Learning to compromise

I thought my toddler was the stubborn one. But a happy accident made me wonder about the part I play

Me, my daughter and snowwoman

We built a snowwoman on the balcony with huge boobs and a big pregnant belly. With her flaming wig and wooden-fork arms she looked pretty scary and kept giving me a fright when I caught sight of her from the kitchen. May she be a voodoo embodiment of my dogmatism; may it melt with the thaw. © Laura Eades 2014

I just had such a great weekend on my own with our two-and-half year old daughter. It took me by surprise – I wasn’t looking forward to it! We’ve had so much negotiation and contrariness recently. I’d been planning to read some books about it, but… instead I’ve just been hoping for divine intervention. And remarkably, something did happen by chance, that really helped.

It was a relief to let go of my way

Just naturally, on Friday morning, I made far more concessions than usual. It was as though I accepted that I had a weekend of her company ahead, and she mine. Only it wasn’t just giving in. I was explaining more of my reasoning, plus I was accepting more of her wishes and trying to find ways of meeting them that didn’t totally scupper us.

No. No! I said no! OK, snow

I wanted to climb the stairs. The five floors of stairs to our flat are a monumental hurdle to overcome in our day. I can’t carry her because I’m pregnant. She said she wanted to stay outside. So I said OK, and we walked around the courtyard. I wondered how long she’d want to do that for…

Then, I suddenly remembered that we hadn’t touched the snow on the balcony, and suggested that if we climbed the stairs, we could play outside together on the balcony. She was so surprised. “Scooping? In the snow?” she asked eagerly. “Yes. And maybe, maybe we can build a snowman!!??” I was getting excited because I was getting some of what I wanted.

A list of gratitudes and triumphant relenting

As if something switched in my brain – the ability to think laterally. I feel like I’ve done it a thousand times this weekend. Here are just a few examples:

  1. I was putting the bread machine on. She said “I will help you”. I said “No, because I can’t lift you up”. And then I realised – it’s a very minor inconvenience to lift out the baking tin and bring it down to her level so she can have her wish.
  2. She wanted to get out of the buggy and walk in the supermarket (something I dread), so we put the basket in the buggy and she fetched me things. (She chose a few random things so my husband is going to have some funny bright red salami sarnis this week!!)
  3. She demanded we go back outside again instead of climbing the stairs. Tantrum. We spent a few calming minutes outside again listening to a great tit singing, and then she sat in my bike seat for a minute. Then we tried a different tack.
  4. She wanted jam on her toast. I told her she had to have a boiled egg first; she’d have to wait. She insisted. I did her a rank of soldiers with one of everything, and one was jam. She ate it last of all anyway.
  5. She wanted a red straw. Then she got frustrated using it, and wanted a new one. I said red straw or nothing. She shouted incoherently. Then I offered to slightly make the red straw shorter with some scissors. Straw born again. Happy days

But I thought I did compromise already!

I must have been being a lot less flexible than I realised, because this process feels profoundly different. I can feel resolution on an emotional level, it doesn’t feel like trying to manipulate wins in a political battle.

I wonder if the other people I’m close to find me dogmatic, generally. I wouldn’t have identified with that criticism before! I like the feeling of giving it away a bit, I’d like to offer that to my loved ones more often.

Leaving flexibility around ‘getting things done’

I also think this compromise business takes time, and this weekend I’d let go of any other agendas of getting things done. I often don’t leave much time around things, and then I force my toddler to stick to my schedule, and she doesn’t understand my reasoning.

Incidentally, without any agenda we did get loads done: we went to Ikea and bought blackout blinds for her room, because it felt achievable and fun suddenly; and we made a ton of birthday cards (useful investment), and we invented several new games.

What does my husband think?

Christian Lloyd says:

Admittedly when the tantrums first kicked in I found it difficult not to fall into the trap of referring to our daughter as entering the ‘terrible twos’! But now I’d like to think that I’m more bothered about understanding, rather than behavioural pigeon-holing. I’m starting to view it as the stage where neurodevelopment is being fastracked. And with so many keyholes being unlocked at one time and not enough ways to communicate, she’s bound to let off some fireworks.

She’s definitely getting better at listening (and so are we!). The initial reaction was to respond with a raised voice to try and instil some discipline, but we soon realised that shouting back was just crazy…. a bit like if I was to throw spaghetti back in her face to try to show her that chucking food around at meal times was bad!

And this is when the bargaining strategies came in…

Christian is a primary school teacher (currently teaching year 4), with a specialism in teaching foreign languages at primary level. He’s our daughter’s father. He’s 40. You’ll hear more about him, and from him, in future posts.

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Did you suddenly find yourself being yelled at, on the end of unreasonable demands, covering the house in stickers in desperation to reward the good stuff? What have you learned from this phase? Your wisdoms are welcome here. Click on the pale grey dot under the blogpost to open up the comments section.

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Read more about pregnancy and maternity on Illustrated Guide to Life:

And more about Mindfulness and trying to calm down turmultuous emotions on Illustrated Guide to Life: