The Saga of the Coat on the Floor

Tonight, I was planning to report on my various resolutions and challenges and give an update on how the kids have been doing.  Instead, I come to the computer in the grip of a discouraging dilemma that reared its ugly head in the final hours of our weekend.

Downstairs on the floor near the dining room table lies Zoe’s new ski jacket.  In bed lies Zoe, asleep now, but not long ago defiantly proclaiming that she will NEVER pick that jacket up from the floor.  I, on the other hand, am feeling pretty strongly that I, too, will never pick that jacket up from the floor.  AND I am certain that I am RIGHT!

So, there you have it:  A classic power struggle.  How did it happen?  And, more importantly, how do we fix it?

Quick back story:  We spent the afternoon in Blowing Rock Park.  Zoe and Zander played with their friends while my friend Leslie and I played tennis.  Then we took all the kids out for ice cream.  We were home by early evening.  The kids watched a half hour of TV and then played together, giggling and acting crazy in a pile of warm laundry on the bed.  The plan was a light dinner (very light — like a bowl of cereal or a bagel), and then the family would play a game together before bed time.

When Zoe and I went downstairs to get her some food, I noticed her jacket was still on the floor where she had dropped it when she came in.  I had asked her already to hang it up.  I asked her again.  She said she would pick it up after she ate.  I said she needed to do it now.  She refused.  And so it began.

The coat was not picked up.  Zoe did not have dinner or play a game with us.  Nor did she have her evening tea.  As the saga unfolded, I felt myself filled with a fiery indignation.  A litany of questions raced through my mind:  How could my child be so spoiled?  How could she be so irrational as to not see that it was her responsibility and no one else’s to pick up the coat?  How could I possibly continue to do things for her when she would not do even this small task?

The day ended with the problem not solved and with everyone feeling cruddy.  At this moment, I’m no closer to a solution.  I can’t take away the coat.  It’s new and nice, and Zoe needs it for winter.  I don’t actually want to leave it on the floor, since the whole point is that we don’t leave things on the floor, because that makes our home messy and chaotic and less enjoyable.  I’ve checked Positive Discipline A to Z, but haven’t found a spot-on answer yet.

Oh, and did I mention, Zoe is a tough nut to crack?  I have no doubt she can outlast me in any battle of wills.  But, honestly, as alluring as it may be to win this power struggle, I really don’t want to “crack” her.   I want my daughter to learn lessons for the right reasons — to act out of a sense of responsibility and caring, not because she feels threatened or because I’ve broken her spirit.  I want her to have pride in doing things for herself, rather than measuring her power in her ability to manipulate others into doing things for her.

So, right now, I’m coming up short on ideas.  I know I’m still mad.  And I know it’s hard to problem solve when you’re angry.  I hope that in the morning, with sleep and a little distance, I’ll discover some new wisdom — a little parenting magic — to bring to this situation.  That’s the best I can do for now.

Suggestions welcome…

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10 thoughts on “The Saga of the Coat on the Floor

  1. SO if the coat were here, Rosie would have torn it to shreds within seconds of it hitting the ground. Katie Mac just lost a new pair of shoes. I hate it for her but she did not put them away and did not shut the door and thus the 8 month puppy had a nice snack of white dress shoes. I simply watched Katie Mac throw them away, after she shed many a tear.

    I say leave it on the floor and see what happens. Perhaps the bunny will soil it or put hair all over it — at any rate, you just ignore it. If she picks it up and puts away, so be it and no comment. If it gets messed up then she either wears it or takes money from her savings to get a new one — again, with no emotion.

    I am one to talk because I feel I throw at least one sock away a day. But if my kids want to let the dog eat their socks and they want to have mismatched socks, so be it. Not buying any to replace them.

  2. Does she value the jacket. How would she feel if it were to be damaged. Something of the boys was damaged by our dog when not stored properly. Maybe make your point of more value to her rather than a value to you (your satisfaction in being right about this). How does this tie in to her “showing responsibility” to earn her hamster? Leaving things carelessly on the floor doesn’t seem like she’s preparing for a pet.

    • Yes, she values the jacket, and you are very right to draw the connection to the hamster — but she just can’t hear it. It’s all about power right now, and I don’t know how to break that deadlock. I will probably pick the coat up and put it away for awhile hoping there is still room for rational (?) conversation, acknowledgment and learning in the future.

  3. I would try to figure out how to start tomorrow as a new day without a power struggle infecting your week. You’ve both already invested the act of leaving it on the floor with tons more significance than it merits. Maybe hide the jacket away and say no more about it. You don’t have to throw it away but she can do without it for a while.

    In the big picture of her life, I think she has already learned that it is a good idea to pick things up and will probably do so when she is a grown-up. Or she might not and be a slob but still be a functioning member of society like many great people you know. The jacket has become a symbol for you both about taking orders and being obeyed and it seems possible to step away from the conflict. It doesn’t feel good to be defied, but there will be lots bigger issues to come so it might be good to figure out what makes her defend to the death her right not to be bossed around?

    I say all this as the mother of a 10 year old who regularly leaves her stuff everywhere and who’s shoes are currently under the table despite my mentioning them to her two or three times tonight. So…take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m clearly failing at the goal of raising a neatnik, probably because our actions speak louder than their words. But I don’t feel like my authority on the things that really matter to me has been undermined by her shoes…they just aren’t that important to either one of us and I suspect when we are both in the dining room tomorrow morning, I’ll mention them again and she will pick them up without a second thought.

    As they are getting older, it gets more and more confusing about how much we should control about them and it really becomes a psychological battle but we really can’t control much of anything if they are determined to defy us. For example, Craig wants to forbid Mercer from wearing makeup but I think at a certain point after you have made clear your preferences you have to let them have control over the things that mainly affect them (as opposed to hurting someone else). So it isn’t acceptable to hit your brother but leaving your doll in the rain or making yourself look silly with makeup mainly affects the child. The older they get, the more experience they need with making decisions for themselves about things that mainly affect them.

    I guess you could say that the coat on the floor affects you because you don’t like to have a sloppy house. So you could confiscate the coat and put it away somewhere inconvenient or you could not like it there but figure it will be moved tomorrow when she goes to wear it again (i.e., you could choose not to make it important).

    She seems like a child with a strong need for control, so you could try choices. As babyish as it seems, “do you want to do it now or in five minutes?” still works well with my kids.

  4. I think I would step on it while she is looking. Pretend you don’t see it or that it is part of the floor. Anyone who leaves a coat on the floor needs to see the results of leaving it on the floor, things on the floor get stepped on. But then again I can be mean, showing consequences.

  5. You have wise friends. I don’t know if I’m one of them, but this is what I would do. I would hang the coat up because: 1) it is brand new and may get stepped on/peed on, etc. on the floor. Throwing away a brand new coat (even if she purchases a new one with her own money) is wasteful. 2) The coat is in a communal space, therefore affecting everyone. So everyone is affected by the ‘battle of the wills’ as well and that’s not fair.
    Even though this is not a natural consequence, after I picked up the coat, I would hand out a consequence most likely involving loss of screen time for a week. This is unrelated to the ‘crime’, but it is taking away something of value. That way, you haven’t engaged in the battle of the wills, but you do send the message that there are consequences for blatant defiance in your home. (in other words, the parents are in charge) Old-fashioned? Probably. But sometimes I find that’s the best medicine.

    • This sounds good, and it may be my “back-up plan” if the Positive Discipline approach doesn’t work — i.e. if Zoe does not generate some suggestions for how to solve the problem… I think she is very hurt that she didn’t get to play the game last night and actually sees herself as the victim in this scenario. All I can think about is all the things I do for her and how disrespectful, ungrateful, and lazy (!) it was for her to refuse to pick up her coat. Grrr…

  6. Thanks, all. I’ll confess, this morning when I woke up, I checked the blog immediately, hoping for some feedback. I appreciate your time in weighing in and making suggestions. It means a lot to me! My instinct took me closest to Kathy — a hope that with some rest and time passing (and food, as Zoe was surely hungry last night, which was probably a factor in how things played out), the issue would be diffused, the artificially high stakes would be lowered, and a solution that was peaceful and respectful for all involved would emerge. On rare occasions this has occurred, and Zoe has even been able and willing to articulate her feelings to me about what has taken place or why she has behaved a certain way. No such luck. When Z got up, I helped her get breakfast and said nothing about the coat. I thought she might put it on when she went downstairs (that would be a neat trick!), but she chose a different jacket, leaving the ski coat on the floor. A few minutes later in the car, I decided to broach the topic in a low-key way. Zoe was instantly very hostile and adamant that she would not pick up the coat. My blood boiled, and I yelled at her. I came to work feeling discouraged and utterly frustrated. Before we parted ways, I asked Zoe to try to generate two solutions to this problem during the day and share them with me when she gets home and said I would do the same. I doubt she’ll do it, but we’ll see.

  7. I’m no child psychologist, and my kids are only 2, so thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with this yet – and take this with a grain of salt. I would recommend just picking it up and putting it back in the closet without making a big deal about it. Be the grownup, act mature, don’t step on the coat or curse and snarl while you put it away. She knows it’s her responsibility, it’s not like you need to teach her that. But putting the coat away will teach her that you have grace and can behave rationally, and that peace and forgiveness are more important to you than a petty grudge.

    • Jerry — I so agree with you! In retrospect, it’s easy to see how much I contributed to the power struggle — but, at the time, it was very charged and difficult to change the dynamic. Are your twins boy/ girl, also?

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