That’s my limit and I’m sticking to it. Maybe.
Boundaries are hard, people.
All the parenting experty blogs (that I swore off and secretly still consult when in crisis) tell us, “Set limits empathetically and firmly because children need limits but don’t be strict about it because strict parenting is bad parenting.”
[The parenting experts also say things like: “Don’t force your child to nap unless she’s obviously irritated or overtired from lack of sleep.” Wow, glad you have a Ph.D to dispense gems like that.]
We switched to Big Kid Beds (BKB) almost four weeks ago, due to attempts to climb out of cribs (which ended in one kid falling out of crib). We bought guard rails for the toddler beds. We installed drawer locks on the dresser, a doorknob lock on the closet which contained every toy previously in their room. They got to pick out their new bedding.
Even after all that planning, I was so anxious on BKB day that I thought I was going to throw up.
And then…it was fine.
Like most transitions. Like all the ones I have stressed about (starting solid foods, giving up bottles, giving up binkies, dropping naps…and on and on) that turn out JUST FINE.
Because I stressed about them, right? All that stress must have been good for something, right?
Well, bedtime was fine for a few days mostly because the kids did not nap at all, so they were completely exhausted by 7:30 pm. “Naptime” involved climbing into each other’s beds, trying to lever themselves onto the changing table from Audrey’s bed, launching themselves from the chair across the gap onto Jamie’s bed, pulling the blackout curtains open, etc.
Before the switch to BKB, we told the kids there were two rules:
- Use your quiet voices.
- Keep your feet in your own bed.
By the second weekend, we were policing naptime like we were some sort of dictatorial regime cracking down on uprisings.
This is where the boundaries thing breaks down. We had set our boundaries. We had the stick (removal of stuffed animals, one at a time). We tried a carrot (earning the animals back by following the rules–one day, instituting sticker charts for following rules).
What we got felt like a trio of toddlers flipping us off. “Rules? Boundaries? F-you, Mom!”
They did not care that their animals (or blankets or anything else they love) were taken. They did not care enough about stickers to follow the rules in order to earn one. They had no toys, no access to anything in their room except each other, and they did whatever they wanted regardless of our enforcement.
Which made me enraged. It’s hard to set empathetic boundaries when enraged.
These transition times put boundaries in flux. Switching from two naps to one. Figuring out a new eating schedule while introducing solid foods. Whatever the transition, it makes the adjustment time one hell of uncertainty.
Because as much as we like to fake it, we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re trying to figure out how to parent almost-three-year-olds who are trying to figure out how to be almost-three-year-olds by asking themselves: “What boundaries can we push? What limits can we test? What reactions can we rouse?”
When I was a first-year teacher, one of my unofficial mentors (shout-out to Morris Nishiguchi!) asked, after listening to me vent about one classroom issue or another, “Is this the hill you’re willing to die on?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
How do you know? As a first-year teacher, I thought the hard lines I needed to draw involved not wearing hats in my classroom or handing in clean-edged paper (not ripped out of a notebook). Some colleagues still have hard lines around gum-chewing, or dress code, etc. Whatever works for them is great. For me, it took time to figure out exactly what mattered to me and why. What boundaries I was going to assert and fight for, and what issues I would let go.
As a parent, some boundaries are clear: no hitting, no going into the street, no touching anything in a public bathroom. But some are not clear–or, we think they are do-or-die necessities, and then we go round after round with our kids and sometimes come to the conclusion that maybe that set-in-stone limit is not worth it. Sometimes we need to revise the rules.
Two weekends ago, we did something we swore we’d never do: we set up a pack’n’play in our room and one in the office/guestroom/crap-storage-space, and three kids napped in three separate spaces.
It’s a pain in the butt. It meant rearranging things in those messiest of messy rooms. It meant we can’t access anything in those rooms daily during naptime. It meant worrying that their routine will get all screwed up, worrying that they’ll see the separation from each other as punishment and be traumatized, or see it as reward and act up even more at bedtime in order to gain it again.
Maybe the boundaries that we set were beyond the kids’ capacity for impulse control. All of them actually seemed relieved to be in their own space for nap–and, come to think of it, this is the only break from each other they get all day. Since the separation, there has been more napping, but even if they don’t nap, they are quiet and resting, which makes naptime, afternoons, and evenings much nicer for everyone.
I get that kids need consistency; they need boundaries and limits, and it’s up to us to provide them. (Thank you, parenting experts.)
But it’s also important to recognize that we are figuring out our own boundaries as we walk down this path with our kids. It’s okay to make adjustments, to fix what’s not working, to change our minds about the hills we’re willing to die on.