I think one of the best nuggets of parenting advice I ever received when my kids were little came from my children’s pediatrician. He was quiet and gentle, and over the years I grew to respect him far beyond his gut instinct and medical knowledge as a real rock of wisdom and strength.
When I was having a particularly hard time with my first child’s entry into the terrible two’s, he told me, “If it’s not a hill worth dying on, then don’t start a battle. And if it is, don’t stop no matter what.”
There are still times when those words come back to stop me before I make a battle out of something that in the end really won’t matter for me or my children.
When my daughter, now a fine arts major in college, was less than a year old, she starting throwing fits if she didn’t like the texture of her clothing. She would go stiff, arch her back, and scream until I removed whatever she was wearing and put on something that she was willing to wear. And just about the time I finally made peace with the fact that she wouldn’t be wearing most of the frilly dresses I’d dreamed of seeing my daughter wear, she decided that nothing she wore could have buttons anywhere.
We were in the doctor’s office for her two year well child check up when Dr. Keller asked if there were any other issues I wanted to talk about. And so I let off some steam about this very willful child who I thought was usurping my authority and pushing my buttons by being so difficult every single morning when I tried to dress her.
“Is this a battle worth dying on the hill?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if this is something that you think is worth the fight every day until you win, then don’t ever back down. But if there are clothes that you think are appropriate that she will wear without a fight, have you considered that maybe it isn’t worth the bad feelings and conflict every day just to have her wear something you like?”
I admit, he made me a little mad. While I was nodding my head in agreement, I was thinking , “Yeah, let’s let you try to handle getting her dressed for a week and see how saintly you are then.” But the next morning instead of picking out her clothes, I asked my daughter what she wanted to wear. She chose the ballerina dress I’d found at a garage sale. And in keeping with my new experiment, I chose not to tell her that the outfit was not appropriate for going grocery shopping. I just bit my tongue and let her wear it.
We wandered the aisles of our grocery store that morning with a completely new attitude. She danced past the cold cereal boxes and twirled through the fresh fruit. We made it out of the grocery store without a single power struggle or harsh word. I am convinced that the choice I made that day changed everything between my daughter and me.
Her dad and I sometimes call her Crayola now because she wears the entire spectrum of colors and textures all at once. She buys most of her clothes second-hand and breezes into a room like a bouquet of flowers. And as I watch her blossom into a confident young woman, I am so glad I didn’t expend energy creating a power struggle over something so trivial as what I wanted her to wear.