Parenting is exactly why the phrase “pick your battles” was invented.
However, not everything has to be a battleground. Instead, some aspects of raising children can be frustrating, and also healthy teaching tools for both our kids to learn independence and for us to learn how to let go of a little bit of control.
My toddler and I are both happier since I started letting her do these six things:
1. Make messes.
My toddler likes stickers. A lot. She likes to put them all over the carpet. It drives my husband nuts, but I’ve finally realized that her enjoyment of them is a battle to not choose.
Messes that aren’t permanent or hard to clean up ― especially those where I get 7 minutes of a happy kid and 7 minutes of time to sip hot, or at least lukewarm, coffee in relative peace ― are worth letting happen.
Allowing my toddler and my 6-year-old to make messes in a healthy way ― like through art or learning how to eat a new food ― is something that’s a normal part of childhood and parenting.
While it’s occasionally challenging for me to watch ice cream melt all over hands and clothes and act like I don’t care, kids, and people, learn by actively doing something; by making mistakes (aka messes).
2. Let go of my hand.
My oldest likes holding my hand. My youngest ― my toddler ― has always, always wanted to “do things I-self.”
There are places she should hold my hand ― in a crowded parking lot, or going up and down our dangerous basement stairs. Other times ― when the worst that could happen is she runs a little ways away and I chase after her, or she sits down in a store aisle ― these are instances I’m learning are healthy for me to let go of a little control.
I am in charge, but she is a separate person from me. I want her to learn how to assert her strength and independence while in safe environments.
This one, frankly, sucks.
My toddler cries easily and often, which is another way she’s different from her big sister. It’s been a brand-new learning experience for me, and another great lesson in how wonderfully different we are as individuals. But loud, volatile toddler crying is a great way to be buying the extra large bottle of Excedrin.
Nonetheless, she needs to cry sometimes, and I need to find the strength and earplugs to let her.
Like when she wants fruit snacks for breakfast (every day for two weeks).
Or when she needs to just cry and let out the emotions she doesn’t completely understand or can’t articulate.
I’ve also found there are times to comfort her, and others that present great opportunities to teach her how to healthfully self-soothe (like the deep belly breathing we’re working on together).
The hardest part, aside from hearing my little kid wail, is knowing when it’s appropriate (and, in this case, we know our children best).
4. Get my attention.
Semi hand-in-hand with the above suggestion is realizing my toddler sometimes throws tantrums because she simply wants my attention. She needs me to remember that many of the “important” things I have going on outside of her and her needs can wait, at least for a minute, at least for a good hug.
Which leads me to...
5. Get me off my phone.
This is a ginormously important consideration for modern parents. For those of us parenting in this age of smartphones, we need to be mindful of our phone usage; of how it affects our kids. Particularly, that they are learning this delicate art of communication from us, including the importance of giving others our full attention.
This, for me, is harder than I wish it was. I remind myself every day to put my phone down, not “mmm-hmmm” or “OK, honey” over my phone while I’m still paying more attention to a screen than my child.
6. Do things herself, no matter how long it takes.
This one, in all honesty, often has more to do with my own impatience and desire to speed things up than it does her capacity or desire to do things by herself.
Still, letting my kids put on their own shoes ― even if it takes them 76 times longer than it would if I did it ― is how they’ll learn. This is how they’ll learn not only to put on shoes, but to believe in their own capability.
My personal rule is they have to try things on their own first, and then I’ll help. For my toddler, this hasn’t really been difficult because she loves to do things by herself, but even this sassy kid has moments where she screams at me in frustration to put a puzzle piece in for her, and I have to encourage her try.
Because when she gets it, and I only helped by backing down a little bit, there’s nothing more special than a toddler’s ecstatic, “I did it! I did it, Mommy!”