Ask a Mama: The Headaches and Joys of Toddler Independence

Dear Mamas,

If I hear one more “Do it, self!” one more time I’m going to scream. From getting in the car (while baby sister is crying for her binky), to getting a diaper from the drawer (which is out of reach), to scooping up rolly polly peas using a fork. I want my 2 year old to exercise his independence, but why must he insist on the things that frustrate him the most?

Oh Mama, you’ve got a good thing going here! Your frustration has more to do with what is happening in your life than with your two year old. You are exhausted–juggling babies, running a household and the thousand tasks and errands it takes to get through a week. You may also be working outside the home. AND you have a little one whose reach exceeds his grasp, which is one of the most valuable tools toward a meaningful life a human can have. You are just not ready for it yet. It would be so much easier to have a passive quiet child who waited for instruction, who moved at your pace, who wanted to please you. But that is not the child we want to raise up and enter the world, vulnerable to cultural or familial demands that have nothing to do with who he authentically is.

When we were raising our daughter I wanted her to possess the ability to stand up to peer pressure, to speak her mind for what she believed in and hold her ground. It worked!  But when she was a teenager those tenets continued—mostly toward me. She spoke her mind (not always nicely), held her ground, and was resolute about what she believed in. It was exhausting, challenging, and very tricky, and then a friend reminded me that this is exactly what I wanted for my daughter, but I wanted it my way, on my timing!  We don’t get to say I want it now, not later, get rid of that quality I’m tired and bring it back at a more appropriate time. It begins in the beginning.

Put a few diapers within your son’s reach. Give him choices: You can carry that backpack, or I can help you put it on, do you want a lot of cereal or a little? Do you want the orange shirt or the blue? You can put your socks on, I get to do the shoes.

Most of all take care of yourself. Cut out the unnecessary steps in a day. Get sleep. Have a date night with your husband. Belly laugh with girlfriends. Understand that your son is negotiating his place in the world and how much control he has in it. We want to raise independent, resilient kids and the home is the seedbed where it all begins.


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