While pregnant with #1, I had grand ideas about parenting. I would always. I would never. Yeah, right. Fast-forward five years:
Eating in the car?
Before kids: “Never! Have some respect for the vehicle!”
After kids: Cheerios everywhere.
Before kids: “Pshaw! Those parents are smoking crack!”
After kids: “If you’re good for just five more minutes, just five, okay, two, okay, one, okay just put that down and we will have a treat at checkout.”
Before kids: “Who lets a child wear a superhero cape in Target?.”
After kids: Have bodily carried into an airport carried a screaming, thrashing child wearing a Tinkerbell nightgown and no underwear.
But one standard I’ve maintained: I Am Not Running a Restaurant.
That said, I believe in letting children make choices whenever practical. Up to a point.
I am cracking eggs into a bowl and ask my dear offspring, “Would you like White American or Cheddar in your scrambled eggs today?”
“Um, I wan’ a dip-dip egg in-stead.” [“Dip-dip egg” means “over easy”.]
“Sorry, sweetie, I am making scrambled today. But you can pick your cheese.”
“But! But! But I really wannnn-ed a dip-dip egg!”
“Tomorrow you may have dip-dip egg. Today is scrambled.”
“But I wan’ned it to-DAY!”
“Go ahead to your room until you can get ahold of yourself, honey.”
Foley: little feet trotting off, then a fair SLAM of a bedroom door.
I continue scrambling eggs. I pick the cheese. After a decent interval:
From the living room: [cough, cough]
From the kitchen: [scramble scramble]
She blinks first and edges into the kitchen.
[cough cough] “Mom? I fink I am sick.”
“Oh, you do? Too sick to eat breakfast?”
[clearing throat] “Yes. I fink I just need some med’cin.”
“So no breakfast. Well, that’s a shame, because I just dished you up some mandarin oranges.”
Whaddaya know, the mandarin oranges triggered a miracle cure.
It would really have been easier to ask her, “What do you want for breakfast?” But, as I said, I’m not running a restaurant.
Try This at Home: Today’s Takeaways
I know some parents — my mother among them — feel that giving a choice (e.g., which cheese) also gives too much leeway (or power) to a preschooler. But my sister and I agree that:
- To function well in today’s information glut, children must practice choice-making.
- By the same token, they must practice living with consequences.
- A 4-year-old has little real control over her world; why not let her pick the cheese?
- Post office first, or dry cleaner first? It’s all the same to you. But the drycleaner has lollipops, which can make or break a morning when you are 4 years old.
- Offer choices when practical: Playground or hike? Carrots or cucumbers? Bike or scooter?
Note, however, those last two words: wherever practical. That means practical for YOU, the Mama. You don’t have to run a restaurant, either.