The Precedent – The Parent’s Greatest Fear

“You let us yesterday,” my sons argued, as I yelled at them for making a barricade on the stairs using all the bedding in the house. “I know, but that was a one-off!” I answered. But it was too late. They’d already gone off to ransack the towel chest. I was left to wonder, Can I not let them do one single thing without them seeing it as a green light for all future occurrences? Must I always live in the shadow of the dreaded Precedent? 
It’s not just Stairgate. It’s loads of things. The fear of setting a precedent grips me at every turn. 
Should I never let them:
  • Sleep in our bed 
  • Take a teddy into school
  • Go in the front seat
  • Give up football “cos it’s too cold”
  • Have biscuits for breakfast
  • Skip the dunking part of swimming class 
  • Leave a playdate early because the host is being mean to him
  • Have a bit of every cereal in the cupboard, even though I know they’re just going to tip it on the floor?
Of course I should. And I do. It’s natural to indulge your children, it’s your right and your choice as their mother, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Anyway, you tell yourself, it takes three days to form a habit…
Not with kids it doesn’t. Their vice-like little minds seize on the slightest weakness and play it right back at you to their advantage. They liked cuddling with you all night when they were a bit poorly – so why not tonight, just because?
With children, once is enough to set a precedent.
Where there’s a way, there’s a child
Basically, I’m at the sharp end of the human’s natural instinct to survive, thrive and beat their mother into submission. While the child is out for all he can get, the parent must try and drive their expectations and behaviour into acceptable channels. And think not just of the immediate consequences, but of the far-off ones:
  • If I let them skip their Year 1 homework one weekend, will they fail their A-Levels?
  • If I let them give up an activity half way through a term, will they never hold down a job?
  • If I let them sleep a couple of nights in my bed, will their future bride have to kick me out on their wedding night?
It’s exhausting. 
Obviously, there is a balance between setting boundaries and responding to the child in hand. 
But just as you strike it, thinking you’ve scored a victory and held back from setting a precedent of, say, letting them eat popcorn in the bath, they play their trump card:
“Daddy lets us do it.”
It makes you want to drink at teatime.
Now that’s a precedent I don’t mind setting. 
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  • Brilliant!
    Sadly we did this at Christmas when little miss was poor with biscuits and chocolate buttons.
    She is another one for the freedom brigade. And biscuit was one of her first words…. definitely my child!

  • Brilliant!
    Sadly we did this at Christmas when little miss was poor with biscuits and chocolate buttons.
    She is another one for the freedom brigade. And biscuit was one of her first words…. definitely my child!

  • Excellent post. Daddy might have mentioned a Toby Cavery tea one night sometime and I have been hounded every day as soon as they spy me at the school gates. Oh and yeah the eating rice krispies in front of the fire is still lingering since the first day back after Christmas. Monkeys xx

  • The front seat!!! I wish I had never let my children do this! Another corker of a post x #brilliantblogposts

  • Ooh, this strikes a chord, Jess. Why is it that our children can’t remember simple things like bringing their jumper and drinks bottle home from school, and yet remember some random little thing you did with them *once* two years ago to bring out as evidence for the prosecution to argue why they should be allowed to do something again today?!?

  • Samantha P says:

    Excellent Jess! I once let JJ have calpol at bedtime when he wasn’t poorly and consequently spent the next few weeks doing this every night until I realised that I could be inducing liver failure! Fortunately I managed to switch to liquid vitamin c – win win! It’s never normally that easy to break a precedent though – picking your battles comes into it. And by the way I’ve set my own precedent that wine o’clock is 5pm (although sometimes I wish it was 3.30!!) X

  • Oh yes, this! And the argument “because I said so” just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. It’s so unfair, why can’t we just change our minds from one day to the next?!?

  • Ha ha so true and I have lots of bad habits built up out of working mummy guilt which I must rectify ha ha xx

  • omg soooo true. Give them an inch!!! #brilliantblogposts

  • Emma Martin says:

    So funny! NEVER let them in your bed Jess! 🙂 We learnt that one the hard way and had a full year of bed hopping with the eldest when she was two. Was a nightmare! You always make me giggle Mrs Wry! 🙂 xxx

  • Mummy Tries says:

    Another utterly fab post Jess! I think our kids are quite similar, because mine are exactly the same. They’re just constantly trying their luck basically. I’m glad I’m not the only one who let’s their kids eat pudding in the bath xx

  • Amy Ransom says:

    We are going through this at the moment. I’m a pretty chilled mum most of the time. (I mean lazy). This has resulted in the kids helping themselves to food, watching Netflix ALL the time and now playing on iPads. I let them do anything once and that’s it! Now I’ve had enough. And turned into Hitler mum. I just want a bit of respect and for them not to run the house just because I have been nice and lenient. I may go by the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time they will do what I say. 20% of the time they can have input. Who am I kidding? Ps yes to front seat, pudding in bath and practically every other thing you can think of. Great post x

  • Honest Mum says:

    Haha so bloody true-I’m a relaxed Mama but there needs to be some boundaries right, loved this! Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

  • Imagine if they put their elephantine memories to use for the powers of good and not evil?! They would rule the world instead of just remembering that one time a year ago when you let them wear their wellies in bed whilst eating a jammie dodger…

  • Wry Mummy says:

    Exactly, Sarah! They could do anything with all those brain cells but instead they remember that you promised them an ice lolly next time you go to the park, even though that was weeks go and it is January.

  • This is SO true! It’s right up there with let them take an inch… and they’ll take the whole nine yards, to mix my metaphors. Funny how they always remember the precedents you set but can never remember where they left their shoes…. x

  • Fabulous huni! I have all this to come! x

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