|Running around the park|
She wants many things she can't have and often doesn't want the things she needs. This means I have to say no and otherwise compel her to do things all the time, which I don't like because it's such a lot of work. She also has strong preferences about what she wants to do, and when she doesn't get her way, she finds it totally intolerable (cue screaming!!! and flailing).
Enforcing the rules is tiresome but pretty straightforward. Most of them are based on non-negotiables like safety (sharp things will cut you) or morality (hurting others is wrong). Little R will have to obey them all her life, and I'm doing her a favor by teaching her what they are. But when it comes to her preferences (like that she wants to go this way, not that way, at the park), things aren't so clear cut. It's more convenient for me to get my way, but there's no absolute reason I should.
My natural tendency is to be strict. I don't have any problem whatsoever saying no, and then sticking to it in the face of a toddler's screaming rage. I'm naturally stubborn and strong-willed, so if it actually comes down to a battle of wills, I am going to win.
But philosophically I am not sure that this is best. I want to approach little R from a place of yes, where she has as much control and agency in her life as is possible, so that she learns how bravely explore the world, advocate for herself, and make her own decisions. I want her to feel that she is the one in charge of herself. I want her to be someone who carefully considers what is best, not someone who listens and obeys like an automaton.
The other problem is more of a moral one. At least for me, there is something terribly seductive about being in control. Shaping others' decisions, guiding them down the paths you have chosen, and watching the effects of your influence, is gratifying. At some point though, it can convert over from a natural satisfaction that you have helped others into something darker, an enjoyment of one's power. This is a dangerous impulse, and also terribly harmful to little R's happy development.
Yesterday when I was putting dishes away, little R wanted me to give her the spatulas. I said no, because then she would drag them around the house and leave them somewhere, adding to the mess I must clean. She said "Aaaahhh!" and started to vigorously protest. I ignored her increasing agitation, feeling smug in my strictness, and then there it was, the realization that I was rather enjoying the ability to deny her stuff.
I wasn't benefiting little R at all. In fact, I was injuring her (ability to learn about the world, natural curiosity, feelings that she had influence over her environment). While it was partly out of laziness (so I wouldn't have to pick up after her), it was also because it's fun to impose your will on others.
Once I realized this, I gave the spatulas to her. I don't actually know if this is the right decision (maybe from little R's perspective, she just learned that screaming gets you what you want). I do know that I must be careful with discipline, and with what my motivations are when using it, because it's so easy to do it in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons.
Perhaps this is what people mean when they say parenting becomes progressively harder as children get older.