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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mama Bear Moxie: Don’t test me

By Kristina Phelan For The Spokesman-Review

I’ve been a parent going on 13 years now. When I had my firstborn, I decided I would parent much like my own parents did: loving and strict, yet fun. I remember my dad telling me when my son was young, “Make sure you always win.”

It was something I took to heart and relied upon many times as I somehow got through his toddler years with his baby brother along for the ride. I learned setting boundaries, giving warnings and ultimately winning the battle was the best way to parent my boys. Winning the battle didn’t look like running around the house like a marathon finisher, hands in the air and smiling, but with snuggles on the couch communicating with them about the boundaries that were crossed and what the consequences were for that kind of behavior.

Many people today look at that style of parenting as a bit outdated and barbaric. I mean, do parents really always have to win? Come on, is that even attainable?

I see the logic, but I must point out that the winning is quiet, not boastful. Winning in disciplining your kids looks like parents having the final word. It looks like kids who don’t rule the house and parents who help teach their children that every action has a positive or negative reaction. Winning the discipline battle is where communication takes precedence and children fully understand the issue at hand. But winning isn’t always foolproof. There have been many occasions when I have had to go back to my kids and apologize for assumptions or losing my temper.

I was reminded of the saying when our newly adopted daughter arrived. There are many different facets stemming from her adoption, so my parenting would have to look different with her. I was also quickly reminded that battles arrive multiple times a day as a little one tries to understand the boundaries of life and behavior. Since she has come home, I have caught myself saying, “Don’t test me in this.” Oh the silent battles that we have fought using only our eyebrows and eye contact across the dinner table. She is me and I am her. We are both incredibly stubborn and almost too smart for our own good.

As my boys have gotten older, I rely on those past successful battles to give me an easier time now. There aren’t too many times when we fight, but when we do, it tends to be more on the Gettysburg scale. I had my biggest parenting battle a few months ago when I decided to make fish tacos for dinner. The recipe looked very kid-friendly on the back of the frozen fish stick bag, so I decided to spice up the normal dinner routine with this new dish.

It really wasn’t that bad. I enjoyed the homemade slaw, and two of my three kids ate what was on their plate. There haven’t been too many dinners that I have made that my kids refuse to eat. We have a strict rule in our house that you eat what was made, or you don’t eat at all. With that being said, I usually make kid-friendly dishes that I know everyone will enjoy.

But this fish taco dish tested my “always win” rule. My oldest refused to eat them. Downright refused. He complained, made faces and puking noises, and winced with every small nibble that he tried. When everyone was about done, he was still sitting with two tacos on his plate. My husband and I told him that he would need to eat what was on his plate, not all of it but most of it, in order to not have to eat cold and soggy fish tacos for breakfast the next morning.

Stories of my sister-in-law having to eat cold pork chops for breakfast on more than one occasion as a child came to mind, and I reminisced about my mother’s incessant need to serve lima beans for dinner (yuck!). Time passed, and those fish tacos were getting soggier by the minute. I told him, “Don’t test me in this,” and he understood that yes, mom would definitely make you eat those soggy cold fish tacos for breakfast, even if she really didn’t want to have to make you do it.

After more wincing, and a lot of milk drinking, he had done a good job of at least trying to eat what I had served. Will I be making fish tacos for the family anytime soon? Not likely. But I was reminded that, as the parent, I will always win the battle in order to ensure that my kids understand that actions have consequences, soggy fish tacos and all.

Kristina Phelan is a former Spokane-area resident now living in Illinois. www.mamabear Visit her website at