I knew going into being a mom that I wouldn’t hang on the edges of the strict and lenient spectrum. I didn’t want to be the overly strict mom who hovers over everything that her kids do, but I also didn’t want to be my kids’ best friend who lets them do anything they want. I also feel like each kid’s temperament requires different methods, so that even within the same family, one child may require more strictness than his or her sibling. With my two-year-old, I try to strike a balance between strict and lenient.
Striking the balance between strict and lenient:
For starters, below are the ways I’ve been on the strict side:
- I was a hawk over what my baby ate, which meant that for the longest time, he mostly ate the food I prepared him—not restaurant food, nor processed or sweet food, not even other people’s home-cooked food.
- Similarly, I hardly offered him juice. Other than the few times he’s been sick (apple juice) or constipated (prune juice), we stuck to water and milk.
- We almost always stuck to our sleeping and eating routines, turning down social functions because the event ran at the same time as a nap, or would have been too late in the evening.
- He hasn’t slept over anyone else’s house without his parents yet. We started breaking him in by having my mom sleep over and putting him to bed without us. This will hopefully prepare him for when we plan to have him sleep over at her house without us.
I value strictness for the boundaries that it offers kids. However irritating it may be to feel like the police enforcing rules or a Debbie Downer turning down fun invitations, having certain boundaries gives kids the limits they need to explore within. They know that someone is willing to put their foot down in their best interest. And routines and boundaries help give them something to expect in a confusing world.
But I also try to be lenient in other ways for a few reasons.
For one, as he grows older, the fears and paranoia of that first year have mostly diminished. For instance, we’ve now allowed him to eat chocolate cake, figuring that he’s got a handle on this food business and isn’t likely to turn down a quinoa salad just because he’s had a bite of chocolate.
Secondly, I’m also older. Or rather, more experienced (if you call almost three years experience!) with motherhood, so I can fine-tune my own parenting methods and realize which ones I should keep and which ones I can toss.
Thirdly, sometimes it just got too much. I learned to pick my battles while standing my ground on issues that matter. If I were to hold every rule to heart, I might easily drive myself insane.
And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, kids benefit from leniency as well. For one, they’ll grow more independent when we don’t hover over their every move. They’ll also know that we trust them to make certain decisions and that we have faith in their blooming skills. And sometimes parenting is much easier when done lightheartedly and when we don’t make a big deal out of everything.
Some of the ways I’ve been on the lenient side include:
- Letting him play in a safe room by himself while I’m in a different room in the house
- Not spotting him for every movement he makes, unless he’s learning a new skill like climbing a ladder (and once he masters that, I’ll be back to sitting down again)
- Reacting calmly whenever he injures himself so as not to incite anxiety about every little bruise and cut (he’s even braver than I am, simply showing me a bloody cut without freaking out like I would)
- Having him lead his play time without any strict adherence to any academic agendas or skill-building activities
- Showing him that it’s okay to pet dogs and perfectly normal to greet our neighbors when we walk around the block
- Allowing him to eat pretty much anything healthy and wholesome with the occasional treat
I’ve been pretty happy with my approach so far. I want to keep my son safe and provide the boundaries he needs, but at the same time allow him the necessary independence and freedom to make his own mistakes and triumphs.
Do you tend to fall on the strict side, the lenient side, or somewhere in between? How do you strike a balance between strict and lenient?