I'm wrestling my toddler into pajamas. He's not cooperating. "Time to change your nappy," I state calmly. "No Nappy! No Nappy!" he screams, writhing miserably as he tries to escape my hold on him. As soon as I zip him into his sleeper and release him, he begins, slowly and deliberately, to open his zipper. "No unzipping," I tell him firmly. "It's time for pajamas." He gives me the look, the look that dares me to stop him, as he continues to unzip his sleeper.

I remove his hands, and rezip him. He scowls. As soon as I am finished, he gives me a dirty look, and begins to unzip. I catch his hand, and hold it. "Pajama time," I tell him. As far as he is concerned, this is a declaration of war. He narrows his eyes into little slits and glares at me. I am tempted to laugh at his rage and indignation, but it is late, I'm tired, and it is definitely bedtime. So I catch hold of both his hands, and hold them in my own hand while I zip him back up.

"You can't control me," his behavior states clearlyI'm calm. I'm firm. I'm clear. But I am not making an impact. As soon as I release his hand, it goes right back to his zipper. Giving me the dirtiest of dirty looks, he begins again. "You can't control me," his behavior states clearly.

I know this has become a power struggle, so to break the cycle, I begin a quick recitation of "Good Night Moon." He pauses to listen, and when I am finished, I zip him back up. He scowls. He unzips. I stick my hand into his exposed tummy, and recite "Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear." I finish the poem with "Tickle you under there" and a tickle under his chin. He is momentarily caught off-guard by my playful maneuver, but his smile is fleeting, and vanishes as soon as I zip him back up. "If you open it again," I warn, "I'll tickle you again." He opens. I tickle. He doesn't laugh.

Glaring at me, he slides his zipper lower. If I don't get creative fast, these pajamas will be off in a moment. But I have done everything I am supposed to be doing, and he is determined to turn this into a head-on collision. Now the problem with entering into a power struggle with a toddler is that they have nothing else they want or need to be doing. To them, winning is everything, and they don't mind if it takes all night.

I look at his angry face. I look at his pajamas, unzipped almost to his belly button. I think of the thousands of parents who, when confronted with this same situation, would end it with a slap. But that is not an option here. I watch him glaring at me. He is beyond angry. He is furious.

I take a risk. I peer intently into his pajamas, holding them a little away from him so I can study his stomach. "Yishai," I ask him, "What do you have in there? Do you have an elephant in there?" I ask playfully as I raise my head and press him lightly on the nose. Completely caught off-guard, he responds, "No." But the smile he gives me, a smile of wonder and warmth, the first that I have received all night, is like a challenge, and I am determined to win more of them.

Our relationship took precedence over his zipperSo I lower my head to study his exposed tummy again. Raising my head, I ask, "Do you have a monkey in there?" as I tap him again on the nose. He is blown away. He is all smiles. "No," he replies, a "no" full of wonder and curiosity. We run through the whole animal kingdom, searching for lions, tigers, and kangaroos, and despite his occasional "Nothing in dere," I continue.

I continue because of the way he looks at me, as though I could truly pull a zebra out of his pajamas. When I run out of animals, he puts his head down on my shoulder, and goes to sleep in my arms. In the morning, he climbs into my bed. "Good morning, Mommy," he tells me. "I love my Mommy."

Did I win the power struggle? In the war with myself, I held onto my perspective, and didn't give in to anger. So in my relationship with myself, I can say that I won a victory in the eternal pursuit of self-control. But with my son, did I win? I just stopped fighting. I accepted that, for now, his pajamas weren't going to be zipped up to his chin. I recognized that our relationship took precedence over the height of his zipper.

Because in family relationships, there is no clear cut winning and losing. Even when we "win," we lose if we allow our relationships to become damaged in the process of achieving victory. When our victory comes at the price of someone's selfhood or shame, we have lost something especially irreplaceable.

Last night, when I let go of my need to have properly zipped pajamas, I allowed my son to find his way back into my arms, with the dignity of his toddlerhood fully intact.