Parenting a toddler is hard. There are ups and there are downs. Days when you spend the whole time chasing your own tail, and days when you feel as though you are standing still.
That’s toddlerhood. Everything at ninety miles an hour, or slow, slow, slow, oh stop.
I feel honoured to be a spectator at the start of such a wonderful journey. Here is life in all its unformed glory, and it’s heading my way at breakneck speed. If I blink, I’m going to miss it. Seeing E grow, from her first steps to running. Hearing her “dada” and “mama” evolve into complex speech. Watching her grab wildly and inaccurately to seeing her hold a crayon. It’s amazing and wonderful and glorious.
At the same time, it’s terrifying.
You see, for me, toddlerhood so far has been about independence, and limits; knowing them, pushing them, and sometimes breaking them. And we’re still close to the beginning of our toddler years. I think we’re in for quite the ride. E may be small, but she’s determined and self possessed. She’s also charmingly funny, and knows what she wants, even if she doesn’t always get it. She has wonderful zest and spirit, and she is almost always happy and full of enthusiasm. She knows where she’s going, even if she hasn’t always worked out how to get there yet. And I have the rewarding but difficult job of trying to work out what the best way is of helping her to reach her destination.
How do I do that? The internet is full of conflicting and contradicting advice about ways in which to bring up a small child. Parents who follow one parenting style or another, and some who passionately disagree with another stance or point of view. In essence, I suppose E’s daddy and I broadly believe in gentle parenting, if we believe in any parenting “style” at all. We are hoping to raise children who respect others, and themselves, and who trust us and can rely on us. Children who are open and honest and articulate about their feelings, but children who respect others and know when enough is enough. It’s not rocket science. I think, in truth, that’s what most people want for their offspring. We’re right at the beginning of our own learning as parents, and I’m sure we will continue to change and adapt what we know and have learned so far as both our babies grow. Nothing is set in stone. Everything is up for debate.
Gentle parenting doesn’t mean permissive parenting. It doesn’t mean giving in to your child or allowing them to do something just because they want to. It’s about finding respectful ways to say yes, but it’s also about sometimes saying no. It’s about teaching your child to understand their emotions and learn how to govern them. It’s not about always giving in to them and giving them everything they want. It can be hard, saying no to a toddler who wants to do something potentially risky or unsafe, and what can be even harder is dealing with that behaviour in a gentle and calm manner, trying not to raise our voices or say an outright “no” without explaining why this is a bad idea. E is a very curious and adventurous child. Recently, she went through a phase of trying to climb on our coffee table. Working out ways to help her see this is not a safe thing to be doing, and redirect her to other, safer activities without losing her enthusiasm for climbing has proved something of a challenge!
I’m not setting out to tell anyone how to parent their own children here. I’m not even an expert on my own child, never mind anybody else’s. Parenting is a complex and emotional process, governed in part by our internalised thought processes and experiences as children. Sometimes, we seek to put some distance between us and them, and this is exactly what I am trying to achieve.
I”ve mentioned before E’s self possession and independence. This is the 17 month old who walked into the middle of a busy carnival parade and marched along fearlessly, never mind music blaring, costumes and floats everywhere. People often comment on her confidence. Finding ways to direct her to her destination without damaging her self-assurance is tough. I look back and I see my own self belief ebbing away as I grew older. I don’t want E to become that person. She deserves better than that. I want to respect my children, I don’t want to control them.
Sometimes I have this fear that perhaps she’s too independent. I’ve never pushed her to be other than she is, and yet sometimes I worry that she’s growing up far too fast. That she doesn’t want me or need me any more. And then she cries when I go away for a few minutes at bedtime to tidy up or prepare her milk, and I realise all over again that she’s a little girl, and that, although she knows where she’s going, she still needs mummy and daddy to read the map.
Jenny Smith – The Supply Teacher