A lot of times, I hear the phrase "choose your battles" in reference to parenting. While I appreciate the idea of overlooking the little stuff, I wonder why there needs to be a battle at all. All too often, we come to parenting with an "us versus them" mentality. This power struggle wastes energy that could be better used to work towards a solution together.
Today, my five-year-old son gave me a problem-solving opportunity. He was eating French fries in the back seat of our car (Yeah, I know. I don't deny them the occasional treat). He had eaten his fill, and began entertaining himself by launching them at the back of my head. I was pretty frustrated with him at that point, but I was belted in and couldn't do much to stop the situation.
When reached our final destination, the park, I sent his brother and sister off with Daddy and we took a few minutes to chat. I explained to him that he had made a mess and it was his responsibility to clean it up before he could play in the park. His response? "You pick them up!" I unbuckled his car seat and led him to my side of the vehicle, where most of the fries had landed. He refused to pick up even one fry, and I was prepared to wait as long as it took.
We could have stood there, dead locked in a battle of wills, the entire afternoon. Then I decided to try something different. I swept all of the fries together into a large pile. Then I took one of his hands in each of mine and helped him scoop up the first handful. After that, something clicked. He picked up the rest in two large handfuls. He even voluntarily grabbed the trash bag and threw it in the bin! We went on to have a fun afternoon at the park.
Did he misunderstand my instructions? Did he just want help with the task? I can't be sure why we hit the snag, but there is one thing I am sure of: it is less important that my kid knows "who's boss" and more important that we have a strong and lasting relationship. The best way to teach respect is to model it, not demand it.