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My Biggest Parenting Regret is Something You're Probably Doing Too

Photograph by Twenty20

“Hey, Ollie, can I have a Cheerio?” I heard myself ask my toddler son a couple weeks ago.

I didn’t think about the sentence then. It just flowed right out. I ask people for things all the time, why would this be any different? I questioned my word choice about two seconds later. Because my small son may have said yes in response, but his moves indicated that his real answer was a no. He looked into my eyes and smiled like a conniving little punk. He pulled his plastic bowl as far away from me as possible, and then laughed, running into the other room.

So, no, then. I cannot have a Cheerio.

Except I should be able to. Because I drove a car to the store and bought those Cheerios. With money that I made and deposited into a bank. Then I drove home and arranged them in a cupboard, in this comfortable house that we own. Then I took down a bowl that I had washed some days before and filled it with the tiny oat O’s. So yes. According to my calculations, I should most certainly be allowed a Cheerio.

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Do you know why my son said I can’t have a Cheerio? Because I gave him the power to say I couldn’t. I put the tiny wannabe dictator—whose only real power is to reduce me to tears (happy ones or sad)—in a position of power.

And that is a very big mistake.

The lines are getting hazy. My baby turned two and subsequently into a power hungry beast. A tiny person who walks and kinda talks and makes choices in his own best interest. He tells me yes and tells me no and tells me when and where he’d like to go.

They try to run the joint. They want to be in charge. So before you enter this lovely phase, I want to warn you: stop asking their permission.

And I appreciate that he is learning self-care. After all, the first few months (ahem, year) kind of suck, if we’re being honest. A living and breathing thing that depends entirely on you for its care? No thank you! I’m having a hard enough time over here with my own life! But they need us. For everyyyything.

Until, one day, they don’t.

They climb up on chairs to get into cupboards and steal your water glass when you’re in the other room. They get off the couch when they want to. They try to run the joint. They want to be in charge. So before you enter this lovely phase, I want to warn you: stop asking their permission.

Because they don’t just want to run your house—these little monsters are seeking to run the world.

I have come to this realization only after asking his permission for multiple other things, things I immediately came to regret. Here are a sampling of those other things I stupidly asked permission for:

Can I change your diaper?

Can I put you to bed now?

Can I put on your shoes?

Can I wash your hands for you?

Why am I asking my child if I can do the things that need to be done? So that he can tell me no and then I can prove my strength and superiority and wrangle him to the floor? So that I can defeat the small beast? So that I can feel big and make him feel small?

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No. From here on out, when I hear "Can I..." start to exit my mouth, I’m going to reverse the direction of the words and start again. "I CAN." "I CAN," I shall bellow into every corner of the house.

I can change your diaper now, so get over here.

I can put you to bed because I dictate your bedtime (and because I am waiting to drink a beer and watch TV shows with really unwholesome behavior in them.)

I can put your shoes on you if you ever want to see a tree and all the neighborhood dogs again.

I can wash your hands for you because I prevent sickness from raging in our household with hand cleanings.

Then I will say thank you, so he knows I am grateful. Thank you, little one, for being so amenable to my demands. You’re going to keep growing and aging and lengthening and knowing—and someday—if you play your cards right, my demands will become requests.

And when they become requests, I will hope that you are the right kind of child—the child who says yes.

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