Is It Time for a Showdown with Your Kid?

winning the battle of wills

The first part of this article applies best to young preschoolers (ages two, three, and four); the questions in the second half will be helpful in parenting older children as well. 

The scene: a middle-of-nowhere McDonald’s where our family has stopped for a bathroom-and-snack break while traveling.

The surface issue: a bib.

The real issue: Who is in charge—me or my 2-year-old.

Me to my 2-year-old: “You can have some ice cream like the big kids, but you have to wear a bib.”

2-year-old: “NO! No bib!” (Begins crying and tugging at bib.)

Me to myself, glancing around at all the McDonalds customers who are pretending not to stare at us: Okay, I have a decision to make. Do I let her take off the bib, or do I stick to my guns? I could just make her start over and ask calmly and respectfully if she can take off the bib, and then let her take it off, but . . . sigh. This time I need to stick to my guns. First, she’s been fighting me a lot lately. Not good. Second, I don’t want her getting ice cream all over her shirt before we get back in the car. Third, she needs to know that she doesn’t get her way by pitching fits. Fourth, she needs to learn that she doesn’t always get her way, period. 

Me to 2-year-old: “Okay, fine. You can take off the bib, but that means no ice cream. If you keep the bib on, you can eat your ice cream.”

2-year-old, loudly: “Me want ICE KWEAM!”

Me: “Okay. Then keep your bib on.”

2-year-old: “No no no no no bib!” Tugs even harder at the bib.

We are definitely getting some looks now. I’m beginning to wonder if we need to take this little confrontation outside.

Me, reaching for her ice cream: “Okay, then no ice cream.”

2-year-old: Throws head back and cries halfheartedly at the ceiling. Not a full-on fit, but she’s thinking about it. I brace myself for the worst. But then she looks at me and I can see surrender in her eyes. “Me want ice kweam.” She stops tugging on the bib.

I hand her the spoon and she digs in, all smiles again. I breathe a sigh of relief. Minor skirmish resolved. Score one for Mommy.

I call this a “minor skirmish,” because in the grand scheme of parenting, it wasn’t a huge deal. This wasn’t a make-or-break moment…not necessarily.

But it was important. It was important because it showed my 2-year-old who is in charge. It taught her that Mommy and Daddy mean what we say. We allowed her to make a choice and gave her a sense of control in her own life, but within the rules we had set for her. It taught her that she can’t get her way by pitching a fit or being stubborn. She can’t wear us down.

In the middle of moments like this, we can feel ridiculous: I’m in a McDonald’s, arguing with a two-year-old over a bib. You start to feel like a two-year-old yourself.

But don’t underestimate the significance of these little confrontations. Small parenting victories like these do matter. Why?

Are there times when we can decide not to turn a little moment into a battle of wills? Of course. Are there times when we can (and should) be flexible for the sake of peace? Definitely. (Keep in mind that more flexibility is often in order with older kids. We need to parent them differently than we would a two- or three- or four-year-old. For more on that concept, read How to Raise Respectful Children and When Your Kid Won’t Stop Whining.)

Here are some of the criteria I use when deciding if it’s time to have a showdown (major or minor) with one of my kids, or if it’s time to pull an Elsa and “let it go”:

  • Do I have frequent conflict with this child? Do they constantly fight me on every little decision or rule I make? If so, it’s probably time for me to win some decisive battles.

  • Does this child always insist on getting their way, or is this an unusual situation (maybe they are tired or hungry, or they just really, really hate this particular bib)? If that’s the case, maybe I can make an exception.

  • Am I giving in just because I want to avoid a confrontation? (Bad idea.)

  • If I change my rule or give in right now, will I encourage this child to pitch fits or argue with me to get their way in the future? (Bad idea.)

  • Am I giving in to my child because I am too tired to deal with them? (Bad idea.)

  • Am I giving this child their way because I’m not confident that I can win a battle of wills with them? Am I afraid I will lose? (This shows that I have some work to do on my own confidence as a parent.)

  • Am I being unreasonable, unfair, or unkind to my child by insisting on my way? If so, then can I find a graceful compromise that maintains my authority as the parent, but also acknowledges that my original rule might not have been the best plan?

I realize that moments like these are tricky. How is it that a preschooler can get in your head and have you doing all kinds of mental gymnastics, questioning everything you thought you ever knew about parenting? (Or bib-wearing?)

Just remember: A few well-timed victories in skirmishes with young kids will prevent major battles later. It’s much easier to win a battle of wills with an impressionable two- or three-year-old than with a six-year-old who has spent six years thinking that they are the boss. The earlier you establish yourself as the confident but compassionate authority figure in your child’s life, the happier their little life will be.

My son, do not forget my teaching,

but keep my commands in your heart. . . .

Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord and shun evil.

-Proverbs 2:1,7

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Signs that a Man Is Not a First-Time Dad

signs of an experienced dad

1. He can wrestle a Pack and Play into submission in 5.6 seconds.

2. He doesn’t have to be asked to serve as the baby gear Sherpa when it’s time to leave a friend’s house. He automatically hunts down diaper bags, pacifiers, and all twenty-seven sippy cups, and starts schlepping them out to the minivan.

3. He will gladly hold other people’s babies and not go stiff-armed. He no longer gets that panicked someone-save-me-before-I-break-this-thing expression on his face.

4. He can make any baby laugh at any age. He is not too proud to sing in falsetto, blow raspberries, or play Peek-a-boo.

not a first-time dad

5. When moms start talking baby sleep schedules, he can chime right in and hang with the best of them. If he’s in the mood to show off, he might throw in phrases like “co-sleeping” and “self-soothing” and “Happiest Baby on the Block.” (This makes all the women raise their eyebrows and give him the you’re-in-the-professional-dad-club nod.)

6. All of his jackets have silver streaks on the shoulders, from years of baby snot. He wears them like a badge of honor.

7. He knows how to swaddle.

8. He does not grimace, scream, or run away when a toddler with a loaded diaper-bomb waddles his way. Inside, he is probably still grimacing and screaming, but after so many dirty diapers, he has mastered his Stinky Diapers Don’t Bother Me Expression.

9. However . . . he has also learned to conveniently disappear or get on a “business call” at the first whiff of a suspicious diaper, so that his wife cannot conscript his services. He has also discovered that he can get out of changing dirty diapers if he bribes his wife with twenty kid-free minutes so she can sneak out to go through the Starbucks drive-through alone. (He has not, however, learned that his wife is getting the better end of this deal. Twenty kid-free minutes in a quiet car, sipping non-microwaved coffee, in exchange for changing a stinky diaper? YES.)

10. When his wife discovers lice in a child’s head, and she begins to hyperventilate into a paper bag, he takes over. He grabs the lice comb and goes to work murdering lice. He tells himself that every disgusting moment from his boyhood has prepared him for this.

11. He can walk through a store with multiple children hanging from his legs, having a serious conversation, and never break stride or lose his train of thought.

12. He not only knows how to put on a baby carrier, but he will wear it in public with pride.

13. He can interpret a child’s tickle-screams, and identify the precise moment when a tickle fight turns dangerous. He knows exactly when to stop tickling just in time to prevent a catastrophic pee-pee disaster. (He has learned this the hard way.)

tickle fight

14. If he has to, he can sleep through anything. He can lie down on the couch, turn on golf, and drift off even while children pretend to give him shots and then take turns using his head as a trampoline.

DSC_013215. However, he has learned that if he wants to take a hardcore nap, he shouldn’t announce his intentions. His only chance is to quietly sneak away while his wife is not looking and bury himself in the bed with the bathroom fan blasting to drown out all the kid noise. His wife will probably be irritated when she finds him there later, but he has performed the cost-benefit analysis, and her momentary wrath is worth the forty-five minutes of stolen sleep.

16. He is no longer fazed when his wife’s pregnant or new-mom friends come over and burst into random fits of exhausted tears. He’s like, Welcome to our world. We feel your pain. Here’s a tissue.

17. He not only remembers to put sunscreen on children at the pool; he has a foolproof step-by-step system for sunscreen application: “Arms up, legs wide, eyes shut, turn fifteen degrees to the right, turn again . . .”

18. He knows that ice cream, Band-Aids, and Daddy hugs can heal almost anything.

DSC_028319. He knows the words to every Disney Junior and Nick Junior TV show theme song, and secretly enjoys humming them to himself. (He’ll never admit it, but his favorite is “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”: “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety-dog.”)

20. He can name every Thomas the Train engine and identify most Beanie Boos.

21. He has trained the children well. When Mommy asks, “What did you do with Daddy today?”, they parrot, “What happens with Daddy, stays with Daddy.”


22. He knows that when the phone rings and a little-boy voice says, “Can I speak to your daughter,” it’s time to get a new phone number.

23. He understands that when his just-had-a-baby wife sighs into the mirror and says, “All my clothes look terrible on me,” what she really means is, “I’m struggling with my post-baby body, and I need to know that you still think I’m beautiful.” He knows what to say. (Or at the very least, he knows what not to say.)

24. He knows that you never turn down an invitation to a princess tea party with your daughter, no matter how behind you are on email, because a man only gets invited to so many princess tea parties in his life.

daddy-daughter love

princesses don't last forever


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Gifts My Father Gave Me

Gifts My Father Gave Me

Whenever I speak, I love telling stories about my father, first because I adore him, and second because I am all too aware that a dad like mine is a gift that not everyone gets to enjoy. The relationship we have with our earthly father has a profound effect upon the way we view our heavenly Father. If you are one of my reader-friends who did not have the relationship you wanted and needed with your earthly father—for whatever reason—I pray that reading this gives you comfort by painting a picture of the kind of relationship God the perfect Father offers to you . . . to all of us. I also share these things because I hope they will encourage other dads (and moms!) who read them, that so often it’s the little things—the things you don’t even know you’re doing—that help your kids the most.

He took me to see movies.

On summer nights in high school, Dad would catch my eye with a gleam in his and say, “You wanna go see a movie?” I’d breathe “Yes” (always, yes), sprint up the stairs to grab my shoes, and off we’d go, screeching into the theater parking lot, out of breath and laughing, five minutes late every time.

He loved my mother.

Sometimes he’d get quiet in the middle of dinner and I’d see him sitting there, hands clasped, fingertips pressed against his lips, eyes shining as he gazed at Mom, just . . . watching her talk, enjoying her laugh. And I’d know what was coming. When he found his voice he’d say, “Isn’t she wonderful?” (He still does this even now.) He showed me what forever love looked like. Even as a girl, I knew I wanted what Dad and Mom had. Nothing less would do. I was willing to wait, as long as it took, till I found someone who loved me the way my dad loved my mom.

He didn’t just love me—he liked me.

Weird and quirky and nerdy as I was (am), he enjoyed me somehow. Laughed at my jokes. Thought I was smart. Liked the dumb things I wrote. Paid me compliments I probably didn’t deserve. Saw who I was becoming, instead of who I was. Enjoyed the journey instead of obsessing over the results.

He showed me how to love God.

He didn’t just take me to church, didn’t just tell me about God—he walked with God himself. Every morning I’d watch Dad disappear into the woods behind our house for his daily prayer walk, and come back thoughtful but happy. He prayed with me, with Mom, with the whole family, and made prayer a real and accessible part of our daily life. I’m still seeking to imitate the deep relationship with God that Dad enjoys.

He didn’t think I was crazy.

Even as a kid, there was a lot going on in my little head. Throw in there the complexities of growing up a Preacher’s Kid, trying to find my way in the world and in Christianity, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of angst. My sainted mother carried 98% of my internal drama, but Dad listened too, especially when Mom got stumped. And he somehow understood the cartwheels my brain and heart were doing, and when we were done talking, I felt understood. Normal. Hopeful. Like I might turn out okay after all.

He helped me be logical.

Mom was the ultimate sympathizer; Dad was sympathetic too, but he also helped me untangle knotted thoughts. He’d walk me through them one at a time, step by step, until things made sense. Weren’t so scary. Weren’t so weird. Were more like manageable strings to examine one by one, instead of the whole daggum king-sized afghan.

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How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard

He told me about his mistakes.

It was wonderful to know that the father I so admired wasn’t perfect. He told me story after story of his own temptations, disappointments, and failures. He gave me hope that I might turn out okay after all.

He cared about what mattered to me.

When my middle school basketball team got cheated out of a chance to compete for regionals, I was so mad I couldn’t think straight. Dad listened, and understood, and didn’t try to “fix” my feelings. Sometimes you want fixing; other times you just want somebody to show you they get it, and sit there and hurt right alongside you. Only then can you fully hear them and let them help you work through it.

He helped me pursue the things I loved.

When I decided I wanted to run track, Dad designed exercise regimens for me, which the Type A girl in me followed like they were the Ten Commandments. When I decided I wanted to run for class president, he helped me tweak my speech. When I failed miserably at being class president for the first semester, he gave me a talking-to and helped me turn it around. When I got accepted to my dream university and worked myself silly trying to find enough scholarship money to pay for it, but it still wasn’t enough, Dad figured out how to make up the difference for year one and let me go there on faith, figuring that between the four us—God and Mom and Dad and me—somehow we’d find a way to pay for years two, three, and four when we got to years two, three, and four. We found it.

He gave great hugs.

Dad liked to grab us kids as we walked past, and bury us in bear hugs. We always tried to squirm away, but then we’d settle in and absorb the affection. There was something healing about those hugs. Comforting. Pure. Confidence-building. Something that said,  I am so very loved, and right here, in this quiet moment, all is right with my little world.

He wasn’t afraid to cry.

I still remember the first time I saw Dad cry: the day he told me my cat had died. We sat there on the bed and cried our eyes out together. And there were countless other times when Dad let his emotion show—tears of joy, of empathy, of loss, of memory, and—my favorite—tears of laughter.

For all this and so much more, thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. And to all the dads out there, doing the little (big) things for your kids . . . keep it up. You’re getting through. Your kids will thank you one day.

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Gifts My Father Gave Me


A Letter to My Child About Your Unfinished Baby Book

Why I didn't finish your baby book via @lizzylit

Dear darling,

I’m haunted by this nightmare where you come to me as an insecure preteen and ask, “Mom, can I see my baby book? I need some dates and things for a school project.”

Choking back tears of shame, I dig out a dusty blue and yellow book. You pluck it from my guilty hands. A few souvenirs and ragged coloring pages slip out. To you, they look random, unimpressive, disorganized, but I remember: That’s the first time you drew a circle. That smiley-faced blob there? The picture you drew of me on our third Mother’s Day. That thumbprint collage? Your first preschool art project.

unfinished baby book @lizzylit

You flip through, and I know what you’re seeing: A handful of haphazard photos, too many half-empty pages. I try to distract you with the highlights: There’s an ultrasound photo—that grainy peanut is your very first picture . . . There’s a coming-home-from-the-hospital shot; you’re swaddled, pink and scrunchy, in the striped hospital blanket . . . Look, twenty-six pictures from your epic first birthday party . . . A few play dates at the park . . . And then we skip ahead to your first day of preschool (that stain there? definitely raindrops, not tears) . . . er, one blurry shot from preschool graduation . . . Okay, let’s keep moving.

In the margins, you’ll find a few handwritten notes:

Seven weeks: Still not sleeping, but oh, that smile!

Five months: You must be teething. You drool through four outfits a day.

Eight months: You love bananas, your daddy, the dog, and screeching at the top of your lungs.

Eleven months: You lunged forward today, trying to pinch the dog. First step? Maybe?

Twenty-two months: You got into the magic markers. I need a new kitchen table.

Twenty-nine months: I wish I could give your pacifiers back. You miss them so much.

Three years: You got your first princess dress today. You smiled so big, I thought your cheeks might pop. 

Seven years old: Pinkeye AND lice on the same day. I’m still twitching.

You flip to the back pages. The tooth chart is woefully empty. I managed to jot down the month when your first tooth came in—not the day, I couldn’t remember which day—and then I drew a sad little frowny-face when it came back out again, five years later.

The how-we-celebrated-your-first-five-birthdays section? Well, I did a killer job on the first birthday—see the pictures? see the cake I spent three days researching on Pinterest and sculpting in the shape of Elmo?—after that, the birthday party pages are all blank.

Worst of all, I picture you flipping to the chart of firsts, that page where I’m supposed to write down every first from your First Year of Life, and even some milestones from your toddler years. Your baffled gaze runs down the page, finding only a few scattered notes. You’ll never know the exact date you spoke your first word, or which day that first pointy tooth poked through, or how much you weighed at your eighteen-month doctor visit.

And I picture your expression crumpling in confusion, an accusation etched in your eyes as you glare at me, mystified and hurt: You don’t love me enough. If you really loved me, you would have made me a baby book I could be proud of. You would have written down all of the things so we could remember them. Didn’t you care?

And I’ll try to explain, to help you understand:

I didn’t write down exactly which day you spoke your first word because I was too busy clapping, too busy savoring the sweet sound of that voice I’d been trying to coax out of you for so long. You were so excited, so proud of yourself, and you wanted me to listen. And I did.

There wasn’t time to mark down which day your first tooth came in because you were so fussy that you wouldn’t let me put you down. You just wanted me to snuggle you and rock you and sing to you. And I did.

I forgot to record how much you weighed at every doctor visit, because after all the prodding and shots, you were always tired and grumpy, and so was I. And so I got my coffee and you got your chocolate milk and we called it a day. We just cuddled on the couch and watched Elmo until we both felt better. And we did.

I didn’t write down what we ate at your second birthday party, because I’d learned my lesson from the first party—a blur, the whole grand cake-sculpting affair—so for the next few years, I got a store-bought cake, inflated balloons with my own breath, blew some bubbles, and crazy-danced with you and a few friends. I put down my camera and watched joy twinkle in your eyes while you played silly games and tore open gifts. When it was all over, you wanted to ignore your presents, ball up the wrapping paper, and have a wrapping-paper fight. And we did.

I didn’t actually forget to take pictures of your preschool graduation. It’s just, my eyes were so cloudy, I couldn’t focus the lens right. But I tried.

And every time I found a spare rainy afternoon and thought to myself, “I could catch up on the baby book today,” a chubby fist tugged on my pant leg, a sunbeam smile flashed up at me, and a little voice lisped, “Come play with me, Mommy.” And I did.

Why I didn't finish your baby book

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This article first appeared on The Huffington Post. 


A Letter to My Children’s Teachers, from a Grateful Parent

A thank you to teachers

Dear Teacher,

It’s the season of grand finales, the time of last things.

I took my kids’ first-day-of-school pictures, shook your hand at the Open House, blinked, and now here we are: sprinting down the home stretch of another school year. Caught in the dizzying whirlwind of end-of-grade tests and end-of-year assemblies and end-of-everything parties.

It’s exhausting. Expensive. And a little depressing.

It’s bittersweet that my kids are another year older, scribbling closing lines in another ending-too-soon childhood chapter—but it’s more than that. I’m sad that my children’s time with you is drawing to a close. Not just their time in this grade, with these friends. Their time with you. Their teacher.

When I look at you, I see someone with sparkling talent: Clever. Creative. Charismatic. Compassionate.

You could have used those gifts to pursue any career you wanted.

You chose teaching, the noblest profession of all.

You chose to get up early and stay up late.

You chose to be underpaid and rarely thanked.

You chose to help raise other people’s kids.

You chose to tolerate “the system” because you believe in the children.

You chose to find ways to put your own innovative spin on education, in spite of the complex requirements thrust upon you from Distant Powers that Be.

A thank you to teachers

You chose to push through on days when you were sick or overwhelmed or tired—because your students needed you.

You chose to give your kids—my kids—second, third, fourth, and fortieth chances, and to always believe they could be better tomorrow.

You chose to worry about children whose difficult home lives are beyond your power to improve.

You chose to care even though it was a gamble.

You chose to care even when the kids didn’t care back.

You chose to care, period.

This could have been just another year you had to survive.

Another year to slog through, counting the days till summer.

Another year closer to that too-small, still-have-to-moonlight-as-a-tutor-in-order-to-make-it retirement package.

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How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard

My child could have been just another project.

Just another name, on just another class roster.

Just another number, one of twenty-five.

But they weren’t. Not to you.

For the past nine months, you chose to love my child, though you did not have to. (Nine months! The time it takes to grow a person . . . coincidence? Perhaps not.)

And it’s not like you had the luxury of handpicking each of your students, choosing the ones who would make a perfect match for your methods, your style. No, someone handed you a roster one hot afternoon as last year’s summer waned. You read down that list and took these children—these people-still-becoming—into your class, and into your heart.

From that first butterflies-in-tummies morning, that day of new shoes and perfect pigtails and fresh pencils, you decided to love those kids—all twenty-five of them. It was a risk, that decision to love. To fully invest. To put your own heart and happiness on the line. To intertwine your grown-up joys and struggles and successes with their growing-up ones.

You took that risk.

I could see it in your eyes, the way you laughed at their endless immature jokes and anticipated, even came to enjoy, all their crazy quirks. After a few months, you understood things about my kids that I thought only I knew: the way she chews her eraser when she’s nervous; the way he gets quiet when he’s got hurt feelings; the way she melts down when she doesn’t get her homework just right.

And it’s not just my kids—you’ve done it for the whole classroom, all twenty-five kids. You’ve cared enough to study them. To figure out what makes sense to them, what motivates them, so you could teach each one in the best way you know how.

When I walked into your classroom to volunteer, I could feel the sense of “we,” the community you had built among those twenty-five young souls. I felt like an outsider—not because you or the kids were rude, but because you were all so close. I wanted in on all your class secrets, your silent pacts, your private jokes. Your crazy “remember when we all fell out of our chairs laughing” stories that only the twenty-six of you can fully appreciate. Your funny sayings that you all shout out at the same time. Your silly songs you sing when it’s time to “flash-flash-ding-ding, change that sign” (whatever that means—I still don’t know).

Pep talk from Mrs. L via @lizzylit

It couldn’t have been easy, forging this connection, creating community from chaos. You took a hodge-podge group of random students—children with varying abilities, from every imaginable family structure, from a broad sampling of cultures and religions—and you built a culture and family of your own. If the whole world could see what you have accomplished in these short months, in this cinderblock classroom, with these precious, different-but-same children, I have to believe the whole planet would be different. Better.

And you know what? The world is different, the world is better, because of what you have achieved here in this tiny room, with this growing group.

And while building unity may have been one of your biggest accomplishments this year, I also treasure the countless small gifts you gave my kids along the way.

You hugged them when they fell on the playground, and I wasn’t there.

You talked them down when they were fighting with friends.

You drew them out when they were quiet or worried or discouraged.

You cheered the loudest when they finally got it, that thing that had them confused for so long.

You put up with my kids when they were less than they could have been. I’m sure they annoyed you sometimes. Stumped you. Maybe even made you mad. (Believe me, I know what their bad days are like. I live with them.) But you pushed on anyway. You chose to keep giving.

And this letter is to say thank you, from me and my children.

Your name is inscribed in the pages of our family history: Who was your very first preschool teacher? Your kindergarten teacher? Your second-grade teacher? Your third-grade teacher? Your eighth-grade English teacher? Your name will forever live on in that list, and in our hearts.

Your influence is a thread woven into our family fabric. Your teaching has shaped my children’s upbringing, character, and path. You have changed them, helped them on their way to becoming the people they’re going to be.

For all this, and so much more, to all my kids’ teachers—past, present, and future—thank you for who you are, what you do, and all you give. We will never forget you.

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