When Parenting Turns into Refereeing

Do you ever feel like you should be wearing black and white stripes and have a whistle hanging around your neck? I know I do! I feel like every day at my house is a WWE cage match between my two little boys. They are constantly playing “tackle,” wrestling, jumping off of things while yelling “cannonball”, or they are playing the game, ‘who had it first’ and I am left to referee these little matches. Life definitely changed with the addition of our first child, but it has taken on a whole new perspective since the addition of our second. With just one child I got to be Mommy, but now that I have two who are old enough to play with each other, I have become Ref-Mommy. If there is a referee hall of fame, I need to be inducted!

I have no experience when it comes to raising little girls so I can only speak as the mother of two little boys and say that there is never a dull moment at my house. Every day is filled with non-stop action. I swear that neither one of them sits still unless they are sleeping! Even when they are eating they are fooling around in some way. When people see them in action the responses I usually get are, “So that’s how you stay so thin constantly running after them” or “Wow, they must keep you busy” or “I can see why you are tired all the time!” I usually just nod and laugh while thinking, ‘you don’t know the half of it!’

Thankfully, neither of my kids are the type that need me to be right by their side all the time. Since they were babies, they have been the types of kids that can play by themselves or play together so I do get some downtime during their waking hours (like right now as I am typing this post), but inevitably my downtime moments are constantly being interrupted by the need for me to referee. I’m only on the third paragraph of this post and already I have been interrupted 2-3 times, but hey, that’s what I signed up for when I decided to become a Mom!

The important thing is to make sure you don’t referee too much. Some problems need to be solved on their own, you have to let things run their course, and you have to let boys be boys (or girls be girls as the case may be). I certainly monitor my kids to make sure that they are not beating up on each other too badly or that they are not going to hurt themselves (or destroy my house), but it’s important to let kids figure things out on their own. That’s how they learn.

Sometimes you have to let kids get a little banged up so they learn what is safe and what is not. Clearly, I am not saying to let them run out into the street so that they learn to look both ways! What I am saying is to let them jump, climb, etc. and they will figure out rather quickly what their physical and safety limits are. If you never let your kids learn for themselves and you are constantly hovering like a helicopter mom, then your kids will be anxious and fearful (and frankly, probably quite boring).

Just today, I watched as B-Man, my 22 month old, suspended himself between two toddler sized chairs. I told him once not to do it because he could get hurt. He didn’t listen to me and so I let him continue fully knowing he might fall, but I knew he would learn a lesson. Lo and behold, the chairs slid out from under him and he fell down. He didn’t really get hurt, but he started to cry and walked over to me pointed to his head and said, “Mommy, head.” I gave his head a kiss and he stopped crying. He didn’t really hurt himself, he just wanted some acknowledgement (my little B-Man is a tough cookie). I used this a teachable moment. I told him that he needs to be careful and to listen to me when I warn him to not do something. He went over and pushed the chairs back in under the little table and hasn’t climbed on them again today.

I’ve done the same with T-Rex, my almost 4 year old. I’ve heard him jumping from our steps and I’ve told him not to because I knew he could hurt himself. He chose not to listen to me so I let him jump and then he would have to suffer the natural consequences. He, too, landed the wrong way and cried. As I hugged him and gave him the loving he needed, I again used it as a teachable moment and talked with him about what is a safe activity and what is not. I told him that jumping from the bottom 2 steps is probably okay, but any farther up, like he was, is obviously not a good idea.

This is the same approach I use when my boys are wrestling or tackling each other. I know it’s only a matter of time before someone gets tackled or pinned too hard, but this is something they need to figure out on their own. Telling boys not to wrestle is like telling a bird not to fly; it’s just not going to happen! So I let them go at it, until someone calls “uncle” usually by crying or when the fun turns into an actual grudge match. Then I have to step in. This is also what I do when they are playing rough with their toys. I give them a warning and let them know that if they don’t take it easy their toys will break and I will not be buying them a new one. They’ll have to learn the hard way to play nicely.

I do this when my kids are arguing or fighting. I talked a bit about this in my post, How to Talk to Your Kids About Fighting. I let them duke it out at first so that they can try to solve whatever problem they are having on their own. Many times they are able to do this and I will hear them end the fight on their own by saying sorry and giving hugs, which is what I have them do when I intervene (and this totally melts my heart by the way). Other times, things start to get out of control, and I have to get involved so that no one ends up hurt. I put a stop to the arguing or fighting and help them solve the problem. I give them alternatives to fighting and help them see how to share or take turns in the situation. There’s that teachable moment again. Then I always make them apologize and show love to each other. I want them to know they can argue and fight, but still love each other and be good brothers to each other.

It’s easy to see that being a referee comes with the territory. Motherhood is never an easy job. We want to and need to protect our children, but we also must let them learn things for themselves and suffer natural consequences. No kid wants a helicopter mom so sometimes we have to swallow back our anxieties and just let our kids be kids. It makes them stronger children, which in turn will make them stronger adults (and makes us stronger mothers). So let your kids run, jump, climb, and fight and just sit back and enjoy the show, until it’s time to jump up and turn into Ref-Mommy again!

About Mental Mama

So who is "Mental Mama" you ask and it she actually mental? Some people may say that I am, but I assure you only a little! I am married and have 2 amazing little boys who are 4 and 2. Thank goodness my dog is female or else I might be totally boxed out in my own home. I have an MS in Psychology and am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. I have been in this field for over 12 years now. I work part-time as the mental health therapist in an inner city elementary/middle school, but I am a Mom first and foremost. I have travelled the world; love wine, music, and food; have great friends and a wonderful family; and have a passion for clothes and shoes (I have almost 200 pairs) {or maybe I should say "had a passion for" before I became broke after having kids}! I learn something new everyday from my kids (both my own and those I work with) and am thankful for that.