easier for 4yo

My kids span a large age range - some grown, the youngest 4. Sometimes my husband an I want to do things as a family, but the 4yo doesn't want to go. Like recently, we all wanted to go support our eldest at an event and the 4yo refused. I finally packed him into the car anyway, but he cried the whole way there and then fell asleep in the car, so I missed everything. How can we find a middle ground that honors everyone?
Rather than thinking in terms of middle ground, think in terms of making the inevitable easier on your kids - because there certainly are things in life that are... if not inevitable then at least major limits in life, and it goes a long way to look for ways to make it easier for kids to navigate those.

So, in terms of taking a 4yo someplace they're going to be bored and frustrated when they'd rather be home, I'd look for ways to make the experience less onerous on the 4yo. Pack fun things in the car. Plan to bring special snacks and activities that are all about the 4yo - stop for ice cream, maybe, or get a bunch of glow sticks and run around the parking lot in the dark. Get a new video game for the occasion to play in the car. Treat it like... going to the doctor's office - how could you make the experience less unpleasant for everyone?

All that being said, it's good to keep in mind that some kids have a harder time with transitions than others - and 3-5yos often find transitions hard. You can try to soften them, but it's worth asking "is it actually worth bringing a little kid to something like this?" I mean, no-one enjoys a bored, frustrated little kid, and having one along can really ruin an experience for everyone. That's not a "discipline" thing, that's real life with little kids. They don't Belong everywhere. So it's not really productive to put them through a hard transition for something that's just going to suck.

For something like the event, then, it would have been helpful to try and brainstorm ways for the 4yo to get to see the big event without having to be in a place that's really, really not designed for young children... like maybe live streaming, or making a video to watch at home. Or just taking lots of pictures. Then the experience could be about the kid to whom the event really matters, rather than the needs of the 4yo, and there'd be mementos.

It takes some practice to get used to dealing with kid stuff like that, thinking and planning ahead with realistic expectations, but it's sooooooo worthwhile because making things easier on your kids makes it easier for the whole family.


note to self: stop and take a breath

I know I've written about this before but can't find it. Gr.

Anyway, something that was an enormous help to me was to kind of give myself permission to stop in the middle. I'd get all worked up, arguing, yelling, and at the same time there would be this little voice in my head saying "noooooo! this isn't what I wanted to happen!" but I didn't feel like I could actually stop out of... I don't even know, some misperception that I shouldn't, that I should finish what I started or be consistent or something. Those kinds of messages about what "good parenting" was were getting in the way. Ironically. Some of it, too, was a kind of fear of looking like a fool - stopping and saying "okay, woah, I'm totally off base here, can we start over?" just felt... embarrassing. I didn't want to admit I'd gotten it wrong.

It turned out that a big part of learning to be a better parent, a gentler, more thoughtful parent, involved admitting I got things wrong, or wasn't sure what was right, on a fairly regular basis. Fortunately - and much to my chagrin - my kids had never actually been fooled by my bluster
And they appreciated my backtracking and apologizing. Part of Me getting there involved being okay with my own inadequacy, being gentle with my own humanity.

The next thing that helped was asking myself "why the heck not?" whatever it was my kid wanted - because usually those arguments involved a kid wanting to do something (or stop something) and me insisting on doing things the way I'd imagined them playing out in my mind. Recognizing that things didn't have to go that way, that I could say yes a whole lot more without ruining my kids for life, made a lot of things easier. More than that, recognizing that "being consistent" didn't work the way I thought it did, freed me up to realize that it was okay to Try Things, just this once. To experiment and see what happened, then review things with my kids and figure out what worked and what didn't. And mostly, nothing "worked" in the sense of once-and-for-all solutions - that's what's wrong with the whole idea of "consistency" to begin with. Because situations change with a million different factors it was actually more "consistent" to problem-solve each time than to apply some generic rule that didn't always make sense, or needed a hundred caveats and exceptions.

Once I got used to stopping in the middle and changing course, it was easier to do that earlier in the process. And over time that meant I was asking myself the necessary questions and doing the problem solving before things got fraught in the first place. It didn't happen over night, and sadly my older kid got the brunt of my process, but in the longer run I think it made him gentler with his own process, more accepting of his own humanity.