There are lots of worthy, well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions to make: Be healthier; be more positive; quit smoking; find a new job. I’ve tried them all, with limited to spectacular success, but this year, I’m trying something I never thought I’d do again. I’m parenting with all of the patience of a mother with a toddler.
Now, my daughter has not been a toddler for quite a while now. She’s 9. And certainly, while my child was a pretty chill toddler, I have no misty-eyed delusions of how much better my life would be if only we could revert back to a time when she couldn’t toilet or shower by herself and required something besides her own hands and access to the refrigerator to make her own meals.
But still, I’m resolving to go back to my toddler parenting habits for one pretty important reason: I was a much better mother back then.
Now personally, I think I’m a pretty good mom. My child is still alive, for one thing, which is by no means the only barometer for good momming but is, by all accounts, a pretty good one. But I’ve noticed that the older my child gets, the less patient I become. And this is a problem.
As she begins to adopt all of the trappings of tweendom and young adulthood, it is easy to forget that she is still very young. With the eyerolls, the never-ending quest for privacy, and the frequent, lengthy dissertations she delivers over dinner that outline the benefits of me and her dad allowing her to get a phone, it can be so easy to lose sight of the fact that on the long spectrum of life, she is still so much closer to “tiny baby” than “independent woman.”
I get frustrated. I get snappy. I hear myself saying things I want to snatch back immediately. I hear myself apologizing. A lot.
One day it sort of hit me: Since when did I start apologizing to my child? This is new, right? Well, it’s new-ish. As a toddler, and then as a preschooler, my child had access to a never-ending supply of my patience. It’s only now that she’s older that I feel the need to check myself over and over.
Not that I was a perfect mom any more than my child was a perfect kid. But we lived in a pretty easy orbit, because I understood that a toddler’s brain is an undeveloped mass of uncheckable feelings and an insatiable drive to mess with you until you cry. So when she started to get on my nerves, I had that little shred of scientific fact to keep me stable.
She got millions of chances. She got my undivided attention when she flew through her milestones. She got hugs upon hugs upon hugs.
And I want that back.
Because an unfortunate part of the career that I love very much is that on some days, I am passed potential writing assignments that include information about children my own child’s age facing down terrible adversity. Sometimes I read about a girl my daughter’s age who has been a victim or fought an illness or experienced something too terrible for someone so young and innocent.
In those instances, I look at those kids and I think about how they are still just babies. And lately I’ve been wondering why it takes something terrible for me to remember that, and I know that I don’t want to get my wake-up call in that fashion. So I’m having it now.
My daughter is still just a child. She may be starting to spring up, height-wise, at an alarming rate. She may sometimes say things that are inappropriate or precocious for her age. She may lie to me, or balk at doing her chores, or roll her eyes at an inopportune moment.
But she may also need someone to rock her back to sleep after a nightmare. She may still want to play with her imaginary kitten, Snowfire, for a little longer. She may still pull mismatched socks on in the morning when she’s bleary-eyed and messy-haired, and she may still just want to watch Finding Nemo one more time because even though all of her friends think it’s for babies, she still really likes it.
There will come a time when I have to stop issuing multiple chances and let her experience the consequences when she messes up. When her brain is more developed, when she’s truly being defiant and not just “getting distracted” when she doesn’t do something I ask her to.
But for now, she needs a little more understanding than she will later. For now, she needs a few more hugs. For now, I’m happy to do exactly that, even if it means jumping backwards in time a little bit.