Lessons from Parenthood – Pick Your Battles
This is the second in a series of posts titled Lessons From Parenthood. Definitely not lessons in parenthood because I know I am not qualified to write about those. Parenthood teaches so many incredible lessons, many of them humbling and hopefully funny. We parents have to laugh at ourselves if we are going to survive.
I want to start by relating an experience. Our children have all loved taking baths, most kids do. My husband and I were shocked and completely grossed out when our first child began to drink her bath water. Kids pee in the bath and just…ew. No way was our child going to drink bath water. We spent months stopping her from swallowing bath water. Bath time became a stressful battle of wills. I complained about the situation, a lot. I mentioned it to my mother, who happens to be a retired physician. She laughed at me and said it wasn’t going to hurt my daughter. Then she said, “Pick your battles.”
But it was still gross and so my husband and I continued in our futile attempts to stop the bath drinking. We were sure that she would get some disgusting disease if we didn’t stop this terrible habit. Finally, after a year or longer and bringing another child into the mix who did the exact same thing no matter how often we stopped her, I gave up. I threw my hands in the air and said fine you want to drink the dirty pee water, then drink the dirty pee water.
And they did. And they didn’t get sick. And they enjoyed bath time. Funny thing, so did I. It wasn’t nearly as stressful when I didn’t have to watch them constantly and grab the cup from their mouths or scold them for drinking. I could sit in the bathroom and read a book while they played. Huh, so much better than playing bath water police.
I learned a valuable lesson with that bath water. I should have listened to my mother’s advice, but that’s not the lesson I am writing about today.
Pick Your Battles
As parents, we feel a deep responsibility to teach our children to become good, non-gross adults. I know that I can occasionally become so focused on having my children do and behave how I want that I forget that there are lots of little qwerks and kinks that aren’t a big deal. Many of which they work out on their own.
Bath water for example, eventually my children have gotten old enough to realize that drinking the bath water is gross and they stopped. But it didn’t truly stop until they came to that conclusion themselves.
Instead of focusing on those unimportant qwerks, I try to focus on things of more significance. In so doing, I save both my and my children’s sanity. Another battle I fought during the bath drinking years, was getting my children in the habit of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Guess what? Please and thank you are far more important than the bath water.
Once I stopped trying to fight so many battles at once, the ones I did choose became more important to my children and thus more effective.
Part of my initial problem was being a first time parent and not knowing what battles were important to pick. With my last two children, I have never once cared if they drank the bath water. But do we ever stop being a first time parent? As my oldest child continues to grow I am still faced with unknowns that my twelve years of parenting haven’t prepared me for. I’ve got more reference material in deciding how to tackle things but I still end up baffled.
When I find myself in the midst of an ongoing battle of wills with one of my children, I have to take a step back and reevaluate why I am fighting with them and why they are willing to fight back. Sometimes it becomes a battle of ‘I am the parent and you will obey’. Eh, not the most effective strategy. Am I always self-aware enough to take that step back before things get heated and blown out of proportion? Sadly, no. I mean the bath water thing lasted at least a year, so anything that takes me less than a year to figure out is doing better, right?
Decide what is important. It will be different with every family and maybe every child. For my husband and me it often comes down to safety, responsibility, and kindness. If it falls in those categories we usually push it. If not and it falls in with general grossness or weird or annoying we may mention it occasionally but it’s not going to get a full, double parent assault.