Monday, February 20, 2012

you want me on that wall

Like most two-year-olds, Z has a love-hate relationship with boundaries. It's no surprise that he loves to push them, but one thing I've learned the hard way is that he actually hates to break them.

Here's a scene that has happened more than once in our house:

Me: Z, go pick out a book to read before nap.

Z: No! No book.

Me (before learning aforementioned lesson about boundaries): No book? Are you sure?


Me: Okay, no book.

Z: Booooooooooook!

Me: No, Z it's too late. You said no book, and Mommy listens to your words, so no book today.

[commence screaming fit that hijacks entire pre-nap routine]

Z loves to act like he wants control, but most of the time he hates to actually have it. If adoption and child development literature is right, children need boundaries (i.e. areas over which they have no control) in order to feel safe, and children need to feel safe in order to form an attachment with their parent or caregiver. Therefore, healthy attachment depends on keeping good boundaries. I am positive I read this multiple times before and after Z came home, but now I can see it with my own eyes. The screaming fit from the scenario above is not about anger or frustration - it's about fear. We always read a book before bed. It's part of a routine that helps him feel safe. By giving him the power to change the routine, I have removed a source of safety for him without any warning: he is understandably terrified.

The climactic courtroom scene from A Few Good Men is one of my favorites. [If you haven't seen that movie, I am not going to summarize. Just go watch it. And please appreciate the awesome early 90's casual outfits Demi Moore sports in the case preparation scenes. Were our jeans really that high-waisted? Amazing.] Anyway, sometimes the lines from Jack Nicholson's character pop into my head in these situations with Z. "You want me on that wall," he says. "You need me on that wall." OK, so maybe I'm not a colonel at Gitmo and I'm definitely not ordering any code reds. But Z does want to know that somebody is standing on the wall, protecting him, not only from outside forces, but from himself. I need to remind myself of that, of the value in standing my ground and sticking to the plan, even when he presses me to do otherwise.

Here's a revised version of the previous scenario, which still plays out on a daily basis in our home:

Me: Wait a minute Z, don't eat yet - I have to get your bib.

Z: No! No bib, Mommy.

Me: Z, it is lunchtime. At lunchtime we always wear a bib.


Me: (putting on bib) Sorry dude, that's how it goes.

And guess what? He might pout for a minute, but most of the time he gets over it way faster than when I give in to his boundary-pushing demands. The comfort of consistency and routine trumps the frustration of not getting his way. Of course at some point it will become developmentally appropriate to change his routines and introduce flexibility and autonomy into more areas of his life. I'm sure that will hold new challenges with more steep learning curves. But for now I'm happy to play it safe, knowing that these days of stability and familiarity are laying a foundation for years of trust and love.


  1. Well Done, Mama. I love your last line, "... these days of stability and familiarity are laying a foundation for years of trust and love." We're really aware of that with E right now, too. Now I need to see that movie... I've never seen it.

  2. That is the PERFECT quote. You WANT me on that wall! Love it.

    And I haven't seen that film for AGES. Last time I watched it, Demi was totally hip. Am guessing things have moved on a little in the... uh... twenty years since I saw it at school. Eeek!