She has me all figured out. She even advised my sister: “Mama says no. But ask and ask and ask. She sometimes says yes!” She’s five. You expect your first-born has prepared you to be a mother for life. The first-born is sugar and spice and everything nice. But somehow, the measurements were not as precise this time. The second child has way too much spice, and not everything’s nice.
A book has landed on my lap. It’s Stress Free Parenting in 12 Steps (by Christiane Kutik.) The same principles of child rearing I have studied and pored over countless times. Except this book makes it plain and easy.
First rule: Clarity of Roles. You are the parent. Your child is not your partner, your friend, or boss. The simple rule is: Be her mother. Take the lead. Tell her what to do. You decide.
I might as well hammer that into my head. Because this daughter will play you. And play you well. She’s dazzling at playing queen. And with charm and a magic formula, you will one day find yourself bowing down. Curtsying to her every whim and fancy. And this daughter wields her powers well. Often, you believe all is well because the little queen is pleased.
But the book’s certainly right. My little queen, the younger mademoiselle, gets into fits and fusses about. As though she’s crying for help. “I’m too young to queen. Why do I make the rules when I haven’t yet played this game? Someone please, tell me what to do?”
I see now how my young one craves for full attention. Not the kind that gives her free reign to do what she wants. But the kind where we take the reins and steer their course. Or else, they yell and cry, fearful that those who ought to drive them don’t know the way.
Because the Queen of the castle is you. And while she can, your little one needs to spend all her time playing princess. You pick what she wears, what she eats, even what she is to do today. The world is too grand, too good and too beautiful and she will want everything. You don’t want to torment her with choices at breakfast.
And I remember how the gift of childhood was having everything easy. Child’s play. Everything was decided for you. You didn’t have to agonize over choices. Or live with them. The responsibility was with someone else. Your mother knew best. Take that away from your children and the world becomes too complicated and demanding.
One last thing. When you take the reins or play Queen, you need to do it well. Directions should be precise. Edicts should be clear-cut, including when, where and how. You even have to do it too. (i.e. When learning how to steer a horse, you have to know exactly where to go. The horse follows your gaze and will move depending on how steady your hands are on the reins. Or, a queen’s subjects will only feel secure when the queen bears herself well, and remains poised and calm.)
Most of all, being Queen asks you to be completely present and in control when the princess is before you. You have to look at her, call her by name and tell her exactly what you want. And the orders have to be carried out, no matter how sharp-witted or insistent the princess is, or despite what she does with her eyes.
(While writing this, All Spice was under the table. She had covered it with pretty silk and I thought she was playing princess. Then I heard the sound of bells. With sweet-talk her maid had lent her a phone, and was playing hooky under my table. And now it’s time to hold the fort. The Queen will have to look her in the eye and say: “Domeka, we don’t play games.” Slowly remove the gadget. Turn underneath the table into a castle again. And this should work.)