Today, I finally learned something my spouse has been trying to get me to see for a while. I've pushed it aside before because I really like my way of doing things. I don't always think it's the best or most effective way, but I know it's my way and sometimes, that just makes it right to me (even when it's not). It's familiar and I can predict the outcome. In a life that's been filled with some upheaval, I like some predictability.
What did I learn? Saying yes is okay!
Some of my friends know the rigid rule-follower I can be (despite my seemingly rebellious views), and some know me as the laid-back, barefoot hippie I am at heart. When I'm stressed (and with all the changes that have occurred over the last few years, for better or worse, it's most of the time), I am the rigid rule-follower. But even more than a follower, I am a rule-maker. The demands I place on my children for astonishing academic, athletic, or artistic achievement are minimal. I want them to be decent people who can love and be loved (and that's truly my only want for them. We had a sermon on this at church Sunday and I can honestly say that's my wish). They are not required to maintain very tidy rooms (another source of stress for me, actually) and they are free (and expected!) to speak their minds to me about anything and everything. So I feel the so-called arbitrary rules I make aren't asking a lot. I'm rigid about bedtimes, even on weekends. I'm rigid on mealtimes and what can and cannot be had for snacks and when things must be turned on and off and what color shirts can be worn to the park (even though I have almost NO other rules regarding clothing, and my kids have dressed themselves since they were toddlers).
I focus on the small and so I lose the big picture.
An example: when my spouse and my kids were first getting to know one another last fall, we would have dinner together and the kids would say things I thought were just awful. But really, they weren't. They were just being themselves! I was so stuck on the perception of them (and more importantly, of me as a parent), that I allowed myself to be frustrated and embarrassed. I'd end up yelling at someone, and then everyone was uncomfortable and unhappy. Instead of letting my fiancee get to know my kids as they were (which is pretty cool by the way), I was trying to control a situation that was not mine to control. Did I think that once we were married, the kids would act the way I thought I wanted them to behave? Or that my spouse wouldn't notice, once we were all in the same house together, that the children suddenly liked talking about farts at dinner?
We have been married for seven months and I am finally learning to relax on some things. My spouse has almost no previous experience dealing with children, but they are enjoying getting to know one another and building relationships that are not parent-child, and not parent-teacher, but something different. Not having had stepparents, it's not something I can pretend to understand. The lack of animosity and terrible preconceived notions is something for which I am grateful every day.
Today, my youngest wanted to do a science experiment in the kitchen. It was simple. Add water and vegetable oil to a clear glass, put in a drop of food coloring, and add salt. Saying no would have been easier (I was trying to do something with raw meat) but I suddenly didn't feel like saying no. It wasn't even a messy experiment! We have to say no all the time to things that cost money. I felt empowered to say yes to my daughter. I don't have to give in to whining or indulge in every little thing (and I never have), but when I have an opportunity to say YES, I think I'll take it.