I read an article the other day by someone I very much respect in the world of parenting philosophies, and it was one of those experiences where you don't get very far into the text before you're completely weirded out by the fact that the article seems to have been written precisely for you.
In this case, the basic idea of the article was that if your toddler is whining or fussing or hitting or not cooperating or just generally being a shit, it's because they feel completely out of control after being given far too much freedom, choice, and control, and are desperately asking you to set some limits in the only way they know how. Sounds counterintuitive in a way, but I absolutely know intellectually that it's true, as evidenced by the fact that I have told parents that same thing countless times and acted on that knowledge as a nanny on a daily basis for many years. Yet I read these words and felt my stomach drop. Because poopsicles. This is what's happening in our family right now.
As I have mentioned before, The Barbarian and I are extremely laid back when it comes to most things, so from day one of being parents, we weren't really concerned with routines and schedules and rules and all those things it seems many think we should be concerned with as parents. We're just not those people. And any time we attempted to create a routine or stick to a schedule, it lasted maybe a day or two before we just couldn't really hack it anymore. It felt bizarre and forced and foreign to us. And we're still mostly totally good with our decisions to allow them to create their own schedules in terms of sleeping and eating, not forcing them to share or finish all the food we give them, allowing them to physically explore their environment beyond what others considered "safe," etc. They are by all accounts loving, good-natured, smart, empathetic toddlers and we are ridiculously proud to be their parents.
Yet all of a sudden, they're not babies anymore. And while still considered toddlers, they're technically referred to as preschoolers now, and the changes in them since their second birthday in August are just phenomenal. But equally as phenomenal is how challenging EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of their daily life has suddenly become. They are extraordinarily opinionated about what they want/like and don't want/don't like, and the tiniest, often seemingly at random thing will set off an inordinately explosive response, leaving us simply trying to figure out what in the world just happened. And you know what? I hate listening to my kids cry. I also hate listening to them whine or fuss in general. So you know what I finally realized I've been doing when this happens?
I GIVE IN.
ME. I DO THAT.
I told you we'd watch one more show and then turn the TV off but now you're sobbing because you really, really, really want to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Road Rally? Well, fuck it, then. Watch away.
We asked if anyone needed a before bed snack before coming into the bedroom for the night and you said no but now you're desperate for some apple slices? Well, let's get those apple slices, and pronto.
I reminded you it was completely your choice whether to eat dinner or not but that I wasn't going to make you anything separate, however, now you're DYING for a peanut butter and jam sandwich? Let me get right on that.
See the problem? I literally utter the words, "Fine, just stop fussing" to the wee folk and, "Just do it--I don't want to listen to them fuss" to The Barbarian and others on a regular basis. It's absurd. But it took reading that article before I even officially, consciously realized I was doing it. The Barbarian's reaction when I told him my epiphany was just a nod and a look, a compassionate but borderline exasperated one that silently asked, "And you're just now noticing this...?"
And the answer is a resounding YES--despite the fact that this has been going on for months. It is so, so, SO ridiculously easy to fall into parenting patterns without realizing it until the negative effects become impossible to ignore. And that, friends, is where we are, with two toddlers who have been given far too much control over their lives and who are desperate for loving and respectful limits, structure, and known expectations. I am trying to be gentle with myself about this reality, though, as the author of the article stated that the parents she sees for whom setting limits is the most challenging are the ones who are the most sensitive, empathetic, and in-tune with their children's emotions. So good intentions, not so good outcome. It happens.
But you know what the really neat thing about parenting and life in general is? Every moment, every hour, every day is a chance to start over, start new, start focusing and implementing goals and good intentions.
So I'm gonna do that. Because my gods. Out of control toddlers are out of control. And everyone's sanity is suffering.
And preserving sanity should be a priority, no?
Good. I think so, too.