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.
Love the “Hotel California” reference…that’s exactly it. We can all check out any time we want, but we can never leave.
I love her creativity, but timing is everything. I have a feeling that she already know this 🙂
You are so right; timing is everything, and she definitely already knows that. We had nearly the exact same thing happen tonight, coincidentally, and we set a limit immediately and avoided a meltdown. Gotta love the old kitchen timer…
Oh, my. My heart broke as I read this. However I have a wise daughter and I am proud of her.
I gobbled up your story. I’ve started to look at disappointments as learning opportunities and your daughter is SO lucky to have so many! … wtf?? Yes! She’s lucky because she is building an INCREDIBLE skill of self-regulation believe it or not. It’s unrealistic for us to want them to be happy ALL THE TIME. Unbeknownst to her at this point in time, she is building incredible resistance and resilience for the real world.
My suggestion: How about encouraging her to build up her performances so that people can look forward to it! Show her some adds on upcoming performances that show a future date that will make you “look forward” to it. Make a poster “announcing” her future performance. At least it’ll buy you some more time 😉
You are so right with that comment, and I love your idea about helping her build on the anticipation factor, and use it to her advantage. Great suggestion- thanks for much for such a fantastic comment!
I am at the other end of the parenting spectrum – my kids are 21 and 23 – and I still worry about disappointing them. My daughter was a lot like yours, always wanting to perform, put on shows, have an audience (which has served her well over time, so go with it!). It’s FINE to say no. Fine to say “you’re adorable but I need some grown-up time.” Rejection is an important lesson, painful to be sure, but by showing your daughter she’s not the center of the universe she’ll learn to find approval within herself and not just from the audience.
She’s adorable though, so it may be hard for you to resist!
Yes, rejection is a painful lesson, but I think it is better to start learning it at home, in a safe environment. Kids fall a lot harder if they have never heard “no” and then start hearing it at school or elsewhere and have to adapt. Thanks for such a great point!
We too have had some of those moments here as of late with Emma and like you on the one hand I feel guilty, but on the other some limits need to be set. Such a fine line we walk as mothers and just know I have so been in this position. And have truly felt like crap many days now!!
So much in motherhood is a fine line, huh? Sigh.
Talk about a rock and a hard place! I totally don’t envy your position.
Such an imagination she has though! I hope it sticks around 🙂
I hope it does, too. It is a great quality that she has, though maddening at times.
I’m just getting my first tastes of this! I thought that I would be a pro at the whole “setting limits” thing. I was a teacher for more than 12 years and was firm and consistent always. But I’m learning that it’s so, so different as a parent. It’s so hard much harder! Just as you know that it’s the right thing to do with your daughter, I’ve found that you often know what’s right to do as a parent. But when you love a child so much and that child is literally a part of you, it’s so much tougher to watch them hurt or be disappointed.
It starts early, doesn’t it? It is definitely less complicated for me to set limits in my classroom environment; I always thought I was good at doing it at home, but adding a very sensitive (and OK, also very emotionally manipulative) child into the mix makes it hard to watch her deal with disappointment.
Hotel California!!!!! Perfection 🙂
As I was reading about her double-edged traits (creativity with a twist of horrible timing), I kept thinking: I know someone like that. Yeah, it’s me. I get these bright ideas (let’s rearrange the living room furniture!) at the strangest times. Mostly, around midnight. I think all geniuses function under the guise of insanity.
I am feeling optimistic knowing that someone as awesome as you shares these traits. There’s hope for the future! Glad you liked my Hotel California bit.. 😀
As I was reading, I was thinking that there may be some manipulation going on, but what do I know about your daughter? But then you confirmed it – Izzy is disappointed, but she’s reacting hysterically in hopes that you’ll give in. You are doing both of you a huge favor by setting limits. My daughter sounds similar in temperament – a challenge to parent but a joy to have in my life.
That last phrase pretty much sums it up- thanks Dana!
My heart melted a lot a bit with your end sentence. You always do such a great job of making me smile, making me cringe (great news, mom, I’ll be performing for you and your friends gave me the cringe for you and the crack-up for what that would actually be because I’ll be – especially with wine – that your friends would think it was adorable), and then giving me the “awww!” at the end. You are so awesome.
I loved that comment. Thank you so much. xo
Oh, my, I remember those days when imagination skills were great and time management, less so. It sounds like you are dealing perfectly with the situation and I think part of your daughter growing up is to get used to expressing herself within a structure that you set. Keep doing what you are doing!
Thank you for such a lovely comment- so happy to have stumbled upon your blog hop today!
The Izzy’s Hotel part totally cracked me up! Hilarious! My 7yo does this same kind of thing. When he doesn’t get his way he either tries to manipulate us with words and if that doesn’t work (it usually just makes me angry) he turns to self-pity (which makes me even angrier – I wish it didn’t bother me). My 8yo typically gets mad and my 4yo throws a tantrum when they don’t get their ways. It’s great!
And break a leg tomorrow!
ARGH, the self-pity is the worst! I am such a sucker for it. You should have seen what she came up with tonight- she actually put on a costume. Luckily we were able to steer her towards bedtime quickly.
Probably one of the best blog posts I have ever read, honestly. And I read a lot of them. You have just so accurately described my feelings and my life it is as if you have been spying on my home. God, I just love this. And you for being so honest. And wise. And knowing that you have to be “the bad guy” to raise a great kid.-Ashley
I honestly think that is the nice blog compliment I have ever gotten, and it means even more coming from you, since I respect your blog and both of you so much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for those lovely words.
This sounds a lot like my oldest daughter. She often comes up with grand ideas but doesn’t think through the details, like timing. I hate having to be the one who squashes herr ideas. Hopefully, it will teach her to be more thoughtful about her plans and ideas in the future.
Yes, being the idea-squasher is NOT my favorite part of motherhood. Wish it didn’t happen so often. But you’re right- hopefully she will learn to think things through a little better in the future. Fingers crossed!
Yes, I also LOVED the Hotel California reference. It made me laugh out loud. I know the feeling so well!
Good for you for standing your ground. It is incredibly hard not to cave in when they pull their little manipulations (Ben now asks “do you still love me?” a nano-second after pulling something nasty, but girls are so much more sophisticated…). I love your outlook, the approach and it’s always such a great pleasure to read about your motherhood adventures.
Thanks, friend! Oh, those “do you still love me?”s KILL me! Who knew this was such a hard gig?
I love how REAL you are with your posts. You always make me feel less alone.
And I loved the Hotel California reference!
Before I became a parent, I used to scoff at parents who weren’t good at setting boundaries for their children. But now I have a better appreciation for it all, and I get how hard it is to say NO and stick with it.
But honestly? I’m not up for a game of f*cking bingo at 7:30 pm, either. Or 3:00 pm, but that’s besides the point. 🙂
Your comments always make me happy- thanks so much for that! I too was very judgey about parents who weren’t great at setting boundaries. I still think that overall I am pretty good, but I have a much better appreciation for the draw of the path of least resistance, not to mention the heartbreak of watching our kids hurt. Yeah, I kind of hate Bingo all the time. And other games. And playing in general.
“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.”
I enjoy this blog (and not *just because of your skilled use of asterixeses…. lol). MFR offers an insight into (a) life that is not written to match external expectations. And, because of this, the episodes and adventures and problems and triumphs of your family unit are fun and instructive to me (and clearly other Readers). Sort of like ‘people watching’ from a table outside a small cafe in Paris, except everyone speaks English, no one is wearing a beret and all arguments are resolved with love and respect. Otherwise exactly the same.
We do not have children, so I cannot offer direct experience with raising small humans. However, being the aforementioned ‘people watcher’, I do feel comfortable suggesting that it might be worth considering that rather than (the) ‘kids want us to set limits’ that you try out the view that ‘kids find a reliable and predictable world-around-them as being more re-assuring and therefore enjoyable’.
It seems that if the latter is accurate, then it allows you to know that *you* know what you should be doing, as opposed to the former view (‘they want…’) which would seem to put you in the unenviable position of having to determine each child’s idea of limits.
Still totally enjoyed the Hotel California line…
Thanks Clark- I needed that!
Oh my GOSH! Your daughter is my son!!!!! AND the very ironic part is he is Izze too! (short for Isaiah) I totally know how you feel. Menu’s for dinner, “check the little boxes please” especially drink menus when family is coming over, only he only decides to do it as they are walking in the door. And if someone offers another person a drink without a menu, WATCH OUT! We have police officers giving tickets, musical concerts (you can check my YouTube channel, probably shouldn’t encourage him). Always at the worst times! Loved this, love to know he’s not the only one!
Jen, that comment was so helpful to me, thanks so much! I appreciate hearing that other people have experienced this particular brand of creativity!