Choosing Your Battles
My daughter hates wearing socks. We’ve tried long socks, short socks, colored socks, socks with seamless toes, boys’ tube socks, tights, knee-highs… you name it, we’ve tried it. When she was a toddler, she’d scream and pull them off. When she was a preschooler, she’d melt into a puddle of tears if I enforced the arbitrary “you have to wear socks” rule. Once she started elementary school, she’d come home many days with her socks in her backpack. Now that she’s nine, I don’t even bother suggesting that she wear socks. I do keep a pair in her backpack or in my purse just in case a situation arises that she needs them (for example, if we go to an indoor playspace that requires socks), but I’ve stopped insisting, suggesting and cajoling. They’re her feet, after all; what difference does it make in the long run?
No doubt you’ve heard the adage, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but when it comes to our kids, it can be hard to determine what qualifies as “small stuff.” Is it worth it to insist that your five-year-old eat all of his peas? Or that your 10-year-old wear a coat to school? That your 13-year-old waits another year before wearing mascara, or that your 17-year-old keeps his bedroom door open if he has a female friend (or girlfriend!) over?
What you determine qualifies as “small stuff” is an individual decision that will be different for each family. In general, safety rules should be non-negotiable. For example: The car doesn’t move if your three-year-old refuses to get in her carseat, only one child at a time can jump on the trampoline, helmets are mandatory when bike-riding, and everyone must wear a lifejacket when out on the boat. Aside from rules that directly impact life or limb, however, where do you draw the line? Here are a few tips:
- Ask yourself what the worst consequence might be. In the case of my daughter’s sockless feet, she might get a blister, and her shoes might stink. These can be remedied by giving her a bandaid and using foot powder inside of her shoes (two strategies that we’ve used). In this case, the potential consequences are not worth the time devoted to fighting a battle. When my son went through a phase where he refused to wear a jacket, I packed an extra sweatshirt in his bag and let him figure it out for himself. He wasn’t going to freeze to death (it wasn’t that cold); if he felt chilly, he’d either take a coat next time or would know the consequences ahead of time. (This won’t work if it’s below freezing in your area, of course!)
- Ask yourself if it will matter in a month, six months or a year. If all of your pre-teen’s friends are wearing mascara, does it really make any difference whether she starts now or next year? If it won’t matter, why are you fighting?
- Determine who it means more to, you or your child. This may depend on your personal values, as well as the experience that you have and that your child does not. Although your teenager might not think that getting all of her homework done is of utmost importance, you know that it can negatively impact her grades and possibly her future. Similarly, if you are morally opposed to your teen being alone with a boyfriend or girlfriend in your home, then your values trump his desire for privacy at this time in his life. On the other hand, if your six-year-old hates cooked carrots, then let him eat an apple instead. It’s not worth a fight!
As the kids grow, they’ll need to make many of their own decisions. Choosing your battles and not sweating the small stuff, whatever that is, gives them a chance to practice making choices, and may save you some sanity!
What are some battles that you’ve chosen not to fight?