when her dignity is more important than pants

M has been really been exercising her right to be in control lately. Her response to everything is “I don’t wanna”. Last night at bedtime, I tried to get her to wear pajamas. “I don’t wanna wear pajamas, I don’t wanna dressed”. She reluctantly agreed to wear an Elmo pajama shirt with shiny buttons, but when it came to pants, of any kind, she really dug her heels in.

If there’s one part of parenting I truly loathe, it’s physically restraining or physically forcing a child to do something. Holding down arms, or legs, or dragging a human being around feels so terrible to me. For M, I can see that it’s a matter of dignity. When we physically force her to do something against her will, I see her spirit curl up and die a little. I see the agony in her mind as she perceives herself to be violated. So, often, I “give in”, or decide that it’s not worth sending her a message that she is not the one who makes decisions about her own body. That’s a message I just really don’t want to send to anyone, let alone a little girl.

Why is it that we applaud grown-ups, especially grown women, for making their own decisions about their body, for saying NO loudly and forcefully when they are being made to do something that feels wrong to them, and yet we force our children to comply to whatever request we make? If M doesn’t want to wear pants, if she feels more natural and comfortable without pants, well… she’s not the only person in the world who likes to sleep naked! Who am I to pin her body down while she cries and force the pants on? What’s more important, her wearing pants because that’s what I deem is appropriate sleepwear, or her learning that she is capable of making decisions about her own body, and that she not only can make them, but should?

Yes, she needs to sleep on a pad to keep the mattress from getting peed on in the night. She didn’t want to sleep in my bed, even. She wanted to sleep on the couch! At first I insisted on the bed, but then… ok, she wants to sleep on the couch. There have been many times in my life when I wanted to fall asleep on the couch! So I covered my half-naked child up with a blanket, gave her her milk, and her bears, and she was asleep within minutes. I waited a half hour, and transferred her back to the bed, with the pad under her, then put a diaper on. And I felt really good about it, even though I “gave in”. It felt right.

Another situation where this comes up is getting into, and out of, the car seat. Usually when she gets home from school, M refuses to get out of the car. So lately, I’ve been locking up my make up and wallet (stuff she’ll make a huge mess with or lose) and just letting her play in it. It’s not like she has the key and can drive away!

I’m grateful to all of the reading, the blogs and books, that have led me to look carefully at the messages that I send my daughter about the value of her opinions, her feelings, and her decisions. I’m glad that I can sometimes see when it’s only about control, and not about safety or necessity. I still have a lot to learn, and always will, but I feel so much better about parenting these days than I used to!

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Categories: parenting

7 Comments »

  1. I will often stop and ask myself if I’m trying to win a power struggle or if I’m trying to keep my kids safe and healthy. I may think Zu needs a jacket in the morning, but chilly temps aren’t actually going to hurt her between the house and the car. It’s not about being excessively permissive, it’s about demonstrating what boundaries are non-negotiable (holding hands in a parking lot) and what allows her to make independent decisions. But I will say that for us, age 3 is so much easier than age 2. She’s just much easier to talk with. She can clearly communicate what she wants, but also understand my perspective a bit better. So I insist on teeth brushing, but if she wants to sleep with fifty stuffed animals and ten books, I’m not going to fight her.

    • I’m glad to hear age 3 is a bit easier! Everyone keeps telling me it’s harder. Ma is still not speaking in full sentences most of the time, so it’s pretty hard to communicate well right now.

      I feel that showing our children by example how to negotiate, and when, is much more important than just winning every power struggle. Not the message that society sends us about raising kids, though!

  2. I’ve had similar issues lately with Wallace. Our schedule is all messed up with work and not getting a nap in when we are there. Then he is overtired when it is time for bed and it can be a fight to get him out of the bath, dressed, teeth brushed, etc. I hate forcing it and try to get cooperation before it gets to meltdown stage. I have been able to keep my cool better (less stress and herbs for my liver) and that helps the situations keep from escalating. He has just started insisting on getting into his car seat on his own. If he does it promptly, no big deal, but I usually don’t have the patience or time to let him spend 5 minutes to do it.

      • I want him to learn that there are more factors to the world than his own desires. Ya know? I try to account for all the extra time he needs and give him plenty of opportunities to do things for himself, but that isn’t always an option.

      • I don’t think anyone can get through life, in school or not in school, without realizing that they can’t have everything they want, and dealing with it. My daughter doesn’t want to sit in her car seat, but she has to. It’s safe, and it’s the law. She doesn’t always want to go to bed when she’s tired, but it’s my job as a parent to guide her to sleep when she obviously needs it, until she can pick that up on her own. She may choose where to sleep, or how, but she MUST sleep. She must also respect others’ bodies and spaces.

  3. Even as a nanny I’ve been a fan of choosing my battles wisely. It is my number one job to keep you safe and healthy, otherwise, we shall see. So long as it’s weather/activity appropriate, I don’t give 2 shits what g wears. Starting with the kids I took care of before G I’ve been grocery shopping with more princesses and fictional characters then I can relay. G literally spends 97% of her time at home with no company in nothing but her undies. I just don’t care. If that’s how she wants to fulfill her power needs? So be it! Just eat some damn veggies. Or any food really.
    Good for you mama!!

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