The grandparents cannot understand how Ally can possibly be as bad as we say she can be. Of course Ally is generally angelic and a delight to be around if you're her grandparent. To clarify, Ally's not bad; it's her behavior on some days that we can do without. I've been telling myself that her behavior, even on the worst days, is still perfectly normal for a toddler. Although I loath to start pinning labels on my daughter, now I'm beginning to wonder if we're blessed with a strong willed child. I'm hoping this is a phase she'll outgrow rather than a label she will grow into fully.
I spoke with another friend of mine last week who has a daughter just a couple of months older than Ally. She confided that she's begun to spend a lot of her time yelling because her daughter doesn't listen to her. I know how she feels. Both of our families try to give our daughters multiple chances to do as we ask before we escalate with sterner language and ultimately take away privileges due to bad behavior. Somedays I can talk until I'm blue in the face and Ally simply will not even look my way until I raise my voice and threaten to take away TV time. Then she'll burst into tears for many minutes before ultimately trying a stalling tactic to delay doing whatever it is I ask anyways.
Here's a typical morning exchange between Ally and myself:
"Ally, it's time for you to eat your breakfast."
"I want to play with my toys a little more."
"No, it's time to eat breakfast. Today is a school day and you don't want to be late."
"A school day?"
"Today is a school day?"
"And I don't want to be late to school?"
"Late to school today?"
Deep breath. "Yes, Ally. You don't want to be late to school today."
"Because you'll miss out on fun things at school if you're late because you took too long to eat your breakfast."
"Oh." Pause. "I want to play with my toys."
"Ally, please go to the table and eat your breakfast before it gets cold. Now."
Sobbing and wailing commences. "I don't want my breakfast to get cold!"
(That's usually the point where I begin to growl and gnash my teeth.)
I want to give Ally a chance to make the right choice and exhibit the correct behavior we expect of her, but at the same time I don't want to be a pushover who doesn't keep a firm stance and ultimately lets Ally have her way. It's an epic power struggle between a toddler desiring autonomy in her life and a mother just wanting her daughter to pick up all those foam blocks for once.
It would be a lot easier if we just started swatting some toddler butt after just one or two warnings, but that's not typically our philosophy in child rearing. Not unless we really need to make a point and all other tactics have failed. And even then it leaves me feeling drained and exhausted and like a failure myself. I often think Ally is far better at being a toddler than I am at being her mother.
Raising a child isn't easy. Sometimes I wonder if I'd waited this long before having Ally if I'd only known what raising a child was like. I could use some of that youthful energy I still had back when I was in my late twenties. Now a lengthy bout of "I don't wanna!" with the accompanying wails and tears saps my energy and makes for a generally miserable evening. Still, I consider myself lucky in that our daughter is bright, healthy, and generally happy except for the occasional cold breakfast.