Parents of toddlers know the importance of standing our ground; of being consistent; of routine; of not being a pushover. It’s our leg to stand on. It makes us credible. And it WORKS.
Knowing what to expect next gives toddlers a sense of control when they are so often the ones being controlled (and rightly so, those wee little humans). I see it daily even in the small ways, like in how many times my daughter *needs* to watch Frozen in any given week. Memorizing the plot, the lines, the lyrics…it gives her a sense of comfort to know what’s coming up next in her very unpredictable world.
Toddlers thrive on routine, even though they often fight it. Every toddler ever is trying to also moonlight as a master manipulator. Somewhere around the age of two they magically learn the art of negotiation, and resisting, and stalling. If you’re a parent to a toddler, I only need one word to illustrate my point: bedtime.
I spend a large part of my days counter-negotiating. When I’m not parenting, I get plenty of practice at this while coaching teenagers. Toddlers and teenagers, folks. Tough crowds. I don’t want to be viewed as a pushover in either role, but it seems particularly important to me to hold my ground as Nora’s mom. She’s mine, after all. As her parent I’m her first teacher. And I’m setting the groundwork now for when she attempts to manipulate/negotiate with her cheerleading coach when she’s in high school.
Still…how does the expression go? Know the rules but know when to break them? I’ve recently been able to jump back into the bedtime routine rotation with my husband, a rare treat now that cheerleading season is over and I no longer have evening practices. I think because I don’t get to do this often with her, she doesn’t go to bed easily for me. After, many bedtimes ago, I picked up on her stall tactics, I fought back hard to resist being taken advantage of at bedtime. I’ve learned to put my foot down on how many times I go back into the room for snuggles, now only going in to quietly put her back to bed rather than climb in and snuggle her every time. Because as much as I enjoy a snuggly toddler, I do cherish my kid-free time in the evening.
This past week, while putting her to bed, my daughter got up an unusual number of times. My go-to tactics just weren’t working that day. After nearly an hour of frustration, tucking back in, and ignoring the pleas for one more snuggle, I realized that being a stickler for the routine wasn’t going to cut it.
So what did I do? I put aside the fear that I would somehow undo months of routine-setting in one instance and climbed back into bed with her. My daughter held me close in a hug like she’s never given me before. Like a strong bear hug where I couldn’t move – and in that moment I wanted to stay there forever. I realized that, that evening, my daughter wasn’t trying to be manipulative or stall; she was simply being my sweet baby and just needed one more cuddle from her mommy. I told her I’d stay for two more minutes (our tactic to put a limit on just about everything) and for her that was enough. Just one last hug, one last chance that day for me to tell her that no one will ever love her like I do…it was all my daughter needed fall right asleep.
So – know the rules…and know when one more snuggle is just the right thing for everybody.