Tuesday, March 11, 2014

All By Myself...Lessons Learned with My Toddler

I've heard about the terrible twos for as long as I can remember. How the day after his second birthday a normal, well-adjusted child suddenly starts refusing sleep, demanding to do everything himself, hating foods he previously liked, throwing knock-down drag-out tantrums that result in vomitting and/or passing out, and...despite running away in parking lots and stores...clings to his mother like a baby lemur dangling over a cliff as soon as a babysitter shows up.

It's a lie, people. That's not how it is.

Or, more correctly, that's not WHEN it is. It doesn't happen at age two. It starts much earlier: around 20 months, give or take a stressful week or two.

I'm not gonna lie. February was a rough month around here. Will launched into the "terrible twenty-month-old" stage with a vengeance. All of the sudden, our happy little routine was turned upside down and I wasn't sure how to be a parent anymore. I lost my patience, I cried to Graham, I called my mom, and I wondered in desperation how long this stage would last. I did feel better when I turned to Google for help and I only got as far as typing "Twenty month old figh..." before it suggested "Twenty month old fighting naps/sleep/diaper changes". Well, at least I'm not alone. 

I am thankful to report however, that while we still have rough patches, we are doing much better these days.

How did I survive this stage? (...so far, that is. I'm sure he'll come up with a new challenge tomorrow.) Here's my recipe:

1 cup patience
3 heaping spoonfuls of consistent routines
2 acceptable options for any situation for Will to choose between
and a pinch of bribery for the really tough moments (oh, and don't forget to give yourself a handful of M&Ms if you're using them to bribe the child)

Really, though, what I've learned is something I have understood intellectually for a long time. Everyone wants to feel in control of his/her life. My toddler is no different. 

Now I'm learning that one of my jobs as a mother is to help him learn to be that independent person he so desperately wants to be right now. Sometimes that means slowing down our pace so that he can take twenty minutes to pick out his clothes, often it means letting him help me cook even when it sometimes results in pancake batter on the floor of the kitchen, and occasionally it means being okay with him wearing mismatching clothes as long as they're weather appropriate. Mostly, it means letting go of the stuff that doesn't matter. That way, when stuff does matter, I can require something be done "my" way. By doing this, Will responds better to my requests for obedience (notice I said better...usually...but not perfectly).

As a child, I loved the book All By Myself by Mercer Mayer. In it, Little Critter wants to do everything by himself. That is the epitome of Will's life right now. Even when he really doesn't have the skills to do something, he wants to do it like the "big kids." 

He wants to climb in his chair, open his own yogurt, put on his own hat, open the garage door...just about anything that an "adult" would do, he now wants to do, too. And that is wonderful, most of the time. I love watching his proud face when he gets the baggie of cheese open "all by himself" or when he manages to wriggle out of his coat without help.

The problem comes when he insists on doing things that he really doesn't have the strength or dexterity for, like opening the yogurt. Last week, my attempt to help resulted in him refusing to eat that yogurt, any yogurt, and any snack at all for the next 15 minutes while he lamented his lost independence. Oi.

Why is it though that we're so insistent on doing things "all by ourselves"? It makes no sense to me when Will throws a tantrum over something like the yogurt situation Really? You'd rather starve than let Mom help. Ridiculous. And yet, how many times have I thought it would show weakness to ask for help. I "should" be able to do it myself, I think. No. That's why Heavenly father gave us family, and friends, kind strangers, and his holy spirit. To help. He did not put all those tools in our lives so that we could prove that we don't need them. We don't have to open a can of beans with our bare hands when a can opener is sitting on the counter. But if I just try hard enough, work long enough, use all my strength, I can do it, I reason. But that's not always the case. Sometimes, we can't do it ourselves.

And I suppose that's the point: Heavenly Father is teaching me through yogurt tantrums about my own need for Him. Hopefully, eventually Will will figure it out, too. Until then, I'm grateful for the reminder of a Heavenly Father who is willing to open the yogurt for me, among other things.

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