Sunday, November 9, 2008

Choosing battles

Published November 9, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I write this, there is a lovely blanket of snow on the ground and much more than a little chill in the air outside my house. My school-aged children are bundled up against the elements, the better to make the quick walk around the corner and into the warmth of their elementary school. That is, all of my children except my oldest.

My nearly 12-year-old boy is at what I’m beginning to refer to as the “Age of Arguing.” He’s actually been there for a few years, but now that he’s almost a teenager it’s somehow easier to take. Today, he hurried off to school in a knee length pair of shorts and nothing more than a single sweatshirt to keep out the cold, proclaiming mightily, “I don’t need a coat! I never wear a coat! It doesn’t even feel cold to me!”

Now, I’m the kind of gal who likes to walk in puddles barefoot on a chilly morning just for the invigorating rush, so I kind of see where he’s at here, but the barefoot gal gets a little more uptight when she’s thinking like a mom. I see one of my kids jumping through icy puddles and my mothering instincts kick in with a loud, “Get your hiney inside and put on some shoes!” It’s either instinct or fear of what all the other mothers will think…

I let Ray head off to school in his highly inappropriate clothing because I’ve decided to experiment with a parenting concept that’s always been very hard for me. As his shoes pounded the soggy pavement, my feet padded back and forth across my kitchen floor, keeping time with a rhythmic, “Choose your battles…choose your battles…choose your battles.”

I’m afraid to admit that I’m the kind of mom who has a very hard time choosing battles. The phrase has always been a bit of a puzzle for me. I hear, “Choose your battles,” and I think, Of course! I choose EVERY battle! I’m the MOM, aren’t I?

What I’m grudgingly learning is that there’s a lot to be said for allowing a kid to learn from experience when the experience isn’t completely life threatening. It was cold this morning, but not dangerously so. If the temperatures dip even lower, he’ll probably choose pragmatism over power struggles and decide to put on a coat. The good news is that it will be his decision at that point, not mine, and that will earn me a few points in the “trusted counselor vs nagging despot” battle.

And those are points I’m going to use. I’m not giving up these battles without the future in mind. I’m keeping track of each and every time I let something go in the name of choosing battles, because someday, there will be a REALLY important battle I’ll have to choose, and that, my friends, will call for some major ammo.

“Ray, I know you’re 16 and think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to go to Cancun with your friends for Spring Break without any adult supervision, but I disagree. If you look at the battle spreadsheet with me, I think you’ll find that I have stepped back from battling with you on your choice of friends, your hair style and color, each and every girl you’ve dated, your after school job, and your decidedly Democratic political leanings. That’s 10,873 battles you have been spared because of my herculean efforts at self control. Buddy, you owe me. You’re going to the Grand Canyon with your family, AND THAT’S FINAL!” (Cue sound of battle-ending nuclear explosion.)

Saving up non-chosen battles and using them as scores later is probably not what the experts had in mind when they came up with this parenting theory, and I’m sure it has potential to backfire if I actually put it into practice. Give me some time. I’m new at this. I’ll probably just keep tabs in my head to make me feel better about it.

But I’m totally bringing out the spreadsheet if he ever says he wants to go to BYU.