is to not beat yourself up about it–drop the Mom guilt and know that you are a great Mom and are giving Owen exactly what he needs, when he needs it!

  9. I think you are being too hard on yourself. I think you’re doing a great job!

  10. I think it’s all about finding the balance that works for you and your family. And it really depends on the kid, too — some kids respond really well to rules and restrictions, others don’t. Some kids can “go with the flow,” others can’t. Ethan and Miles have some hard and fast rules, most having to do with safety (No, you may NOT somersault OFF your bed onto the floor!) and with routines that I feel benefit all of us, like bedtimes, naptimes, mealtimes, etc. — but then I try (really, really, really hard because it’s very difficult for this Type A Virgo to do) to “go with the flow” on the things that maybe don’t matter as much, in the long run. And we talk about how whatever this exception might be is “special” and not for every day. Ethan gets it, Miles is still working on it, but then again, he’s barely two! I will also say, I got MUCH looser about things when I had Miles. I needed to let Ethan have a little more leeway, simply because I couldn’t be right there with him all the time, with a consequence, a reminder, etc. And that was a tough transition, because he tested me A LOT. It was like he knew that the second I sat down to nurse Miles, it was his chance to try something he had NEVER tried before, just to see if he could get away with it. Those first couple of months were rough, but I definitely came away with a better understanding of balance, and also of trusting my kid, who is actually pretty smart about making decisions and knowing the boundaries! I figured out that I needed to give him more credit about understanding the “definites” and the “flexibles.” Now I’m just crossing my fingers that this next transition will be as doable — but Miles is SUCH a different kid, I think I’m in for a whole different ballgame. 🙂

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