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No More Negotiating With Senator Jack

Parenting styles, strategies, and methods were a hot topic in all the mom groups I joined when I had just the one kid to obsess over. That sort of talk always stressed me out. I felt like my kid was always changing, he never fit the examples in the books, and whenever a prescribed parenting technique failed to work for me, I'd beat myself up and spend a week feeling like a rotten failure of a mother. 

So not EVERYONE is as melodramatic as I am, but I eventually made a conscious decision to do away with Parenting Technique Pressure. When I have problems I talk to my mom, I talk to my friends, I ask Twitter a question or two, but I tend to stay away from books and articles and studies and experts. When people recommend Parenting Reading, I smile and nod and then promptly forget all about it. It works for me! Although I suppose you could take one look at my kids and find yourself doubtful about that statement...

There was one idea that all my mom friends seemed to get behind: choices. This was supposed to be empowering for your kid, to have CHOICES. Maybe your kid wouldn't battle you all the time about being told what to do and wear and eat. You could calmly say, "Dearest Child of Mine, would you like to play with the blocks or draw with crayons?" And the child, presented with Choice, would obviously pick one and feel as though he was a little bit in charge of his world. Right? 

NOT MY KID. During one of my "Oh dear God what AM I going to do with this boy?" moments I busted out the Choices. I've seen all of my friends do it. They extolled the idea and it seemed to be working for them. "You can have chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight," I'd tell Jack. And just LOOK at that choice. It's a preschooler win win! But Jack would look straight at me and say, "I want Frosted Mini Wheats with no milk."

This is when we started calling him Senator Jack. Presented with two options, Jack would inevitably find a third. He would flat out IGNORE your generosity, your willingness to negotiate, the bit of freedom you offered and come up with his own, almost always unacceptable Third Choice. 

Now! I have NO DOUBT that Choices work for some kids. Maybe most kids! But mine? Um, no. In fact, it was making everything worse, and me being stupid me, it took a while to figure it out. 

See, I think we parents LIKE the idea of giving kids choices. You live in a world where someone is constantly fighting your plans, whether it's what you've laid out for them to wear, the food you've cooked, or the errand you need to run that morning. It would be so nice, just once, if the kid was actually PLEASED with something. And they're PEOPLE, you know. People don't like being told what to do all the time. They want to make their own decisions! So we offer our kids the opportunity to make their own decisions and again, I'm sure this works for a lot of kids, but for us it's a disaster. I think Jack's thought process, when given a choice, is something like this: "Well, if I can pick chicken nuggets or macaroni, why I don't I shoot for my favorite breakfast? She wants me to be HAPPY and that's what will make me HAPPY!" 

Phillip and I have been making a Concerted Effort to restore Normality around the house. After months of moving, business travel and stomach bugs, we need to get back into a routine. One of the best things we've done is stop giving choices. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are what they are, and would you believe it, we have FEWER eating battles. And when they do complain, they're sent to their room until they can be pleasant at the table. I'm trying not to present Jack with an overwhelming number of Fun! Activities! for him to do by himself during Quiet Time: I just talk up the one or two things I'm willing to do with him, or that he needs to do until I'm available to play with him. 

We still battle over things, obviously. Molly won't want to wear whatever I suggest she wear, whether or not she's given choices. And then sometimes we still do choices, but only when I honestly don't care if they pick one or not. We often talk about what to do in the mornings - zoo? Grocery store? Target? (Pick Target! Pick Target!) - and it's fun to let them pick out a special after dinner treat or a toy from the dollar store. It's not an Either Or thing with choices, but as a Parenting Technique? It wasn't our style. 

There's a whole host of new stuff we're trying as we attempt to fit these kids back into the Routine Box where EVERYONE is happier. I'll try and write more about sleeping arrangements, nap schedules and how I'm trying to stop the constant refrain of MOMMY I HUNGRY! in my next post. There's no guarantee any of this will work (or that I can stick to it) but I'm feeling hopeful for the first time in months!