When to Win the Power “Struggle”

A couple of days ago I posted about refusing to give a screaming, rude and miserable Rory the sippy cup of water I’d brought for her to drink in the car, because when he first saw it she said (screamed) she didn’t want it.

And yancy commented:

This made me sad to read. Why does it need to be a battle or a question of someone’s winning and someone’s losing? The way I read it, you don’t want to give in to her because you feel that you’re being manipulated. Why not just say, “Water is the only option. You don’t have to drink it, but you won’t have anything else available to drink.” Why make it into a power struggle? If you don’t buy into the manipulation or drama then you control the situation. A great book on this is Parenting with Love and Logic.

The first thing I have to say is pretty funny–when I replied, I thought she was referring to a DIFFERENT water-control incident, a more recent one, which I actually didn’t blog ( I could only see the comment at the time I was replying, not the blog post). So, ok, we still have MASSIVE control issues around here.

So, was I too harsh, the day of the water and the salty, salty Pringles?


I was angry. Usually, I’m able to just react without it getting all personal and mutual struggle-y anymore. But here I was, I’d given them the snack to get them peacefully into the car, and I had some resentment about that (that’d be after a solid hour of vacuuming said car the week before) but hey, I’m the one who has to bribe them to get them to ride down to Sam and Lily’s school and back, so my bad, right? I was probably running late. (I try, but…) And I was pretty darn pleased with myself for thinking of the water. I knew they’d be thirsty! I was a good mom, bringing the water!

And then Rory has to go and be all nasty about it. It wasn’t that she wanted something other than water—in the car, there IS nothing but water—it was that she saw the water and immediately assumed she wasn’t getting Pringles. It was dumb. Maybe it was nothing. But it was a big, nasty unpleasant nothing, something akin to throwing the first of two presents back in someone’s face and shouting I didn’t want a bike helmet, I wanted a bike, and then opening the other present and finding a bike.

But yeah, I probably could have just let it go, and I didn’t. I’m not sure it was the right thing. I’m not even sure it was really a power struggle, except of course that everything is. I guess she wanted to make me give her the water. But you know, I think she did feel bad about the way she reacted–first, because it cost her the water, and then because I told her it made me feel bad. I still think that’s a good thing. Mostly.

Now, let me tell you the other story. Leaving a friend’s house, Rory says “but I’m thirsty!” Which really means, “but I’m not ready!” But fine, “thirsty,” here’s some water, let’s go.

Rory: “But I want milk!”

The friend says, sotto voice, she can have milk if you want. I say no, thanks, give Rory the water, which she drinks and asks for more. Pretty standard, really, nobody wants to do milk right as they’re walking out the door. But with us there’s a little more to it, I think.

We can agree that Rory (who showed me tonight EXACTLY WHERE she wanted me to slice her apple) has some control issues, right?

And they still pop up, pretty constantly. Not like that, like that. Not that Oreo, that one. Not that shirt, that one. And some of it I do let go. But I’m not sure how often to win—and she does let me win, usually mellowly. Sometimes, if it’s really silly, she even laughs.

Because I think she’s just checking. Are you still in charge? How about now? How about now? Because if you’re not, I can take back over… ok, how about now? I think she needs me to hold firm, at least a good chunk of the time. Because it’s not about the water, or the milk, or the Oreo. If I’d offered milk, she would ask for water. I think it must be exhausting for her, this micro-managing. Or maybe it’s soothing, to know I take her feelings into account. I really don’t know, and I’d like to. I’m over most of this. I sometimes get frustrated, but rarely angry–so I don’t see myself as “power struggling” most of the time any more. I just want make her feel secure. But I don’t always know how.

2 Responses to “When to Win the Power “Struggle””

  1. guest says:

    I think you’re right. I volunteer at an orphanage, and the kids are ALWAYS testing the adults. Whether the reason is because they are used to a strict disciplinarian is beside the point. Maybe she is slightly OCD, or she somehow thinks that if she can control her environment, she will not be abandoned yet again, but the parent’s job is also to teach the child manners. This includes the child not screaming like a banshee when she doesn’t get what she wants, even when you’re not around.

  2. I’m no expert, but our experiences with our son nearly mirror yours with Rory. Our pediatrician told us early on with our bio son, “Choose your battles. But once you’ve chosen, you have to win.” I think that’s true, and maybe even truer with adopted children who are struggling for power. The worst thing I can do with my son is put my foot down about something and then give in after 10 minutes of him screaming and abusing the entire family. I admit that there are times I put my foot down and immediately regret it. I realize this was not a battle worth choosing, but I cannot turn back. Because if I give in, he targets a weakness in me. His chest puffs up with victory….an unhealthy victory. Now of course, I give him lots of choices when appropriate–choosing snacks, clothing, TV shows. But when he is screaming and being hateful towards me, his choices disappear unless and until he can calm down. Anyway, I don’t fault you about the water thing. It sounds like something I would do, and I totally admit to sometimes taking things like that personally. We are all human, even moms. 🙂