Saturday, 10 April 2010

why do we have to have rules?

Benjamin is facing the fastidious fives.

Isn't this when it's supposed to get easier? Aren't they supposed to be empathetic and independant, and good communicators...doesn't that happen like magic on their fifth birthday when they blow out the candles and you make a wish for a peaceful home?

Not so much.

And to make matters worse, he's up and made real friends. Many of whom are, to put it nicely, spoiled rotten. They treat their housekeepers like subservient creatures who live to meet their every whim, and they treat all grown ups like we're stupid. Isn't that supposed to be a part of adolescence?

So now we hear things like:

If you don't let me stay up all night long watching videos I will never be happy ever again!

If you don't let me have cake for dinner I will never be a part of your family again.

If you don't let me go outside and play (at 9pm) right now I will never stop screaming!

I have to fight not to laugh and diminish his anger, or debunk his ridiculous ultimatums.

Then on the otherhand, I get indignant. How dare he speak to me like that? How dare he resort BLACKMAIL!? Who does he think he is?! I start to think of what would have happened if I had ever spoken that way to my parents. A spank on the bum? Soap in the mouth? a right good shout down and to bed with no dinner? That would teach him!

Or were they more forgiving than I remember? Was it all a phase and I grew up to be a nice respectful person anyway even if I was a beastly tot? Were we really more respectful in our youth or is it all an illusional of revisionist history?

I don't know, but as he grows older and gains more vocabulary to express himself and he expands his social role he is also asking pertinent questions.

Take the other night.

It was a school night and we were into the bedtime battle again.

And after much carrying on and screaming and threatening to disown the family and what have you, on his part and much jaw grinding stonewalling on my part, he lets out a huge exasperated sigh and he says "Mommy, why do we have to have rules?"

I tried to explain: rules help protect people and to protect other people's rights when other people are acting unfairly, like the rule about being quiet after the baby goes to sleep and it is bedtime. Your need to scream and protest is not more important than Emily's right to sleep and Mommy's right to peace and quiet time. Those are our rights. Your need to scream is okay, but not when you break Emily's right to sleep. If you need to scream, you can stay in your room and scream, but if you are screaming and being out of control and saying rude hurtful things, I won't want to stay with you and do nice things like read stories or sing songs, because I have a right to not be spoken to rudely, and that is as important as your right to scream when you are feeling frustrated.

He stopped crying. He listened. He genuinely wanted to understand the rules, and you could see he wanted to understand why his dad and I got to make most of them, and the little wheels were turning. And I know it sounds crazy, but I think some of it actually sunk in.

I think it's a civics lesson that may need relearning a lot. A civics lesson that to be frank, my husband and I both could stand to restudy ourselves from time to time. Sometimes I think we as grown ups forget that he is a person with his own needs and his own rights, and our rights do not always supercede his merely because we are adults or because we are bigger and stronger and richer. Sometimes it wouldn't hurt to just stop what we are doing and try to listen a little harder.

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