My six year old ran past my bedroom, slammed her own door shut, and began loudly sobbing. I sighed. Though I suspected her outburst had something to do with the elaborate days-of-the-week-themed chart for family fun she had just created (Think: Monday Fun Day, Friday Spy Day), and more specifically the fact that I had put the kibosh on it, I still asked, “Izzy, what are you upset about?”
“I always have great ideas, and they always get ruined!” she cried. “I just threw my list in the trash! I was so excited about game night, and now we’re never going to have our special family night.” My heart broke. I understood exactly how she felt. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to convey the appropriate amount of empathy while still explaining that creating a new chart for family activities 20 minutes before bedtime and then expecting to immediately participate in Family Game Night just wasn’t going to happen.
This is nothing new with my oldest child. I’ve regaled you with stories of her restaurants, parades, and performances ad nauseum. I treasure her creativity and ingenuity- they are some of her best qualities and make her the unique person we all love. The flip side of this enterprising spirit is the
shitty unfortunate timing with which she presents her ideas. A scavenger hunt after a 4 song recital? Yet another costume change at 7:45 pm? Get real! Over and over I have stated, “Right before bedtime is not the right time to unveil your plans. We will not begin a new activity that late in the evening.” It doesn’t matter. She takes my rejection as a personal affront, and this is a child who does not handle disappointment easily.
Just another fabulous trait she has inherited from her mother.
A few weeks ago we were reading bedtime stories with out toddler,who would be going to bed just in time for my Moms Group to arrive at our house for a meeting. As my husband and I read books to Sophie, Izzy popped back and forth from her bedroom, stopping to inquire, “How do you spell Egyptian?” and “How do you spell scientists?” My radar should have gone off- something was up. Then she announced she would be performing a play for “the ladies.” Once again, my heart sunk.
“Honey,” I began gently. “The ladies are coming to have a moms’ group meeting. I’m not sure that it’s going to work out for you to put on a play tonight.” I was hedging a bit, trying to ascertain exactly what this performance would entail (more specifically, how long were we going to be squirming through it?) but it was too late. Izzy’s face crumpled, and she ran crying from the room.
I exploded to my husband. “I can’t say no to her without this happening! She makes it impossible for me to set limits! I have to agree to all her ideas or else I’m an asshole!” I shouted with frustration. Izzy walked into the room and slowly, deliberately, ripped up the document that I assume contained her play into tiny pieces. She retreated to her bedroom, sobbing, and refused to talk to me again. Minutes later she quietly appeared to announce she was going to bed.
Shit. Can you spell “passive aggressive?”
Not only does her timing suck, but let’s be honest: I am not always interested in being an audience member, or waiting to eat until my menu has been printed, or pretending I’m at a hotel. Izzy’s “hotel” may as well be the Hotel F*cking California- you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.
So for now, I am trying to use our temperament similarities to my advantage; whenever I help her through a disappointment, I remind her over and over that, “I know it feels rotten when your plans don’t work out. I know this feels terrible.” or “I understand how disappointed you are when your ideas don’t work out the way you want. I know it feels like everything is ruined.” I try to make sure she knows that we all appreciate her creativity, but it is my job as a grown-up to preserve our family routines. Sometimes the answer has to be “no.” Sometimes things don’t work out the way we want.
As much as it breaks my heart when she destroys her Family Fun Flowchart or Egyptian Scientist Play in front of me, I also know that she knows exactly what she’s doing. And though her heart may be breaking in some ways, she is also hoping that her hysterical reaction will get enough of a pity vote to bend us to her will.
We hear it again and again. Kids want us to set limits. They crave structure, discipline, and the reminder that they are not actually in control. So I set the limits, I say “no”, and I hold my ground: as much as I hate to see her sad, I’m not starting a game of f*cking Bingo at 7:30. And though she wails and rips her papers, I think that a part of her feels safe that she is not, in fact, in charge of everything.
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