This is how it all started. My daughter wanted to take a toy into camp. Camp has a no-toys rule, but the last time I told her she couldn’t bring her toy, she clung to me and wouldn‘t go in until I let her. Then, when I picked her up in the afternoon, she left the toy on the floor at camp when we left.
So today she wanted to bring her My Little Pony “Princess Celestia” in. I let her get to the door and asked the camp counselor to explain the “no toys” rule. The counselor gently said that toys get lost or hurt at camp. Did she want her toy lost or hurt?
“No,” she said and handed the Princess to me. The counselor said, “I think that’s a good choice you made.” I bent down and kissed my daughter goodbye. Everything seemed normal and then she clamped her arms around my leg and wouldn’t let go.
“I don’t wanna go in,” she whined, gearing up to cry.
“Well, you’re gonna go,” I said, stern.
“Lily gets to bring hers in. Her mom lets her!” she said, tearing up.
“Well, there’s a rule about no toys,” I said.
“No noooo!” She started to cry.
“You are not taking your toy in. You are not supposed to bring toys into camp.” Now we were outside the camp door and my two-year-old was wandering away. “When you go to kindergarten, they’re not gonna let you bring toys. Kindergarten has a no-toys rule.”
“Nooooo,” she cried, clinging.
“That’s enough. You’re going to camp,” I said, dragging the leg she clung to toward the door while I eyed my two-year-old.
“Noooo,” she kept crying.
This is where I lost it. “FINE, no camp, but if you come back to the car, I’m gonna run over your toy with the car.”
“Do you want to see your toy again?”
“Nooo, don’t run it over!” crying.
“Then go to camp.”
“Okay, let’s go,” I hobbled over to my two-year-old, grabbed his hand and dragged my daughter toward the car. “But I’m gonna run over your toy.”
“Ohhhkaaay,” she said, still crying.
When we got to the car, I made a big show of putting her toy underneath the back wheel. She did not try to get it. She just got into the car, crying. Once we sat down, a man came by with her toy.
“I found this under the wheel,” he said.
Embarrassed, I took it. “Thank you.”
“Okay, we’re going home,” I said.
“Ohh-kay,” she said, still crying.
“Buckle yourself in,” I said. She did.
I turned the radio up to deafening. “Jamie’s Cryin’” rang out across the parking lot. I backed the car out of the space, drove across the lot, toward the camp door, parked and said, “This is ridiculous! You’re going to camp!”
“Noooo,” she whined. “I just wanna go hooome.”
“Well, you’re not going home,” I said. “I have work to do and all you’d do all day is watch TV and I won’t have that. Suck it up, you’re going to camp.”
“Noooooo,” still crying.
“You know, I wanted to take you to the American Girl store this weekend, but now I just don’t feel like it.”
Not really. “Not after all this,” I said.
“I just wanna go home and go to sleep. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
“Well, you should go to bed earlier. We’re going to camp. Bring your stupid toy and let’s go,” I said, getting out of the car.
I walked her to the door. “Okay, bye,” I said and gave her a hug. “I’m angry but I still love you,” I said in her ear.
She let go of me. Started to go in to camp, turned around, ran out and clung to my leg.
“I wanna go home,” she whined.
“I…CANT…TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” I said through gritted teeth. “You are going to camp,” I said, and walked toward the car. She followed me. I got in the car and she went to her door. I did not open it. After a few seconds, she turned around and walked toward camp. I pulled the car out and passed by the door. Her counselor gave me a thumbs up and I left.
I feel terrible. She was already crying. Why did I keep twisting the knife? I couldn’t help it. She just made me angrier and angrier. But she kept clinging to me, still wanting to be with me after all my threats and scoldings, and she was crying the whole time. At that point, it was just cruel, right? I love that little girl so much. How could I have done that?
For one thing, I didn’t want to back down about the damn toy. I’d done it before and I didn’t want to do it again. That’s what fueled it. I didn’t want to lose the power struggle. But at what cost would I have won? Did I have to crush her like that? I did not. I could have just given her the damn toy and walked her in the room. But I didn’t. The thing is, she makes me so mad – crazy mad – and sometimes I can’t help myself. I just want to punish her for it. Today I punished her and punished her and punished her. And finally she went to f-ing camp. That’s all I wanted in the first place.
What would a better mom have done? A better mom would have understood and given her the toy, right? Surely a better mom wouldn’t have threatened to run over it. Surely a better mom would have stopped punishing her when her daughter was ok with the destruction of her toy, so long as she didn’t have to go to camp without it.
I’m not a better mom. I don’t always know what to do and I don’t always keep my cool. Sometimes that little girl I love makes me so crazy I want to hurt her. And I did hurt her. And nothing good came of it. And now I feel terrible that I kept hurting her when she was so vulnerable, and she wanted to stay with me, her abuser. What kind of life am I setting her up for? When I lose it, am I teaching her to cling to people who hurt her? Will she choose relationships with people who hurt her?
After a desperate Facebook post, I got some advice from friends about it. One said “She’ll be fine after 5 minutes. You, however, will feel horrible all day.” Another said “Blog!” and here I am. Another friend, who is a family therapist, said the incident was about control. She suggested I give my daughter two new things to control so she’ll feel she has more of a say in her life. The whole thing started because she wanted me to respect her decision to bring the toy.
That morning, she was already bombarded with rules. One – camp wants her to wear play clothes. She wanted to wear a dress. I said ok, but Two- she’d have to wear something under it, so no one would see her panties or her hoo-hoo. She is not a modest child. Three – she had to wear good play shoes. She always wants to wear pretty dress shoes, but I insisted on good play shoes. I didn’t even let her choose those. I picked them out.
So by the time we got in the car, she’d already lost her say in three decisions she likes to make herself. It was no wonder she clung to the toy so much. I’ve been thinking about which decisions I can let her make. So far I’m thinking she can decide what she wants for lunch and what we hear on the radio. If that’s not enough, I’ll add something else.
As for me, I’ve got to reign in my temper. I’ve got to take my own time-out when she riles me. I am the adult. She’s the child. It is my responsibility to model maturity, and that’s not at all what I was doing yesterday.
It turns out my other friend was right too. When I picked her up, my daughter said she was fine after she sat next to Counselor Megan. I felt horrible for the rest of the day and the next day (so far). My daughter explained yesterday that she just wanted to be with me in the morning. Even after what I’d done to her. That made me feel even worse. We talked last night, both apologized and agreed that when we have that kind of argument, I’ll say “I don’t want to fight” and we’ll stop and talk about it. Even so, I feel bad. I will try to make it up to her. We may even go to the American Girl store.
Am I alone? Is there anyone else who’s gone too far during a power struggle? It would really help me to hear from you, so please share your experiences in the comments.