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"Princess of Pantsland" Parenting with Empathy

Recently, a friend with young children asked how my husband and I ‘grew such well-behaved kids’ (now age 10 and 15). My mind immediately went to the moments when they aren’t so well behaved, the moments when we, as parents, have the option of telling our children what to do and asserting our power as the heads of our houses by giving consequences when requests aren’t met. My husband and I work best when working for someone who approaches situations with empathy, works collaboratively and holds a consistent set of expectations. We attempt to actualize these values when parenting.

My mind goes to one morning about six years ago when waking our children I was greeted by my pre-adolescent son with “I’m TIRED, GO AWAY!” who didn’t appreciate me saying “I am choosing to interpret this as ‘Mom, you are the best, but may I please have five more minutes?’” From my daughter I received a grunt and a near kick at my face. My son then silently moved through the morning while my daughter clung to her grumpy mood like a well-loved security blanket. That evening, as bedtime approached, our daughter, still holding on to the mood of the morning declared that she was not putting on her pajama bottoms and “that was all there was to say!” Being a four year old and quite a bit smaller than myself, I knew I could either physically put the bottoms on her and issue consequences which would have been quick and taken little energy or I could redefine the idea of a successful day.

Letting go of all pretenses of a Norman Rockwell evening, I shifted my expectations for success and recognizing she needed an ‘out’, I quickly grabbed her pajama bottoms declaring “Of course you aren’t going to put on your pajamas, I need them for my crown because I am the Queen of Pants Land”, did my best to make them look like a crown and promptly put them on my head. As you might imagine this was met with a look of confusion and then a rambunctious wrestling match and enough laughter to compel my son to join us (an increasingly rare event as he rapidly approaches adolescence). In no time, our daughter had successfully taken the pajama bottoms, put them on her own head and stated she was in fact the Queen of Pants Land and my son and I were now relegated to being a Prince and Princess.

With a few minutes before bedtime, our daughter promptly put on her pajama bottoms (as they were meant to be worn) and slippers and climbed into bed. Repeatedly during story time she asked “Mom, do remember that I am the Queen of Pants Land? I LOVE that game!” That night, as our son brushed his teeth, I followed our normal routine, of turning on the bedside lamp, putting on my glasses and opening to the latest chapter in our book. As he came in the room, he found all of the usual things and upon my head, a pair pajama bottoms. Unfazed, he laughed, took the pants off my head and returned them to the drawer muttering “Mom, that is creepy. Cool, but creepy” (considering his preadolescent state, I take that as a win) and asked me to begin reading. The next morning, when I went into my daughter’s room, she was awake and greeted with giggles proudly showing me that she slept with her slippers and pajama bottoms on all night.

So, the answer to my friend’s question of how we got our children to be so well behaved? The truth is, they aren’t always well behaved and when they are, that isn’t because of us - because parenting isn’t about us. I don’t take credit for our kid’s successes, don’t use “we” when describing their accomplishments and I try really hard not to blame myself when they aren’t doing what works. My husband and I support our children’s interests, speak to them with respect for the value for their contributions, give them ‘outs’ when they have worked their way into a corner and approach them with empathy and laugh a lot (mostly at ourselves).

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