Who’s the Boss?

by jennifer on April 28, 2009

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Like most people I know, I spent my adolescence longing for true independence. Though my parents certainly weren’t oppressive, I was always anxious to assume control of my own life. I wanted to decide for myself, everything from whether to become a vegetarian, to what I wanted to do with my Saturday afternoon or when I wanted to go to bed. Adulthood, even with all its responsibilities, was freedom; finally, I was my own boss. Eventually, I partnered with an amazing man, and together we took charge of our new life. Six years later, I gave birth to our baby girl . . . and was instantly demoted.

Meet the new boss. After only 21 months on the job, she’s shaken things up quite a bit at our place. So much for deciding for myself when I wanted to go to bed. These days, plans often don’t proceed – well, as I planned – because the youngest person in our family has different ideas. And more often than not, when such conflicts arise, we defer to our daughter. (Within reason and safety permitting, of course.)

Oh, we could insist that she do things our way all the time. We’re the adults after all, right? We could have started her off on a strict feeding schedule, and sleep trained her early on. When she was an infant, and insisting on being in-arms at all times, we could have refused to hold her around the clock to ensure she wouldn’t be “spoiled.” Now that she’s a toddler – an increasingly independent and opinionated one, at that – we could make sure she knows who’s in charge by demanding that she do as we ask, every time and without question, simply because we said so. But our commitment to practicing attachment parenting suggests a different approach.

When she was a newborn, I nursed our daughter on demand (even at 21 months, I rarely refuse her/try to redirect her if she asks). When she protested the crib, the bouncer, and the swing, we brought her into our bed, and stocked up on baby carriers to free our hands while she nestled against our chests in a pouch or a wrap. It didn’t take long for us to realize we were definitely not running this show, but responding to our daughter with compassion and respect was much more important to us than reasserting whatever control we might have thought we, as parents, were entitled to.

Toddlerhood, complete with tantrums and “no!” , presents its own challenges, of course. But again we find ourselves less concerned with establishing authority, focusing instead on supporting and being sensitive to our growing girl. So if we ask her to do something, and she’s firmly opposed, we’re willing to consider that, and usually willing to change course. Of course there are non-negotiables, like taking medicine when she’s truly ill, or not crossing the street without holding our hands. But most situations have room for compromise if you’re not adamant about not giving in.

Much of conventional parenting philosophy suggests that if you don’t establish who’s in charge early on, your kids will walk all over you. But since becoming a parent, I’ve become less concerned with identifying who’s the boss. Our family is a whole unit, and our daughter is just as important a part of that unit as either her father or I. Just because she’s smaller doesn’t mean her opinions are any less valid. More importantly, just because we could impose our will upon her doesn’t often mean that we should. What better way to teach her to treat others with respect than to demonstrate it ourselves, starting with her?  

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jennifer (8 Posts)


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Trisha April 28, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Great post- one of the hardest things about choosing to parent the way I do has been letting go of control. It’s a daily struggle for me. Sometimes I think it would be easier to impose my will on my 22 month old, but then I remind myself that we’ll both be better off if I relax.

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justine April 28, 2009 at 8:51 pm

What a nice post, Jennifer! When we model good behavior our babies (and toddlers, and older children, and even spouses!) are much more likely to return the favor! I love the results we have had with being respectful of our children and their autonomy. When we stop mindlessly striving to reach our “grown up” agenda’s and simply help our children learn, grow, and thrive, our lives become so much less complicated! And they are much more likely to follow directions when they are important (like holding hands while crossing the street) since we haven’t wasted all of our “rule points” on things that are not really important!

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Lara April 30, 2009 at 9:12 pm

I love this post! We have a 21-month-old daughter as well, and although her “NO!”s, “Lily do it!” and constantly changing mind about everything gets frustrating, we absolutely refuse to walk all over her just because we’re bigger than she is. I never want our daughter to feel that her voice isn’t important to us. And you know, it’s just easier (I think) to be patient with her, let her explore, and let her be herself, than to create a constant battle of wills that gets us nowhere. Thanks for validating something that my husband and I have been feeling so strongly lately!

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Stacy (mama-om) May 20, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Very nicely put!

I have had (and continue to have) the same thoughts and practices. When most people are so used to thinking in terms of duality (one person is right and the other is wrong; or whoever is stronger “wins”), it can be downright radical to assume a family model based on collaboration and mutual respect.

Radical, and very rewarding!

Blessings to you and your family,
Stacy

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