Battle of wills

March 07, 2012

My youngest always fought with me. Over the littlest of things. All strategies aimed towards compliance failed miserably until the day when, worn out and desperate, I bribed her with candy. The peace it brought to the house was priceless and soon candy became the norm.

And then last week, it all crumbled about my feet. She came home from school announcing that they had begun a new unit called ‘Healthy Me’ and she was signing herself off all forms of junk forever. It seemed like a good idea and I did not think much about her detox until later that evening.

“Put away your plate,” I reminded her after dinner, “otherwise no candy.” “I don’t want candy,” she retorted. “It is junk and it is not good for me.” I was thrown off guard and left scrambling for words. “Okay then – no, er, no carrot sticks,” I mumbled lamely. Somehow depriving her of her least favourite vegetable had zero effect and my threat fell on deaf ears.

This continued for well over a week. She felt evidently liberated from mama’s grasp and began to relish her long lost freedom. She left the dinner table uncleared with confidence, slept in her school uniform with defiance and fought with her siblings without fear.

I lamented my loss of control over her life and found myself strangely obsessed by her every move and nauseatingly nagging her about responsibility and manners and dadada.

And then yesterday. She came home and threw her backpack right by the front door. I ordered her to pick it up, but as expected, she shot off upstairs. I lurched around to catch her but stumbled on the backpack, and losing my balance, flung right over it and into the arms of my startled 16 year old.

Now this was adding insult to injury, or rather the other way around. I couldn’t take it anymore, and shouting, “You will pay for this,” I straightened myself, grabbed the backpack and marched off upstairs, fuming.

My head throbbed, my heart raced. I looked around wildly and threw the backpack into my cupboard, shoving it like a maniac behind the clothes to make sure it was well hidden. I was a tad startled by my own vengeance, but found great solace in the thought that come morning, she would learn her lesson when she found it gone.

“Eat your breakfast,” I nagged this morning as she scanned the nutritional facts on the cereal box. “I can’t,” she retorted. “It has 16 grams of sugar and it's not healthy for me!”

I bit my lip to refrain from taunting, chuckling secretly at the thought of the hidden backpack. She soon realised it was missing and confronted her siblings. A lot of blaming and shouting. A lot of pushing and shoving.

When things seemed to near a climax, I figured, voila, it was the moment to strike for maximum effect, and announced the fate of the backpack with a flourish.

Alas, the strategy backfired. The older three stared at me aghast, shocked at my immaturity, and held me accountable for being late for school. Miss Healthy, already shaken, found herself cornered and hated being check-mated.

Red and flustered, she screamed, “I’ll tell my teacher you hid my backpack!” and, glaring at me with angry red eyes, marched off to the car, hollering and howling.

I watched the car as it drove away. Left alone in a silent and empty house, I began to contemplate my actions. Why did I hide her backpack? What was I trying to achieve?

Did I really want to make her responsible for her actions or was I actually trying to get her to do things my way? Had I turned our relationship into a battle of wills by trying to CEO her little world?

Much thought. A deep breath. No, I will fight no more. Instead, I will learn to let go. I need to recognise that many a time it is not our children’s habits that we are trying to fix, but our own gigantic egos that we are eager to stoke. To understand that to win over our kids, we have to always accept and often ignore.

To appreciate that the time spent hugging and talking teaches them far more than all the lectures and admonishments in the world. And to trust that it is our unconditional love and understanding that lays the foundation for the values that we wish to eventually see in them.

I head upstairs slowly and take out her backpack. Inside, I drop a little note in curly pink handwriting that reads: “I love you too! Would you like to take me healthy food shopping this afternoon?”


Muscat resident Homaira Kabir writes about her thoughts and everyday experiences