My Children’s Stubborn Commitment to Ritual Can Be Frustrating, But I Admire Their Resolve

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Recently my 3-year-old daughter asked me to play a game with her. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse — literally, she was holding me hostage — so we went into her brother’s rooms because that’s where we keep the board games scattered around on the floor.

She gave me two games to choose from: Candy Land and Connect 4. I considered my options carefully and opted for Candy Land because I remembered that the playing Connect 4 with her might be the closest I’ll ever come to descending methodically into madness.

I pointed at the Candy Land box.

“NOOOOOOOO!” she screeched. “Not that one!”

“I thought I was supposed to pick?” I said genuinely.

“You’re supposed to pick that one!” she replied, stabbing at the Connect 4 box with her finger.

My stomach churned as a I slid the Candy Land box aside and began to open the Connect 4 box.

“NOOOOO!” my daughter screeched. Again.

“What now?” I asked stupidly.

“You’re supposed to pick it.”

Things were coming into focus. I put both boxes side-by-side again and pointed to the Connect Four box, indicating that I wanted to play that one. Obviously. It was the clear choice and I was silly to not think of it the first time around.

My daughter smiled and clapped her hands excitedly.

One thing I admire about children is their commitment to ritual. As a man who is very devoted to my routines and rituals, I totally get it. Sure, their rituals are usually dumb and arbitrary, while mine are important and very logical, but still, you have to start somewhere.

Before you can avoid stepping on cracks in tile floors at all costs or check the apps on your phone in a certain order every morning, perhaps you have to insist on having the purple plate and only the purple plate.

Childhood is a time of learning. It is vital that kids learn the basics during these formative years. Like kindness, letters and numbers, language, how to take care of their personal needs, and how to organize the tabs on their internet browsers for maximum browsing efficiency.

You have to smart small, though. Just as you don’t toss children into the deep end when teaching them to swim, you shouldn’t put too much pressure on them to create spreadsheets with the proper color coding or unload the dishwasher in the mandatory order (silverware, bottom rack, top rack) right away.

In fact, you don’t have to pressure them at all. Just sit back and lose your mind while they take off their clothes because you put their underwear on before their shirt. What were you thinking?

Once you finish pulling your hair out because you’re twenty minutes late now and your children can’t get in their car seats until they turn each of the interior car lights on and off, sit back and relax content in the knowledge that you are raising children who will one day know that when you make coffee, there’s only one coffee cup you can really trust to get the job done.

Our Connect 4 game continued and things were going well until I veered away from the playbook and dropped one of my yellow discs on top of her column of three red discs. I knew this was unacceptable — we’re only allowed to make complete columns and red and yellow discs can never be mixed — but sometimes I like to test her resolve.

“NOOOOO!” she cried as the yellow disc clicked down on the incomplete red column. “Not there!”

She immediately slid the opener at the bottom of the game board and all the discs clattered out onto the carpet. She crossed her arms across her chest and glared at me with her bottom lip protruding.

She passed the test. You don’t let anyone mess with your rituals. That’s what I say.

It’s important to raise them right.

For more from Explorations of Ambiguity by Andrew Knott, like us on Facebook and sign up here to get the latest updates right in your inbox! Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years is available at Amazon.