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”?