10 Essential Lessons for Life: Pick Your Battles
Oh, the daily battles: “I don’t WANT to wear those shoes!” “I don’t LIKE that food!” “I am NOT going to sleep!”
Have you heard any of these words uttered in your house? Oh.
Yeah, me, neither.
Right, because I know know know you have. If you have a child living under your roof, this (or some other variation) is most likely uttered more than once in your home.
Once again, I give you a series of insights that will hopefully motivate and inspire you with your own family. These core lessons and values are the foundation of our family. We will continue to grow throughout our lifetime, and there is no way we can teach our children everything. Yet these lessons are the pinnacle of what we believe in. It’s not just us parents teaching our children, either. The first five lessons are what we’ve imparted to our daughters. These last five are the valuable lessons they’ve taught us. If you missed the first six lessons, here you go:
Lessons In Parenting
Once again, I give you a series of insights that will hopefully motivate and inspire you with your own family. These core lessons and values are the foundation of our family. We will continue to grow throughout our lifetime, and there is no way we can teach our children everything. Yet these lessons are the pinnacle of what we believe in. It’s not just us parents teaching our children, either.
The first five lessons are what we’ve imparted to our daughters. These last five are the valuable lessons they’ve taught us.
If you missed the first six lessons, here you go:
Lesson #7: Pick Your Battles
You know how this is going to go. You lay out the sweet matching outfit for your toddler, and she wakes up dead-set on wearing the teddy bear costume in the back of her closet that she wore on Halloween two years ago. Yes, not only is it the middle of blazing hot summer, but that costume was snug on her last year – you know it will be super tight.
But is this a hill you really want to die on? Is it worth it this morning to demand she wear the “scratchy” dress her grandmother bought her when all she dreams of in this life is to be a teddy bear?In the scope of life, is this an absolute dealbreaker?
The Story of the Teddy Bear
So you let her put on the teddy bear outfit. Don’t create battles from the get-go. She’s bright and chipper this morning, so just allow it to naturally work itself out. Calmly pack the other outfit as backup and keep on going. As she squeezes her way into a much-too-small fleece bear suit, you start to see the realization on her face that maybe this isn’t such a good idea. You don’t say a word about it and keep up the momentum to step outside. You may even think up some fabulous excuse why she needs to come outside with you, like looking for shoes in the car.
As she runs to the car to “help” you find her shoes, she opens up the molten heat wave of contained warmth. The car has been sitting in direct sunlight all morning, and it’s a good 100 degrees. Kick up that bear suit stance a little bit more, baby, it’s getting toasty in here!
Her resolve is strong. She persists, even as little beads of perspiration start to form on her forehead. You two pack things up to hop in the car as you head to the playground for a playdate. The heat is almost like a blanket in the humid Southern sunshine, and your daughter slightly hesitates as she unloads from the car. But strong she stands, and the teddy bear walks out with confidence.
And then, she sees her best friend. Wearing – you guessed it – a dress. The other girl is super excited about the battle she “won” this morning, wearing her fancy hot pink flowing dress that clearly wasn’t her mother’s cool hipster choice. You take a look at the mom and nod in solidarity of the clothing battles that could have escalated, and the calculated decisions you both made to not walk into that warzone.
The girls play for a minute, and then you see that same look of hesitation you saw when your daughter first stepped into the heat. As she slowly walks back your direction, she sees your bag. And falling out of the bag is…the dress. That thin, flowy, cool outfit. The one that is as bright and princess-y as her BFF’s (albeit a tad bit more trendy).
She runs up and asks you if she can change outfits and you gladly acquiesce. After a quick wardrobe change, she transfers her “bear” over to a huge bear hug for mommy, says “I love you,” and runs back off to play. No battles. No tears.
It’s Nice To Not Always Be the “Bad Guy”
Natural consequences completely work in our favor. When you allow for natural consequences, it’s not just your word against theirs. It’s life! All of a sudden, it’s not mommy forcing her to wear clothes she hates; it’s her deciding to adapt to the weather and change her mind. We all are allowed to do that time and time again.
I may not start out my morning in a bear suit, but even in my thirties, there are days where I may put on an outfit and change later on in the day because it got hotter or colder than I expected. Yes, possibly poor planning on my part, but I haven’t lost any sleep beating myself up for wearing pants in the morning when shorts were a better idea. I simply re-evaluate and move on.
The next day, the clothes battle goes like this – she sees the monkey suit (and you realize you really need to clean out her closet) and runs to put it on. Instead of screaming “no! not again!” you calmly say, “Remember the bear suit.”
Enough said. Pick your battles. She will learn. Now, your voice has complete reason behind it, as her little mind can immediately go to a real-life example of where the outfit she chose was not fun to wear that day. Instead of a battle, it opens the door to conversation. You talk about the weather, throw some unschooling awesomeness in there about what meteorologists do, and you look up the weather highs and lows for the day.
Now, your child is making clothing decisions based on experiencing both the comfort and discomfort clothing choices can bring in the weather. This same scenario can be flip-flopped to winter, when your son demands the t-shirt and shorts on the one day it’s supposed to snow.
Practice Being Kind Rather Than Being Right
Pick your battles. Sometimes people need to truly experience something for themselves. Same goes for your children. If they have no frame of reference for why they need to do something (like wear lighter clothes in the summer), then they are simply taking orders with no logic behind them.
Author and blogger Wendy Thomas Russell says “…letting kids dress in the clothes that make them feel good is the right thing to do. By allowing our children to choose what they like, we are affirming that their opinions are valid, that their taste is respected, that their choices are worthy. We are telling them it’s better than okay to be who they are; it’s wonderful.”
That other little girl on the playground had a potential battle with her mother that morning as well. But the mother recognized that this wasn’t a poor outfit choice; it was merely not her style or preference. So the child won, and she rocked that obnoxious hot pink little toddler prom dress all day long.
Kids aren’t going to make the right decisions all the time. Last I observed, we as adults are still capable of poor choices as well. The point is not to make every decision the absolute best for our children. We are raising the future generation. These children are going to have to make decisions on their own. At some point, they could very well be making all the decisions for US! I would hope that those decisions are educated ones, based on their life experience and what they have observed and learned to be true. Not simply because someone else told them to do something.
Are You the Dog Or The Stone-Thrower?
Pick your battles. Allow your children to explore and experiment with the world. With every bit of pushback you receive, observe whether it’s a hill you want to die on. Is this really worth a battle, or will it straighten itself out on its own?
- Your tween doesn’t want to eat dinner. Okay. (Chances are, he won’t starve to death by skipping a meal, and he will be very ready for the next time you offer food.)
- Your preschooler doesn’t want to sit in the stroller on your power-walk. She’s ready to be just like you! (she makes it down two blocks and is seriously lagging behind. You get on her level and ask her if she’d like to ride in the stroller. No shame, no “I told you so.” She gladly takes a break, hops in the stroller, and chugs from the water bottle that is only for stroller rides. You have a delightful conversation for the rest of your walk about leg length and speed, and she’s proud of the two blocks she did on her own. She has a whole new respect for your 5 mile walk you accomplished).
- Your baby won’t latch on and nurse this morning. You know she’s hungry, and she’s usually an excellent nurser. You start to stress out because right now is the best time to nurse and it’s tempting to just shove her into it. (Remember the old adage, you can lead a horse to water… Trying to force an infant to nurse when they aren’t into it is a recipe for disaster. Believe me, I know this one well. It stresses you out – which affects milk flow. It’s a losing battle, as you know you cannot reason with an infant. Set the baby down and let them – and you – chill. Do something else for a little while, and try again. When an infant is hungry, most likely they will eat.)
There are so many real-life examples of battles that could go down in history books between parents and children. There are two ways these can go – that force is how you get your way, or that experience is how you make healthy decisions that stick. When a child ODs on sugar, they actually experience the negative effect and learn to monitor their own sugar intake as opposed to devouring every sweet in sight. When they experience the discomfort of not-weather-appropriate clothes, they learn to check in on what the weather and the days’ events are.
As Always, It’s Not Just Black and White
Sometimes the battle does need to happen, and you as a parent put your foot down. Make sure you can back it up with great reasons, even if it boils down to, “Hun, we don’t have time for this today. I will explain it to you but right now I just need you to work with me. We are a team in this family, and this is a time you need to follow my lead.”
The thing is, when you have created a relationship built on trust and respect for one another and where they are in life, they are more likely to listen. Like any relationship, it’s about deposits and withdrawals. I know I don’t thrive when someone simply barks orders at me. I don’t respond well to being told what to do with no reason. And I sure am not going to give any credit to a relationship that never allows me my own voice.
Why would we ask any different of our children? Yes, we are the parents, and yes, we ultimately make the call. Maturity level and life experience are biggies, and that’s why we as parents can call the shots. But they gain maturity and life experiences by us allowing it in. If you really want to drive a point home with them, actions and experience speak so much louder than words. Allow natural consequences to come in. Don’t battle over every small thing. Remember the flow of give and take, and make sure you allow them a voice in the family.
Before you pick your battle, ask yourself these questions:
- Where is my tension? Do a body scan – where are you feeling your anger? Are you going to simply react out of anger?
- Ask yourself, “is this more about my convenience or their needs?” Which is more important at that moment?
- Take a perspective check and determine the urgency of the situation
- Take a deep breath, and count to seven. This helps to re-set and cool you down, and allows your child to process and think about their part in it all.
What are your biggest battles with children? When is a time you let them “win”, and when is a time you stood your ground? Share in the comments below!