Confessions of a permissive mother

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All parents know that children need boundaries. How to set those boundaries and if we really do it is another story. It took me a long time to realize the truth: that I let Luísa too much free and that my I´m not guiding her as much as I should.

It´s not that I purposely want to be that hands off. Like all parents I try my best and like to believe I´m doing well. But maybe, also like many parents, I´m not doing that well.

While always focused on freedom, always trying to let Luísa learn by herself, by the example, I have been letting her too much free, to the extent that I don´t have a strong voice in our house, and I often feel abused by her, resented by the way she treats me.

Disclaimer – this post is about something real and annoying, but I want to make clear that most of the time I have a wonderful relationship with Luísa and I´m really proud to be her mother

Here is a good example of what goes on, this happened last week and I want to change this scenario:

I pick up Luísa from school at 12, come back home and have lunch ready for us. I do have a couple of rules, like if she doesn’t wash her hands, she can´t have her plate and we start a game like this: Marilia 1- 0 Luísa.

We sit to eat, she bites a tomato, she spits it and throws her tomato on the floor. I say: “Luísa, why did you do this? Please, don´t throw the food like that.” She eats some more and then she grabs something from my plate. When I tell her not to do so, she throws what she grabbed on the floor.

I calmly and with a disappointed expression tell her not to do it. She doesn´t even look at me. Soon enough, without eating much, she leaves the table to go and play in her room. I say: “Don´t go and play with your hands dirty, please wash your hands and brush your teeth. At this point, she screams no and I get pissed and grab her and yell that she will do it, whether she wants it or not.

I wash her hands and take on the opportunity that she is crying and use that open mouth to brush her teeth. (Marilia 2 – 4 Luísa).

Then she is tired and wants to sleep. She climbs into my bed with her dirty feet (another point for her, while I used to have the rule “no dirty feet on the bed”, somehow the rule got lost) and says “I want to sleep”. I say, “Ok, do you want me to read a book for you and rub your back?”. She screams: “NO, ONLY RUB MY BACK!” . I lay next to her and start rubbing her back. As soon as she is still, I stop and she turns furious at me: “RUB MY BACK!” I obey.

She sits on the bed and says she wants to sleep. I tell her: “Come on Luísa, just lay down for a while and the sleep will come.” “NO!”. “Do you want me to rock you on the hammock?” “NO!”. At this point, I go to the bathroom. When I come back, I sit by the laptop and she goes: “I want to watch a cartoon”. I think to myself: “Shit, is this what she will get after being so nasty to me? I shouldn´t let her. On the other hand, if I do, I can go to the other room and catch up on my book, she will probably fall asleep”. So I put a cartoon for her and go to the other room. Soon, she forgets about the cartoon and comes and plays close to me. (I think we are at Marilia 2 – 10 Luísa, game over).

This all happened between 12 and 3pm. After that, we left the house to go do something I needed to do on the street and the rest of the day went by quite smoothly.

She is just a child and I feel resented by the way she sometimes (or probably more times that I can realize) treats me at home. She yells, she ignores, she throws things, she undresses and leaves her clothes anywhere, I ask her to put things away, she either says no, screams no or she simply ignores me.

I´m smart, so I give myself a number of reasons to justify my hands off approach. Here are some:

1. I have a soft personality. I never fight with anyone. I never give orders.

2. I´m too aware of how screwed up the values in our culture are. I try to give as much freedom as possible. I´m always asking myself: “Is the behavior I want to see in her really necessary or does my desire to see it come from the screwed up culture I come from?” For instance: Is it really important to make kids sit on the table to eat? Do I have to teach her such thing? It looks all right for me to see her grabbing a bite and going to play to then come back for another bite and do so until she is satisfied. I don´t interfere on this (and I don´t interfere on much more as you could see).

3. I´m an inexperienced single mom. This is my favorite excuse of all to let Luísa run wild. I feel unsure of what to do and on top of that it´s only me doing it all. I think it´s fine if I let a few things out of control, only that I might be letting too many things out of control.

Awareness is the first step to change

Since it´s pretty much on my face now that my lay back approach in raising Luísa is letting her treat me like shit (sometimes), I realize I have to change a few things. In fact, since I starts writing this post a few days ago, I can already see a change in my attitude.

I´ll make myself respected. I´ll treat her like she is a normal person, not some kind of goddess I have to worship and obey and do everything in my reach to please. This assumptions were all in my head anyway, they don´t make any sense.

I´m the alpha dog in this house (from now on). and it´s time I act like one. I know even though Luísa is assertive and demanding, she wants me to lead her. Without my guidance, my firmer parenting, she is lost. Unconditional love is not enough. I´ll keep giving her freedom, but within the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

I´ll not take screaming and ignoring anymore. I´ll be respectful and speak with kind words, if necessary gently remove her from the scandalous scene. Making her have more consequences, like if she screams at me to get something, I won´t do it, like I wouldn´t to anybody else (sounds so simple now as I type this). I´ll act with clarity and conviction. I´ll be firm with a mindful parenting attitude.

I´m not into punish and rewards parenting techniques with time outs to make kids behave.

I hope I can report back in some time with a clear change of some of this bad habits we got ourselves into.

This article was originally posted on Tripping Mom by Marilia Di Cesare on November 29, 2010. Republished with authorization. Click here for all other posts.


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