Last week Pearl and Louis turned two.  With Elisabeth working, I planned a whole bunch of fun toddler activities. I thought I’d take them to the park with their birthday scooters, and then we’d go out for babycinos and maybe even a celebratory muffin, and then stop at the local train station to watch the special Christmas steam train go past. A lovely jampacked birthday morning, and we’d be home in time for a good solid nap.

Pearl and Louis wouldn’t get dressed.

When I say wouldn’t,  yes I know I’m bigger, but they were kicking and flailing and crying out, ‘No nappy! No t-shirt!’ and then, when I tried to explain the morning’s plans, ‘No scooters! No babycino!’

I. Was. So. Angry.

At this point, for me, parenting by instinct would go awry. For me, parenting by instinct means unthinkingly reproducing how my parents parented. Some elements of how I was parented I would like to pass on to my children, others, not so much.

So my ‘instinct’ would have been to shove them into their clothes, possibly giving one or other a smart slap at some point, force two screaming children into car restraints, and head down to the park hoping that the combined three-way bad mood would clear once we spotted the play equipment.

Instead I took a deep breath and tried to remind myself of my parenting principles.

One: children often know what’s good for them. It was about 34 degrees at 9a.m. and getting hotter – who wants to get clothes on? They’d also had an exciting birthday whirlwind morning, with a present opening frenzy before Mummy Elisabeth went off to work. By 9a.m, they’d been up for four hours, and had more excitement than they get in most full days.

Two: natural consequences. They don’t want to get clothes on, therefore we don’t go out. This isn’t a punitive response, it’s just the way it is. My tone is not, ‘Right, you’ve refused to get your clothes on therefore we have to stay home and have a really bad time’. The message is more, ‘Okay, if you don’t want to get dressed, what shall we do around the house?’

The top of my brain was frantically working through what I should do in line with my parenting philosophy, but underneath that my mental conversation went something like this:

After ALL I’VE DONE FOR YOU, the very least you could do is co-operate!

I have gone to all the effort of planning a lovely day and you ungrateful wretches just don’t appreciate it!

If I don’t force you to do what I want, you are going to be SPOILED (like overripe fruit?) and take advantage of me forever.  I will be nothing but a doormat in this house.

OMG! I AM nothing but a doormat in this house!

So I stopped and tried to listen to them, and what  I heard was something like, Mama, this has been really great and all these big new toys are great and talking on the phone to every single relative has been fun and all that shiny wrapping paper is fantastic and I really loved the pancakes with maple syrup at six a.m. but it’s hot and I’m really quite tired and can we just sit still for a while?

And what I was really saying was something like, But if you reject all these lovely ideas I have for us then really it’s just like you’re rejecting ME.

So I decided to just follow their lead and see what happened. We went out into the garden – small ones naked – and had a lovely time making Christmas decorations and jumping in and out of the pool. An hour or so later, when I suggested babycinos again, they very happily got into clothes and climbed into the car (although they fell asleep on the way there – they really WERE exhausted).

The point is that it’s important to identify your hot-spots as a parent. Everyone has them. Perhaps you don’t like mess. Or you get distressed when your child doesn’t eat. Or you want your child to have good manners. Or you want your teenager to choose a ‘good’ career. Whatever your button is, your child will find it. That is how they keep forcing us to grow.

I know my button (or one of my buttons, more accurately) is being rejected when I feel like I’ve gone to an effort. The after all I’ve done for you… line. When they won’t get into the car when I’m trying to take them to visit a friend, or they turn up their noses at a meal I’ve cooked specially from ‘Delicious Toddler Meals’.

I don’t think what I did was the only response to that situation, or even the ‘best’ response.  It was certainly the best I could come up with at the time.  Sometimes the best I can do is not let them see I am completely, irrationally angry about something that is just normal child behaviour. I think the final outcome is less important than the fact that is wasn’t a knee jerk reaction  at the whim of my ‘button’ response.

What are your buttons? How do you deal with it when your kids push your buttons?

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