Someone to Guard the Boundaries


My very tired four-year-old daughter fell asleep almost instantly after lights out tonight. We had an evening of play, rough housing, tag, hide-and-seek, board games, stomp foam rocket launchers in the basement, tea parties, trains, and as the evening wore on my daughter wore out. The end turned out rough for both of us, and it concluded with my daughter flinging herself to the floor of her playhouse and declaring “I don’t like you.”

My answer? “That’s okay. I’m your mother. You don’t have to like me, but you do have to go to bed.”

Then while she shed all kinds of tears both real and crocodile, she brushed her teeth, donned her new pajamas from Grandma, settled slowly and, when the lights went out, fell asleep instantly.

Parenting is a highly personal job. Personal in that it’s only works one-on-one. Personal in that parents and children need face-to-face contact, conversation and quality time together. But a parent can’t take any of it personally. When it’s bedtime and my daughter is obviously exhausted, my job is not to be her best friend and get her to like me. My job is to be her Mom and get her to bed.

A group of moms the other day were out at lunch discussing the things our children have said to us.

The one that took the cake was this: “Why do you always reject the good things that I try to do?”

The story: the young man speaking had been asked by his parents to come outside and help them clear the driveway after the last big snow. Long after being asked, just as his mom and dad were finishing the work, he came out suited up, snow boots on, ready to wield that shovel.

He was admonished for not coming out when he was asked, and his response was, well…

“Why do you always reject the good things that I try to do?

Brilliant when you think about it. His response left his flabbergasted parents speechless.

My husband and I were out the other night, and one of the things we were talking about was raising our daughter. I mentioned that I never really feel like I know what I am doing, but that I always seem to stumble in the right direction. Perhaps it’s because my parents (and my husband’s parents) set good examples, so I have an idea of what works. Perhaps it’s because I have tried to be prepared; I do read the parenting theory books. I do listen to what the education experts say. I do talk to other parents who seem to be doing things well. Perhaps it’s because I don’t go for the instant gratification, “feel good” moment.

I don’t like it when my daughter declares “I don’t like you.” But I don’t take it personally. Even though I don’t like hearing those words, I know that in the long run things will be better if I maintain the bedtime routine and hold my ground. I’m her mother, not her BFF, that role is someone else’s to fill, and perhaps that is the most important thing I need to remember.

I think children really need their parents to be parents. When kids push boundaries, I think they want us to push back so that they know those boundaries are still there and that we are still guarding the perimeter. After all, it’s nice to know that someone is looking out for you, making sure you eat right and get a good night’s sleep.

© 2011 Michele Arduengo All rights reserved.

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