People often ask me what it's like having four kids. After I finish my third cup of very strong coffee, I put the cup down gravely, usually stare off into space from fatigue for a few moments, and then answer thusly, "I pick my own battles." I'm just kidding, of course (about the staring into space, not the coffee or fatigue, for the most part), but it is so true about picking my own battles. I can't remember who first told me that sacred advice about parenting, but it has served me well and I want to share it with those of you who are in the trenches. Because let's face it, parenting can be a (glorious) uphill battle, usually fought over the course of thousands upon thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of little skirmishes. And only one winner will emerge victorious. Will it be you?
Case in point, my 3-year-old has been potty-trained for over a year. Great, right? The downside is that although he is potty-trained, for whatever reason, he feels the need to get completely nude every single time he goes to the potty. EVERY TIME. Even when we have gone skiing this year with him for the first time. Jacket, sweater, ski pants, ski socks, ski boots AND ALL. Nude. Now, my first instinct is to try to break him of this habit, of course. But that only leads to an even longer trip to the bathroom, first with me begging him to not take his clothes off, then trying to gently physically restrain him from taking his clothes off, then it usually wraps up with me attempting to demonstrate while fully clothed how one uses the potty without getting nude. This always ends with him still getting nude, still taking his sweet little 2-year-old time on the potty, still with me getting him fully dressed again. Only now I have added on 10 minutes of pleading and pointless (although rather hilarious and increasingly well-acted) demonstrating onto this routine. So I gave in. I seceded and let the 3-year-old win.
Will he open up "Jack's Nudist Colony" when he reaches his 20s because I let him get naked every time he went potty? Probably not. Will my toddler eventually catch on to the normal practice of remaining clothed while using the bathroom? Probably. Will it make our days exponentially easier and more pleasant to just let him do his thing for right now while including gentle reminders when I see fit? Absolutely. So please, if you hear me pleading, "Please, honey, you don't have to get totally naked" from the next stall in the Target bathroom, do not call security.
There is also the type of Battle Picking when you KNOW you are going to be the winner, even if not right away. Like the Great Mitten Battle with my 8-year-old. Before I get into it, let's all just discuss the oddness of boys not wanting to wear coats and hats, etc. when it is freezing out. Is a hat really so restrictive that you want to go out into frigid temps uncovered? Is the ski jacket that he picked out that bulky and obtrusive that he'd rather freeze? Did windbreakers become seriously uncool amongst 8-year-olds since I was a kid? If my son had his choice it would be shorts, flip-flops and Lego t-shirts every day. He's like a mini Lego-obsessed Jimmy Buffet, what can I say? Enter Mean Mom, who makes him wear actual pants when the thermometer dips below freezing and the battle lines are drawn. But mittens, he would not budge on. He claimed the other kids on the bus didn't wear gloves or mittens at all. I was the ONLY mom that made him wear a jacket, hat and gloves. Okay. He would insist that it wasn't that cold out, on 16 degree days. He would hop outside the front door for approximately four seconds, "See, I'm not cold!" he'd say as he'd hop right back into the house. If I did insist on sending him in to school with mittens or gloves they would mysteriously disappear and I got tired of buying replacements once a week.
So, I gave in. I let him go to school without mittens or a hat. All through one of the coldest weeks of the year. For the first few days he stayed strong, insisting that his hands were fine, but one day that dipped close to zero he gave in, accepted the mittens and never looked back. I didn't gloat, but I mentally crossed off a win for myself. These rarities must be celebrated in some way. And keep in mind when you see a child without a hat, without mittens, even if it is freezing out, maybe, just MAYBE their parents were picking their battle that morning, or maybe they didn't buy the latest round of replacement mittens just quite yet. Please avoid jumping to the conclusion that their parents are neglectful monsters who don't care if their children freeze.
I look at these minor battles as a training ground for the bigger ones that will come when they get older. When I have a house full of teenagers I almost surely will look back on the days when our biggest battle was putting undies on after using the tiny potty seat. I will long fondly for the days of our big beef being about mittens. Mittens! And maybe (hopefully?) it will be helpful that I let them win once in a while.