“You let us yesterday,” my sons argued, as I yelled at them for making a barricade on the stairs using all the bedding in the house. “I know, but that was a one-off!” I answered. But it was too late. They’d already gone off to ransack the towel chest. I was left to wonder, Can I not let them do one single thing without them seeing it as a green light for all future occurrences? Must I always live in the shadow of the dreaded Precedent?
It’s not just Stairgate. It’s loads of things. The fear of setting a precedent grips me at every turn.
Should I never let them:
- Sleep in our bed
- Take a teddy into school
- Go in the front seat
- Give up football “cos it’s too cold”
- Have biscuits for breakfast
- Skip the dunking part of swimming class
- Leave a playdate early because the host is being mean to him
- Have a bit of every cereal in the cupboard, even though I know they’re just going to tip it on the floor?
Of course I should. And I do. It’s natural to indulge your children, it’s your right and your choice as their mother, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Anyway, you tell yourself, it takes three days to form a habit…
Not with kids it doesn’t. Their vice-like little minds seize on the slightest weakness and play it right back at you to their advantage. They liked cuddling with you all night when they were a bit poorly - so why not tonight, just because?
With children, once is enough to set a precedent.
Where there’s a way, there’s a child
Basically, I’m at the sharp end of the human’s natural instinct to survive, thrive and beat their mother into submission. While the child is out for all he can get, the parent must try and drive their expectations and behaviour into acceptable channels. And think not just of the immediate consequences, but of the far-off ones:
- If I let them skip their Year 1 homework one weekend, will they fail their A-Levels?
- If I let them give up an activity half way through a term, will they never hold down a job?
- If I let them sleep a couple of nights in my bed, will their future bride have to kick me out on their wedding night?
Obviously, there is a balance between setting boundaries and responding to the child in hand.
But just as you strike it, thinking you’ve scored a victory and held back from setting a precedent of, say, letting them eat popcorn in the bath, they play their trump card:
“Daddy lets us do it.”
It makes you want to drink at teatime.
Now that’s a precedent I don’t mind setting.
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