I used to wonder when I read the Little House books at how the Ingalls parents would scold their children for "contradicting" someone. Now I have a teenager. Now I get it.
I specifically remember when my eldest started with the arguing-for-the-sake-of-arguing routine. And actually, I regarded the new behavior with a bit of fascination. I could tell she wasn't necessarily trying to be rebellious. She was just moving into the abstract thinking stage of development. Suddenly, her horizons were expanded. Suddenly, she could see that there were more ways of looking at this situation than mine. And it was something of a thrill for her to point out all of those perspectives for me. Usually, when I acknowledged and affirmed her thinking, but let her know that my perspective would still stand in our family, she was fine with that.
Gone are those days. She is honing this debate skill to an art and making use of it to try to assert her will on the rest of us. Yes, this was to be expected. The question is, how to respond?
The easy response is to give in, stop fighting and let her win. However, when the inevitable day arrives that the surly, spoiled young woman I've created starts battling us on more life-threatening issues, life will no longer be easy. Relax, folks -- I'm not that stupid.
The correct response is probably to hear her out on her arguments, give her credit for the good ones, counteract the poor ones with my counterarguments, and stand firm on my final decision. Yeah. Easier said than done. She's just getting too good for this. She finds the counterarguments to my counterarguments . . and I do the same for hers . . and soon we're in a major stand-off. This strategy only works if her motive is increased knowledge and understanding of her mother's thinking. No, no, reader -- her goal is to win the debate.
So, all too often, the only strategy that seems to be effective is to assert my authority to shut off the debate. No arguing -- my way or the highway. That's not a satisfactory solution either. It makes me feel like an ogre. But then, none of the other options feel good either.
What I really want is a heart change in my child. A willingness to submit. When she asks why, I want to be able to say, "Because I'm the mother. Because in your heart of hearts you know how much I love you and you know I have more knowledge and experience than you. Because even though I'm imperfect and will make many mistakes, you know I act with your best interests in heart. Because in the course of your life many situations will arise where you need to submit whether you like it or not, whether you understand it or not, and you may as well learn how to do that now with the small things -- because you can trust me."
Oooh. That just sent me back to Andree Seu's blog. Tantrums with God. "Why, God? Why?" Because I'm the Father. Because you know how much I love you . . .
Ouch. Shutting up now.