“Pick your battles.”
You hear this advice everywhere when you have a toddler. It’s great advice, don’t get me wrong, but putting it into action takes some skill and practice. Take diaper changes, for example. They have to happen. And at some point, most babies are going to fight them. Initially, I made the mistake of insisting that diaper changes happen on my terms. If I thought it was time for a new diaper, then my daughter, Samantha, needed to cooperate. I used all kinds of games and toys to make it fun and it usually worked. But sometimes it didn’t. What was I going to do, strap her down?
I thought about it and realized that, while the diaper change did have to happen, maybe it didn’t have to happen the instant my nose told me it did. Maybe I needed to give a little. If she wasn’t ready, I could deal with leaking-poop-paranoia for a while. What I wasn’t going to compromise on, though, was getting her cooperation once we started the diaper change. This is actually pretty easy to accomplish – I just never start a diaper change in combat mode. If she’s fighting it, we just keep trying different things until I sense she will cooperate.
This morning Samantha did not want her diaper changed. Our routine is to change the diaper before breakfast since the morning diaper is always in imminent danger of exploding. However, sometimes she wakes up so hungry she just can’t deal with a delay, and I suspected this was one of those mornings.
“Samantha: first diaper, second breakfast.” (This works surprisingly often, but not today).
“How about we change your diaper on the couch?”
Furious head shaking.
“Would you like to play with the stickers while I change your diaper?”
“Would you like a piece of cheese while I change your diaper?”
Yes-no-yes-no-no-no-no-no. (Hmmm, we’re getting somewhere).
“I know you’re hungry, so why don’t you try a piece of cheese?”
And finally, I get a clear nod of the head, yes!
I get the cheese and ask her to come to the changing pad which is on the living room floor.
She is not coming near that changing pad and that’s it. I tell her to let me know when she is ready and I spend a few minutes ignoring her while I drink some coffee and check my e-mail.
After a few more tries like this, I’m starting to get worried that she’s going to get so hungry she has a full-blown tantrum. In desperation, I tell her, “Samantha, I’m going to give you the cheese now because I know you’re very hungry, and then we’ll change your diaper. First cheese, second diaper.” I give her the cheese and go back to my e-mail, feeling like a sell-out. After a minute, I turn around and she is sitting on the changing pad, eating the cheese! I almost burst with happiness. This was the first time she had ever sat down on the changing pad on her own. I hadn’t sold out – I had shown her some respect – and she had shown me some in return. It was one of those moments you live for as a parent.
I don’t tell you this story as a lesson about picking your battles, or showing your child respect. I have something else in mind. Parenting is a moment-to-moment job. That doesn’t mean you give up your principles or sacrifice the future for the sake of the present. All the little things you do each day should add up to a whole that does express your principles. But you live in those moments. Those moments are both the method by which you live the kind of life you choose, and the reward for doing so. This is true in all aspects of life, but parenting really drives the lesson home. The moment I had with my daughter this morning made me want to yell, “This is what it’s all about!”
I want to feel this way about all of my moments. I’m working on it. Writing about The Little Things is one way I intend to keep learning.