Elisabeth Röhm’s Blog: Setting Limits and Picking Battles

08/01/2012 at 07:00 PM ET
Red carpet with my girl – Scott Downie/Celebrity Photo

Elisabeth Röhm, best known for her roles as Serena on Law & Order and Kate on Angel, has been blogging for PEOPLE.com for over a year now.

The actress, 39, currently stars as Taylor on The Client List, while her film Transit is out now, with Officer Down following later this year.

She can be found on Facebook, Google + and @ElisabethRohm.

In her latest blog, Röhm — mom to 4-year-old Easton August with fiancé Ron Anthony — reflects on setting limits and picking battles with her little girl.

What are your best tips for working on this with your preschooler?

What’s that old adage — “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you it’s yours and if it doesn’t it was never meant to be.” The same thought can apply to all of our relationships.

I’m thinking of the wisdom my own mother shared with me about ownership, possessing and controlling those we love. She had an unusual philosophy in her parenting technique. She never threatened or was forceful with me. Instead, she gave me more and more freedom in exchange for communication and honesty.

I think that has worked well for me in my adult relationships too. Meaning trying to bend me to her will didn’t usually work out for her (sound familiar?) and so she found another way into our relationship with one another and into knowing me, not just as her daughter but also as my own person.

I think it is quite true in our adult relationships that if we don’t force ourselves onto others they come more easily toward us, since everyone is on some level healing and recovering from something. Being gentle is key. However, in this blog we can stick to the subject of our little ones and how we can have effective parenting lives where we don’t grow to hate the sound of our own redundant and warning voice landing upon deaf ears.

I’ve been acknowledging lately that forceful anything usually backfires on me and most certainly with my precious little girl. Well, at least that’s how it seems these days, as Easton is ripening and developing into her own person with feelings, needs, opinions, relationships and desires. News flash: She’s not a little me, nor should she be.

Knowing which battles to pick and becoming comfortable with my own authority has been confusing lately. Setting limits is a lesson.

I’m one for having a good time in general and have never pursued a militant lifestyle in any way. I think there is a lot to be said for pleasure and lost afternoons. Sometimes taking a walk can be much more what the doctor ordered than working out, just like indulging can be just as satisfying as fasting. Everything in moderation, so they say, and I think they are right.

So then comes the question of discipline and those limits we just mentioned. Where and when and how much? I’m finding it challenging to know what to do with my fiercely independent, willful and expressive child who does need guidance and to practice restraint at times.

As we know, in all the areas of our lives, limits are good thing and exercising willpower is a useful life lesson. The last thing we want our kids to be is entitled and self-indulgent. Still, allowing them to march to their own beat and not projecting on to them what we think they should be doing is also wise, isn’t it?

I mean, trust me, I get that our life experience is beneficial in helping them have perspective and that we shouldn’t fulfill their every whim. I also know that we have to teach freedom and encourage their inner voice to be vocal and proud. Let’s face it, the more we persist, the more they resist.

Making our children the center of our lives is just too much darn pressure on them and on us; we find we are just reacting to every little thing they are doing as we try to micro-manage them.

These days I’m also trying to find the balance of freedom and discipline in my own life as well as in my parenting technique. We deserve to be happy and yet … they deserve to be happy and yet …

Then question of your own personal happiness vs. obligation … know what I mean, PEOPLE.com? Or am I meandering on this summery day without any clear direction?

In thinking about our daily struggle with Easton and in our own lives this week, I’d say the question of personal happiness and ownership has been popping up everywhere. Where to find that solitude where you can hear your own thoughts without everyone pulling you in a million different directions.

Obviously we know our parenting life is full of sacrifice and joy all rolled into one. It’s the same thing in our marriages and other relationships. And yet, even in these important relationships we need our solitude, individuality and to not be told what to do every minute of the day.

I hear my daughter saying to me, “Don’t tell me what to do” as I write this. I guess that’s why I’m struggling with which battles to choose lately, because I know that wandering and quiet allows you to know yourself and what your actual needs are, and not those that are being projected onto you by those you love.

Even my own perfect mother did it to me — parents all over and throughout time have been doing it to their kids. So how do we guide our children, which is our promise and responsibility, without trying to mold them into our vision of the future, of what we are or should be or could have been? How do we keep them safe without pushing them away? How can we stay close to them where they allow us into their true selves?

I’m not suggesting that we not discipline them, because I think without structure we are lost. Even in my wonderfully hippie-dippie childhood that was full of love and all kinds of sweet tenderness, I was personally frustrated by my mother’s lack of structure and discipline.

Children long for their parent’s authority just as much as people long for freedom and love; I think that is true. People crave boundaries. I actually see relief sometimes in Easton’s face when I tell her, “No” or what to do as opposed to giving her too many choices and letting her run the household in her wild ways.

A thought to leave you with, by Kahlil Gibran, as we figure out our own journey and our significant relationship to our kiddos: “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

So today ladies, let’s not focus on anything in particular on this summery day … tell me what’s on your mind, what’s irking you, what’s working for you and what you’re longing for above all else.

Again, our children are our greatest teachers because they guide us to reflect all the time on our own behavior, needs, misgivings and inner wisdom. They teach us about what we absolutely know for sure and what we need help figuring out, so let’s figure it out together.

— Elisabeth Röhm

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Showing 16 comments

Marie on

A great book for discipline is “Too Much Love, Too Much Discipline”. It really changed my perspective- a LACK of discipline can really handicap children & set them up for failures in school & beyond…and make them, in the kindest terms, a “jerk” later in life. That free-spirited, willful, no rules mentality is nonsense in my opinion.

sdr on

I have really been focusing on choices with my 4 year old. I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but many times each day I remind her that she is always making a choice: a choice to be happy, a choice to be fussy, etc. And I try to reserve ‘no’ or ‘don’t do that’ for serious, harmful situations.

Instead, I give her choices and let her know what the consequences are for each choice. As in ‘you can choose to clean up your toys and the consequence is a happy afternoon with Mommy, or you can choose to leave a messy playroom and the consequence is time spent alone in your room’.

She usually ends up making the ‘better’ choice on her own.

Mommytoane on

Life is full of rules, and boundaries. But that doesnt mean that it shouldn’t be about choices too.

As a toddler my daughter was given liberty of her closet. As long as what she wore was appropriate for the weather she was fine. My own mother gave me the same choices.

However, I don’t think its our toddlers/preschoolers/young children we have to worry about holding tooo tightly or pushing away. Its our teenagers and adult children. We often forget that teens can make decisions on their own, and that the decisions they make may provide valuable lifelessons for them. Thats generally when people start feeling differently about their parents.

So I say love it while you can. Embrace her independance and allow her independance in areas that are “safe,” otherwise rules are neccessary. Childern thrive on them and need to learn that they are there. Its the children who are without boundaries that are the wrecks in our society today.

Kristen on

I too believe that children need boundaries. They need to know that their parents are looking out for them, will protect them, and keep them safe. But many parents see boundaries as an excuse to control. Too much discipline, too many “no’s” is just as bad for a child as never hearing the word “no.”

And I’m all for choices, depending on the situation. But too many choices is difficult for a child. Limit the choice to two, two that you, the parent, can live with. Giving your child the freedom to choose the little things is great but they have to understand that the big decisions are yours, the parent, and aren’t up for negotiation.

Elizabeth B on

I admire the thoughtful words you use to describe the complex (and overwhelming at times) developing mother:daughter relationship. I have my own willful two year old and my own goals for our interactions now and in the future. I have no advice, I know it’s different for each of us, but your post presented some things to reflect on and I appreciate it.

Devon on

My husband and I struggle with this all the time, because we were raised in such different households. Luckily, we both understand that how we were raised wasn’t ideal and that we need to find a balance between the two. I grew up in a high-discipline, very strict, probably abusive house; my husband’s parents let them do pretty much whatever they wanted, without discipline or guidance.

It sounds kind of crunchy, but I’ve found that just having a discussion with my daughter (who is 5), much like I would with my husband about how the situation should be handled, works pretty well. Obviously this doesn’t work with my 3-year-old son yet (if ever), but finding a balance is hard and will probably be a constant exercise. Communication and consistency have to be happening at ALL times.

Finally, what works here, is also knowing to admit when we screwed up. If I’m too harsh or if my husband is too lenient, we admit it to the kids…who in turn, we’ve found, own up to their side of the matter. 😉

Becca on

Thank you for your insight!

Rebecca Christiansen on

You know there’s kind of sadistic joy in reading young mothers’ struggles with their kids and discipline. I think I say that because increasingly (that means over the years)I come into contact with Mothers who are so simply in love with their kids they assume (most often wrongly) that others love their kids and their expressiveness just as much as they do. When I’m in a restaurant at night, I don’t want a lot of kid chatter. That’s why I’m at a restaurant, not a fast-food place. I have raised my kids and they are both pretty good adults..but they both needed discipline. I mean aren’t you guys exhausted discussing things with a 5 year old? How about a one time laying down the law and resulting consequences and move along? Not everyone in the world is going to want to discuss your kid’s behavior with them.

Kim on

Well I for one hope that when your daughter tells you “Don’t tell me what to do!” the next words out of your mouth are “If you continue to speak disrespectfully to me you will be put in time out!”

Dee on

I like your ideas about parenting. When I have a child ..someday ..I hope go in a similar vein.

Claire on

Discipline without tears.

Traci on

Easton’s an awesome name.

I almost named one of my twins Easton.

Colleen on

Having raised 3 (I’m pretty sure I did a good job)I have had plenty of time to think about the pros vs cons. and one thing stands out.. Children need to learn about consequences as much as being a free spirit… that’s the key in discipline… breaking the will, but not the spirit… thats a fine line to be walked every day.. If your heart is in the right place, usually you’ll do fine…nothing wrong with teaching your child to be humble while encouraging them to be their own person.

nvsue on

I have two children, now 8 and 10. From the time they were little I taught them that in some situations they would have choices and in others they would not. There have always had clear logical consequences for not following instructions. (Time out, loss of privileges.) They have made mistakes but have learned to make a plan for “fixing” them. They are happy, polite and respectful. (When I see how some of their friends treat their parents I shudder.) I think the key is to start early and be patient, but firm, and consistent.

cynlee on

I’m sure you are all wonderful mothers, but you do realize that women have been having children since the beginning of time. I’m sure our grandmothers and great-grandmothers never spent too much time thinking about it, they just did it. There are no magic answers, and as young mothers today, we are not discovering anything new as far as raising kids go. Just relax and enjoy the ride.

J on

Oh good Lord. People, you really need to ditch this worry wart, you have so many other less neurotic, more positive celeb bloggers people would rather read.