Eleanor Roosevelt once advised, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” To which I can’t help but respond, “Every day?!” I don’t know about that, Eleanor. I appreciate the sentiment, but as a high-anxiety kind of person, I am not sure my blood pressure could handle actively conquering a fear every single day. The world is a scary place sometimes. More so all the time. This is why I believe that parents are the bravest people I know, full stop. It doesn’t matter what you may do for a living, what part of the planet you call home, or what parenting “style” you may subscribe to without knowing you have one, I believe you are a brave individual indeed. You’re raising a child. You are responsible for the life of a fellow human being. And, one day, you’re probably going to have to let that child make their way in the outside world. You’re going to have to take your eyes off of them and walk away. You’re going to have to trust them and trust the world around them a little bit. You’re going to have to trust yourself to have raised a person who can stand on their own and also lean on others appropriately. You are brave.
I know it’s not easy. You most likely don’t even know how brave you are because you don’t feel brave. In fact, I imagine that some of the time you’re feeling the opposite of brave. That’s normal. You have so many different things to think about, worry about, wonder about, and remember. Here is just one more: remember how brave you are. Remember that we have established that as a point of fact. It’s indisputable.
Knowing that, let’s agree that you are brave enough and strong enough to not be pushed around by a toddler. I’ve mentioned before that some things aren’t choices and you need to hold close your power. You know as well as I do that you need to set limits with your children, but what I see that you may not be able to, from your perspective so near to the situation at hand, is that you’re letting fear keep you from being the adult that I know you can be. I’m here to tell you that the toddler you so fear upsetting today is tomorrow the teenager who is driving your car. I’m pretty sure that you’re going to want them to know about and respect limits. The time is now.
Let’s face some unpleasant truths right now: Life is hard. It’s sometimes ugly, noisy, loud, uncomfortable, and messy. We often want to avoid the hard things, the messy things, and the loud things. So sometimes we tiptoe around our toddlers like they’re little kings and queens or ticking time bombs. We jump through hoops to keep them “happy” but what we’re really doing has nothing to do with true happiness. We’re appeasing them. And, look, I get it. You’re on a plane, in the doctor’s office, or waiting in line at the grocery store at the end of the day… It’s hard. You’re exhausted. But just as you would take the time to consider whether the limits you impose on them are fair, take a moment to consider whether the demands they’re placing on you are justified. Are they driven by need? Look deeper: what is the need? It’s probably not a need for another cookie or a certain tee-shirt or ten more minutes in front of the TV. More likely, it’s a need for you to tune in.
- When you have offered your toddler two or three different things to eat (things that they normally enjoy) and they have said, “No!” to each one, it is probably time for them to leave the table. (“You are letting me know that you’re not ready to eat.”)
- When you have offered your toddler the chance to walk through the door or gate and they have backed up into you and refused to go and now they’re turning boneless and melting to the floor, it’s probably time for you to help them move forward. (“You are showing me that you need some help going through. I’m going to pick you up now.”)
- When you have let your child know two or three times that a certain item is not for biting or throwing or fill-in-the-relevant-action and they have continued to use it in that matter, it’s probably time for you to remove that item and redirect them to something more appropriate. (“I see that you’re having a hard time remembering that we don’t throw these things. I’m going to pass you a ball for throwing.”)
- When you have tried to determine exactly why your child is melting down and nothing you have come up with has helped them to stop, it’s probably because they’re needing a moment. And maybe you are too. (“I see how upset you are right now. I’m going to sit right here and if you want to come and sit with me, you can. I’ll be waiting right here for you.”)
When you’re a parent, there are a million and one things that you’re responsible for every second of every day. One thing that you’re not responsible for every second of every day is making your children happy. You can’t make them happy. I know how much you want to and I know there is a part of you that’s annoyed I would even say such things. As they continue to grow and develop and forge their independent identity, it will become increasingly evident: it’s difficult for you to make them anything. You are absolutely instrumental in their happiness, but not by working so hard to make them happy. It’s not the perfect sandwich, the right shoes, or being allowed to do what they want when they want. It’s being there. It’s being engaged. It’s loving them. It’s guiding them. It’s the limits and the support and the consistency. And sometimes it’s doing the thing that scares you and doing what’s hard because it’s what’s right for them, even when they aren’t able to recognize that yet.