Monday, February 25, 2013

Don't Die on That Hill

One of the pieces of advice that parenting experts always dispense is to "pick your battles" with your children. It is interesting to note that this guidance has also been given to the architects of American foreign policy. However, in parenting and foreign policy this help is mostly theoretical, because more often than not, the other party will pick the battles for you. My children have had meltdowns over things that I couldn't even imagine being issues. For example, the Baby recently insisted that the brownie she ate after dinner didn't qualify as dessert, and that she should be able to have ice cream. She was very convincing in her screaming explanation that she was not asking for two desserts, the brownie just was not a dessert. Really, it was an issue of semantics, according to her. I held my ground, and decided that allowing her even a smidgen of ice cream would be interpreted as a tacit concession that maybe brownies aren't dessert. Then it's just a slippery slope to eating pudding for breakfast.

Sometimes, though it isn't so easy to decide when to let things go and when to make an issue of something. Over the last nine years, I have identified several areas that you should just let your kids win. It's just not worth the aggravation and you can save your energy for bigger battles like brushing teeth or hitchhiking across country.

1. Clothes (the early years)- When kids are little, some will happily go along with whatever a parent chooses for them to wear. Others will have quirky requirements for their attire, i.e., no stripes ("what am I, a zebra?"), only orange shirts, no dresses, only dresses, no shirt collars, or only short sleeves. But, when it comes down to it, what is important is that they don't freeze to death in the winter or overheat in the summer. Any outfits that meet those criteria are pretty much acceptable. If you are type-A, like me, this will drive you slightly insane because there is a closet and dresser full of cute, appropriate clothing being ignored while your kid traipses around in a bag-lady clown suit, but it is simply not worth the fight. That is why this happened:

And this:

2. Clothes (the older years) - Once you hit junior high, some schools will have dress codes and you want to make sure your daughter isn't the one getting sent home for wearing booty shorts. I am already brainwashing the Girl (who is nine, but looks 12) with rules like, "leggings on bottom, volume on top." She rolls her eyes and says, "I don't know what geometry has to do with anything." Girls aren't alone with dress code violations. Some boys in my high school class had to wear hoodies (which we just called sweatshirts in olden times) because they came to school after a Beastie Boys concert wearing shirts that looked like this:

This wouldn't even fly in the liberal north.
There was also a girl in my high school who was made to cover up because she wore her bathing suit and a pair of shorts to school. Please do take a stand if your child tries to wear a bathing suit to school. That outfit should have gotten flagged before she left the house. You don't do your child any favors by letting the a school take care of this one. She will be traumatized if an administrator throws a blanket over her in the hallway to prevent a nip-slip. 

3. Costumes - This is a special sub-category of clothing that you should also not worry about. This one can cut either way: your kid may want to wear nothing but a costume all the time. Let him. Your kid may never want to dress up for Halloween or any other costume-wearing occasion. Who cares? The Boy played on a soccer team when he was about three and one of his teammates wore a tiger uniform to every game. He would wear his team shirt over the costume, but he wore that costume every week. He also wouldn't actually play soccer, so his dad would run up and down the field holding him. 

That that kid is now one of the Boy's best friends. This is especially funny because the Boy refused to wear costumes of any kind from age two until age six. He seemed to think that he would look weird if he wore a costume. He couldn't understand that if everyone else is wearing a costume and you are not, you actually stand out more. On Halloween, he refused to go trick-or-treating, and preferred to stay home and give out candy to the other kids. This was a hard one for me, because I wanted him to dress up and have fun like the other kids. Then it dawned on me that forcing him to dress up and beg for candy would not teach him to love Halloween, it would just make him hate it more. This was about me wanting to take some pictures of my cute kids in costumes to share with my friends and family. Who the hell cares? If the kid doesn't want to dress up and doesn't like free candy, why force it?

That's the Boy, up front at the Girl's 5th birthday. While the other kids
are dressed like princesses and superheroes, he's attired for casual Friday.

4. Family Pictures - When the Girl was two and the Boy was four months old, I was determined to take a cute picture of them for our Christmas card. Here are two of the better picture attempts:

I know. I know. The poor Boy looks like he's sending telepathic messages to save him and the Girl is ready to rip my face off. Happy family! I also had a great one of the Girl dragging the Boy across the floor by his feet as he spit up. You get the point, which is to not expect family pictures to be perfect because you are photographing children and not a bowl of fruit. Also, hire a professional who can take 500 pictures because you will probably only get four in which someone isn't crying. Alternatively, Photoshop.

5. Santa - In theory it is very nice to let your children meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas. However, the reality is that many children are afraid of men with beards; many children are also afraid of strangers; and, many children dislike getting dressed up. So, it's no surprise that many children hate a situation that involves all three of these trigger points. I knew my children well enough to know that the Santa thing wasn't going to happen without major pain for everyone involved. Yes, Santa is a professional in dealing with screaming kids, but really, is this the memory you want to preserve?

6. Food - I know that Jessica Seinfeld has made a killing on teaching parents how to hide zucchini in their kids' chicken nuggets so that they'll eat vegetables, but my feeling on the subject is this: if your kid is eating something from each of the food groups, she is probably fine. The list of foods that the Boy will eat is pretty short, but there are foods from all the groups represented, and although I usually have to cook him a separate meal, he is eating a balanced diet. Back when he was in preschool, his teacher told me that I should force him to eat what the family is eating. Lovely thought, but at the time I had a baby, a four year old, and a six year old. It was not an opportune time to get into a power struggle over food. Know your limits.

I am also not a big fan of "clean your plate." I figure that if some vegetables have been eaten and the kid says that he is full, that's good enough for me. One thing my parents did an excellent job of was making healthy food and letting us eat it without commentary. It seems to me that if there is a lot of talk at the dinner table about how people are eating, what people are eating, dieting, fat content, and calorie content, you aren't enjoying the food and you are setting your kids up for all sorts of food-related issues. Just my two cents, feel free to disagree.

7. Trips to the Store - At this point, I can usually coordinate things so that I do not have to take all the children to the store with me. This is wonderful because you can get all the shopping done quickly and you don't have anyone begging you to buy random knick-knacks. On the occasions that I do have my children with me at the store, I think it is okay to reward their good behavior. Yes, I am saying that you should not worry about bribing your children. If you have a huge shopping list and you are expecting your children to accompany you patiently, there's got to be something in it for them. I have found that offering a box of Tic-Tacs as a reward is sufficient. They are kids, after all, and unless they're popping Tic-Tacs fairly often, this is a major treat.

If they eat the whole box, who cares? They are the 2 calorie breath mint. 
8. Potty training - The Baby is four, so I haven't forgotten that giddy feeling of never having to buy another diaper. The thing is, I think parents put too much pressure on themselves an their kids to be potty trained by a certain age. If your kid isn't ready, don't push him because it will just turn into a major thing and you'll all be miserable. The kid will probably not be going to college in pull-ups. I think that this is also the first competition thing between parents. I had a mom tell me within five minutes of meeting that her 18-month-old was potty trained. Mazel Tov and all, but big whoop. Of course, if she told me she went the elimination communication route, well, then I'd be impressed. Also, really?

It seems to me that a good corollary to the "pick your battles" theorem is that, if winning the battle matters to you, but doesn't matter in an overall sense, drop it. Cute photos of kids in costumes, being able to say that you potty trained your kid early, and that your kid is the "best eater" are not really about your kid. They're about you being able to brag about your kid and, let me break it to you, no one but  your close friends and family really cares. You think your kid is the best and I think my kid is the best. Even if your kid exchanges phone numbers with Santa, shits on command, and eats foie gras, it will not change my opinion that my child is fabulous. Kinda harsh, I know. But, look parenting is really hard and I definitely do not have it figured out. But I do know that if you obsess on things that do not really matter, you will drive yourself and your children crazy. And, when you are faced with an issue of real consequence, you will need your sanity to make it through.

What about you all? Any battles that you've decided to concede to your kids?


  1. Love it! (Of course, you are preaching to the choir here.) Loud "AMEN!" to 1, 6 and 8 and big laughs for 4. I received a holiday card with an "outtake photo" on the back on year (like yours above) and I loved it!

    1. Thanks! I'm glad we think alike on these important issues. :)