Last weekend, we had two scenarios with my kids that illustrate the holiness vs. happiness principle. My mom came to visit to help me out since my husband was working. I appreciate her help and grant the idea that grandparents have an innate, perhaps undeniable impulse to spoil their grandchildren. So I allow my mom to do this with my kids to an extent (especially when she is visiting to help me). However, the following scenarios will show you what happens when you think only of the child’s immediate happiness.
Scenario #1: William (4.5 years)
Saturday night, we went to the mall for some shopping and dinner. We were out late and got home about an hour past William’s bedtime. I put him to bed and expected him to go right to sleep since it was late. He struggled because Grandma was here and she was going to be sleeping in his room. He wanted her to come to bed right then. She agreed because she wanted to please him, but it was maybe 15 minutes before she was ready. Next thing I know, another 15-20 minutes had passed, and they came downstairs for a snack. It was almost 11:00pm by this point, way too late for a 4-year-old to be awake. My mom thought he might be hungry. (He NEVER eats after dinner.) I didn’t want to fight it. They got their snack, and it was probably close to 11:30 before he fell asleep. He probably had a little smile on his face as he dozed off.
You can predict what happened the next day. He still woke up at his normal time, which meant he got 8.5-9 hours of sleep instead of his usual 11-12. He was whiny and argumentative the entire day. And he had a MAJOR meltdown at the grocery store. Only once or twice in his life have I seen him act the way he did in the store. I didn’t know what to do with him it was that bad. It happened in the late afternoon, and the lack of sleep had just caught up to him.
So you can see that by feeding his happiness (quite literally) rather than his holiness (the fundamental need for a good night’s sleep), he was far worse off. If he had just gone to sleep when I put him down, the day would have been much more pleasant for all of us and he would have been much happier in the long run.
Scenario #2: Lucas (16 months)
The same Saturday night, we had dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. Our reservation was for 6:45, and Lucas’ internal dinner bell chimes at 6:30, so I gave him a small snack before we were seated. Apparently, the small snack wasn’t enough, and he started to fuss. My goal was to ask our server for a small bowl of rice that she could bring immediately so we could get some food in his belly.
My mom, the grandparent that she is, thought he might like to be held while we waited. My first issue is that being held wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to eat and it wouldn’t make a difference if he were held. My second issue is that we eat out regularly and I did not want to start the habit of getting him out of the highchair at a restaurant. I teach him that the only place he can be while we are eating out is in the highchair.
Well, my mom’s attempts to hold him made things worse. It taught him that all he had to do was fuss and he could get out of the highchair. He did this the entire meal and his fussing escalated. I was embarrassed and finally had to take him away from the table to calm him down. (I hated that I even had to do this.) Once he was calm, I told him we were going to go back to the table, which made him fuss again. I immediately said “unh unh” to indicate that the fussing wasn’t acceptable. We did this two or three times, and then he initiated a game of peek-a-boo with me. It was a huge shift in his attitude. He clearly wanted someone to tell him that his fussing wasn’t okay.
The meal was a little touch and go after that (more getting out of the highchair), so we just had to finish and go home. I never really got a chance to enjoy my meal. It was a little cold by the time I sat down, and I was holding him for a good portion of it.
So again, by catering to his happiness (taking him out of the highchair) rather than his holiness (teaching him that he must stay in his highchair at a restaurant), Lucas was much more unhappy than if we had just left him there to begin with.
I still struggle with finding a balance between tending to my kids’ needs while allowing my mom to spoil her grandchildren. I want her to enjoy her grandchildren in the way that she wants to, but it’s difficult when I know that what she wants to do will lead to disaster.