Nothing has ever turned a mirror on my true self like motherhood. I have never been more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as a mother, a woman, and a role model. As Everly grows from a toddler into a preschooler, she is beginning to not only call me out on these things but to model the very best and worst of my behaviours.
I’ve attempted to capture some of the most prominent realizations, challenges and successes I’ve felt over the past six months and in doing so, it turned into more of a list. I questioned the value of laying out the sometimes ugly parts of myself on Dear Baby but I’m hopeful that I am not alone in this- That some of you out there are also finding this stage of development a humbling, reflective exercise in self awareness.
1. I am slowly learning to find satisfaction in allowing an experience be what it is instead of feeling disappointed that it is not what I imagined it would be. More often that not, I will build up this idea in my head about an experience that I am planning for our family. My optimism creates this ideal about how things should go and the reality is that life with two toddlers is very unpredictable. Rarely do things go as planned - I am learning to not only accept this but to try to find the good in it.
2. I need to practice patience more. The age of two has a famous reputation for being difficult but in my experience, two was a pleasure. Three is where the real drama of toddlerhood begins. Raising a three year old is often so ridiculous that I find my self short tempered with Everly. My natural instinct is to hold her to an adult level of reasoning. I have to constantly remind myself that she is acting this way because she is not yet emotionally developed enough to express her fear or frustrations or even excitement in reasonable ways. It is really, really hard to stay calm if she is kicking or screaming or acting out over something as small as what shoes to put on before we leave the house or which of her parents she wants to remove her from the bathtub at night. Some days it feels like the tantrums never end. At Everly’s 3 year check-up her pediatrician asked me if I had any concerns. “Yes” I said, “Everly is just acting out so much. She used to be so sweet and gentle and well behaved and now… she is slamming doors and throwing tantrums and this just seems so out of character for her.” Her pediatrician smiled and said, “It’s called being three and it is completely normal. Be firm but patient with her.” Firm but patient- so much easier said then done some days.
3. I need to stop wagging my finger when I am frustrated with my daughter. I saw her reprimanding one of her baby dolls the other week, her finger pointed at the dolls face as she talked through clenched teeth. I knew instantly that she was copy catting me. I felt embarrassed and it made me sad for a moment. I’ve spent years thinking about how I would like to react in situations where my children present me with a “teachable” moment but I don’t always do it. I try to remind myself of those tricks and tools I’ve read about to help me address the situation but there are times when I’ve done those things over and over without success and so in my frustration, I shake my finger and talk through my clenched teeth. I handle the situation with impatience and frustration. I lose my cool.
4. I’m so fearful of raising disrespectful kids. I also want to believe that I can raise respectful, well mannered, responsible kids without resorting to spankings. Both Brent and I grew up in families where spankings were a form of discipline. It’s the way almost all of my friends growing up were disciplined too. My parents used them sparingly and appropriately (i.e a FAR, far cry from anything related to child abuse) and it was very effective in getting me to behave. I honestly don’t have very strong opinions or negative associations with being spanked from my own experience - but Brent and I have decided we want to try a different approach with our kids. There have been many times when my first instinct is to pop Everly on the bottom. I often feel discouraged that the techniques we do use (time out, removal of toys/privileges, etc) aren’t as effective as I want them to be.
5. On the positive side - Everly has encouraged my creativity to new limits. I am constantly seeking out ways to engage her and inspire her and grow her imagination and experiences. I love this part of my growth. When I inspire her, her joy is tangible and as a mother, I find it addictive. In everything I do, I am constantly seeking new opportunities to help my children learn about the world around them.
6. I like technology far too much. I don’t want my children’s experience growing up to be one where their mother is constantly on a computer of phone. I make rules for myself to manage this. (Like be present, off the phone and ready to play the minute I step through the door from work. Or no photo editing or blog writing until my children are in bed at night) I feel like as a blogger and social media participant I have to be particularly aware and vigilant to monitor this. I never want my online presence to be detrimental of real life experiences with my family. But it is something I wanted to address here because Everly has said to me on more than one occasion “Mama, can you not look at your phone right now?” And it made me feel ashamed that I was trading a moment with her for an update on instagram.
7. Everly is learning about self worth and esteem through me. In everything that I do and say. The older she gets, the more I am conscious about not putting down my looks or critiquing someone else in front of her. I have been guilty of saying things like “Gah, I look HORRIBLE this morning” or “What is that woman wearing!?” about someone on television in front of her. Consciously thinking about how I want my daughter to perceive herself & others is helping me to be a better person both in the way I love myself and those around me.
8. To take that a step further, Everly pushes me to become less looks oriented in general. We have really started to talk about how people make us feel. How being kind, generous, honest and caring towards others are what we value in our friends. I want her to put the most value on her actions. The whole world will tell her how important looks are in our society - It’s my job to build in her a foundation of worth through character. This exercise has made me question myself - How much emphasis do I put on my looks? How much am I focusing on my own character and the actions I extend to others? I don’t always like the answer.
9. Despite feeling unprepared sometimes, I also feel immense pride in this little girl that Brent and I are raising. She is so friendly and kind to other children, shares freely, lavishes us with affection and speaks openly about what she loves and fears and wants and dreams. She is protective and sweet to her brother and delights us daily with her wild imagination and expressive dancing and fearless approach to life. I can sometimes see her emotional growth as she works through her feelings of frustration or even remorse for her actions as she tries to harness all the new things her mind is soaking in. Every day with her is a microcosm of all the most beautiful and challenging parts of human nature. In whatever stage we may experience her - at her sweetest or most ferocious, Brent and I take the credit. She is ours and we will always be proud of that.
It’s an overwhelming task at times - to have the monumental job of building the self esteem and character of another human being. So often I feel as if I’m stumbling along. That often our successes are just purely by luck. As Everly grows, I am discovering that it’s a vulnerable process for both of us - she is learning to harness and control the flood of emotion that comes with age and discovery and I am learning to harness my fears and doubts in my abilities to do right by her. We mess up. We feel embarrassed. We regret the way we reacted. My journey to maturity is just as long as hers…
In my limited experience, it appears that being three years old and being the mother of a three year old are more similar than we might assume. We are both becoming more aware of who we really are. We highlight each other’s mistakes and we fight overwhelming frustration at times. We both love hard and fall often and seek each other’s arms for comfort. We cry and we laugh and we grow. We are a reflection of each other. Intertwined in our strengths and weaknesses. We are imperfect, but learning, together.