If Mark and I were to summarize our parenting disciplinary strategy it would be - find something they love and use it against them.
We're like those bad guys in movies holding a knife at the neck of the hero's love interest. Replace the knife with a clothes hanger and the love interest with a a dress and there you have an image of what life with Evy is like. From about 18 months on, if we want her to do something or not do something, all we have to say is "Evy, if you do/don't, you'll lose skirts and dresses."
Immediate obedience follows.
I should say that we try to have natural consequences in most situations, like if she doesn't put on her socks and shoes, she can't go outside. But a lot of times, we know we have a silver bullet with the skirt thing. It's a quick fix for us and we rely on it a lot.
I'm sure this means we're somehow damaging the psyche of our daughter. Maybe she'll be a 25 year old woman wearing a Cinderella dress because she feels like a deviant without it on. I also wonder if we've actually caused her obsession with dresses by using it as leverage. Would she have liked them this much for this long if she wasn't deprived of them at times? At least I'm documenting what we've done so she can trace the beginnings of her mental problems back to her misguided parents.
Honestly, it's hard to care right now. It works, it's not abusive, and we're tired (did I mention we have newborn twins?). We shower her with lots of love and make sure to use positive words and redirection whenever we can. But when I'm exhausted and the strategic maneuvering that parenting demands seems too overwhelming, I go back to skirts and dresses.
Since this was our go-to with Evy, we wondered if Levi would have a "skirts and dresses" of his own.
For a long time it seemed like he didn't have any attachments. We used different foods, toys and other things but he brushed off the threats as if we were joking. He's considerably more naughty than Evy too, so we felt completely lost. Like coaches without a game plan, we kept losing to our little opponent.
Then the basketball shirt arrived.
For his birthday, Levi got a blue shirt with an orange basketball on it from Grandma and Grandpa Schulte. Orange is his favorite color and basketball has always been his favorite sport, so it was a perfect choice for him. He seemed really excited when he first saw it but we didn't think anything of it. He didn't care about clothes like Evy did. It would eventually be just another shirt. But after a couple weeks, he seemed to always ask about it. When we put it on underneath long sleeve shirts, he would make sure to pull up the top layer so he could show it off to anyone who visited.
He'd proudly display it and say "Basketball shirt!" and wait for his audience's reaction.
After Mark and I witnessed this a few times, we knew this was it.
Our silver bullet had arrived.
Now we make sure to have the basketball shirt on 24/7. We've even added another basketball shirt so we have two layers of leverage.
Levi isn't as quick to obey as Evy is though. He's in his terrible twos and he just seems to have a more defiant personality. For example, when I ask him to stop throwing food on the floor at the dinner table, he'll look right in my eyes, hold a piece of food out beyond the boundary of his high chair, and drop it with an impish grin. Or when he's riding his bike without a helmet and I tell him to stop to put one on. He'll just look at me, smile, and while keeping my gaze, continue rolling down a hill at top speed.
I know his naughtiness kicked up a few notches once the twins arrived. He's looking for attention and he gets it when he disobeys. He's definitely the most exhausting part of my days right now. I feel like I'm in a constant chess game where I have to plan moves by looking three steps ahead.
It usually goes something like this - First I'll take the bike away, then I'll threaten to put him in bed for a bit, then the first basketball shirt, then the next, and then....nothing, because it usually works.
I don't know how my kids got so into textiles but wow are we glad they are. Dresses, skirts, and basketball shirts have been the fabric of our parenting lives. They love them, and we exploit that love unabashedly.
That's not to say we don't pay for it at times though.
If you see me on a day when Evy is without a dress or skirt and Levi is down to one layer, you know it's been a doozy. Please give me a pat on the back and tell me I'm doing a good job.
Maybe run to the store and pick up a third basketball shirt too.
Here's Evy in one of her many dresses as she "twirls for her brothers"...
And here's Levi after he lost his basketball shirt because he threw food on the floor. If he couldn't wear it, he wanted to be able to see it at least.