Pat and I have “choose ye this day” moments almost every morning. Not to choose whether we will serve the Lord or someone else, but to decide who is in charge in our household: us, or Girl 1. I’m pretty sure Girl 1 lies in bed most mornings upon waking, thinking to herself, “Today is the day; today I’m finally going to exert authority over Mom and Dad.”
We had a bad morning yesterday, and not just because of the election results, or the gray weather, or the baby’s being sick, although these things didn’t help. No, things didn’t go exactly the way Girl 1 wanted them to go, and we all suffered.
First, Daddy, instead of Mommy, came to get her from her room. Then I said it was time to go to school but I changed my mind because she was sniffly. She might have been okay if I just said “no” off the bat, but saying “yes” and then “no” was fatal. She wanted to breakfast on candy and multiple cups of milk, not the food we made for her (food that she would eat on other days). Then, she couldn’t wear her favorite “tight pants” because she had a small accident in them the day before and I hadn’t washed them yet. I haven’t yet resorted to washing her favorite articles of clothing for her everyday, but I can see why some might.
Because the morning was just miserable.
The perfect morning is when I, not Pat, get her from bed when she first calls out in the morning. (Ideally I would be up before her, enjoying some coffee and prayer and reflection, and maybe getting a head start on the day’s chores, in the peaceful still of the morning. Sounds great, right? Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard.) Then, we have a long cuddle on the couch, perhaps read a book, followed by getting dressed in her favorite clothes. She eats a breakfast of her choosing from a set of options I give her. After that, I take her to school, or we have a playdate with friends, or I play with her, or set her up with an activity.
When our mornings deviate from this pattern (and they usually do), I instinctively fault myself, because I know she needs a routine. Kids in general need a routine; we all need routine.
But notice Girl 1’s preferred routine leaves no time for me to dress, shower, make my bed, empty the dishwasher, make myself breakfast, or start on laundry. (Even if I do get up before she does it’s hard to do most of these things because sound travels so much in our small house.) And forget about taking care of Girl 2.
Whenever I start blaming myself for Girl1’s off-days, I remind myself of a trick she used to play last year, at age ~ 2. Upon waking, she would call out, “Please get me out,” and when Pat came to get her, she would dive back into her bed and shout “No, no no no no.” He would leave her in there, then she would call out again, screaming and crying pitifully. When we figured she really meant it, he would go back in, only to have her fling herself away again. (This was when she slept in a crib and hadn’t learned to climb out.) She would repeat this routine over and over again. Finally, one day Pat just grabbed her out of her bed, and she bit him. Then he spanked her and she threw a fit. All before I even got out of bed. That day was off to a greeeeeat start. She even did this once or twice when I, instead of Pat, came to get her, so it wasn’t just about which parent she wanted to come get her.
Clearly, this is not just about routine. It’s about control. Girl 1 wants control more than any particular routine.
But I still struggle to find and maintain a workable routine, one that includes lots of one-on-one time, lots of playing with her and reading her books. All of the “kid-centered” child-rearing philosophies I’ve been influenced by (Dr. Sears, Montessori, Parenting Your Spirited Child, etc.) say to do this. They also say to make housekeeping a lower priority (or have your child do it with you, which is effectively the same thing), but they don’t say much about how to live comfortably in the ensuing filth and chaos.
But another part of me thinks, “Hey listen kid, you’re part of a family. We all have needs here. I am not your playmate, your handler. I am your mother. I am the boss. I have other things to do, like take care of your sister and the house and myself. Life will be better for you in the long run if you learn to roll with the punches now.”
The easy answer is to find a balance, a flexible routine that works for all of us while teaching her to adjust when we have to deviate from it. But it’s easier said than done. And in the mean time we have a lot of rough mornings.