They Have to Accommodate

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Kids' Feet

This is the third installment of an eight-part series.

Kids' needs and wishes matter. Their creativity, their malleability, their resilience, their openness — those aspects of their character matter, a lot. The flip side is that your needs and wishes matter, too.

One of the basic realities of living with other people is that you have to be considerate of those around you. So kids have to accommodate. This means you have permission to tell your kid to let you finish your thought, or to stop climbing on your chair while you're trying to eat, or to stay in bed at night so you can read your book. In fact, you don't just have permission to insist they respect your need for these things. Relievingly, you have an obligation. Because it's not just unfair for you that you never get to drink your coffee while it's still hot; it's also unfair for your kid when you get fed up and start yelling at them.

Does it chip away at your psyche to hear them playing some game that's not "doing any harm," though it's driving you privately insane? You have permission to stop that action. Even if the kid is having fun. Even if you can't think of a good reason to say no. Do you need a moment first thing in the morning to look out the window without talking to anyone? You can insist on that.

This is how I see it. It's okay to have needs. And given that you have them, it's your job to know what your needs are, to respect your own boundaries and teach your kids to respect them too. You have to know, because it's your responsibility to anticipate your frustration before it takes shape, so you can steer in another direction, not when, but before you get to your limit.

When you choose to put up with annoyances until you lose your cool, you probably feel you've done something wrong. You might beat yourself up about it. But I don't think getting mad is wrong; I think the mistake happens a few steps before, when you ignore your discomfort to the point that you think you're powerless and that raising your voice is the only way to regain control.

It's not just a luxury, advocating for yourself. It's actually your job not to cede too much. Because your kids need you to be steady, not prone to outbursts. Also, they need to understand that in community and society, they have to be considerate of others.

Like you, children are part of the family. And family is a much bigger project than any one person within it.

That's a two-sided coin of course. Children have to respect their parents' needs and wishes; parents have to respect their kids' needs and wishes, too.

(To be continued next week.)