Toddler versus lunchbox: A lesson in determination

Sometimes it is hard (and frustrating) to watch Willow struggle with something that is challenging for her. It can be really tempting to interfere with her learning by doing something for her instead of patiently watching and trusting that she can solve a problem on her own.  My first instinct is to want to make it easier. To do it for her. To remove the frustration. To make her happy.  

Thankfully, my teacher training and understanding of Willow’s proximal zone of development have allowed me to tune out the voice in my head that says that I am a bad parent for allowing our child to struggle and experience frustration as she learns about the ways things work in the world around her. 

Thank you to Grandma Judy for shooting this 60 second video today, and to Willow for reminding me that it is only through the discomfort of struggle that determination and problem solving skills are truly developed.

Middle Path Parenting

Do all parents and parenting styles need a label?  I doubt it, but I have been asked by several different people which “parenting style” I follow.  It sometimes frustrates people when I cannot clearly define myself or my beliefs by producing an appropriate label. I do not fit neatly into a preconceived category.  I’m the kind of person who reads many books and articles on a subject and gathers information from observations and discussions, then synthesizes all of the information into something that makes sense to me but does not really resemble or resonate with any one source.

I’d like to say that I’m a “common sense parent”, but if common sense were common, then everyone would have it, right?  So perhaps I can say that I am a “middle path” parent.  Maybe my “style” can be better defined by what it is NOT than what it IS.

I wouldn’t consider myself to be a hardcore “Attachment Parent”, as Willow has slept in her own room since four months of life, but I did wear her skin-to-skin in a sling for the first weeks of her life and still happily wear her in a soft-structured carrier when she needs a bit of TLC or when a stroller is inconvenient.

I’m not a “Diaper-Free/EC” mom, but I am happy to let Willow sit on the potty after a nap or whenever she shows interest in doing so, to save a diaper.

I’m not a “Cloth Diaper Extremist”.  I love the frugality of our cloth diapers and the lack of landfill space they take up compared to disposables, but I have no problems putting Willow in a disposable diaper to help her sleep longer at night, or to make clean-up easier while we are out and about.

I’m not a “Pro-Vaccination Propagandist”, but I do believe in protecting both our child and immunocompromised children who cannot be vaccinated by being part of the herd of immunity.

I’m not a “Nipple Nazi” but I worked very hard to transition our daughter from expensive formula to free breast milk after a rocky start in the hospital.  I have nursed Willow in public places as a manner of feeding our baby on demand, not to make some sort of political statement.

I’m not an “Authoritarian Parent”, as I understand discipline to mean lovingly and consistently teaching and guiding, as opposed to punishing a child for not following arbitrarily set rules.   I’m confident setting appropriate boundaries and using the word “no”.  I believe that it is not only okay but essential to say “no” to something that I do not want to happen, regardless of whether or not it is a safety issue.  Allowing children to do anything and everything they want to do, regardless of how it makes others feel, can lead to resentment, frustration, and confusion.  Willow deserves for me to firmly and lovingly set boundaries well before either of us loses our patience, and to follow through by lovingly helping her or removing her from a situation when it becomes more than she can handle.

I am not a “Food Purist”. Willow ate homemade baby mush, and she also tried a few store-bought jars of mush. Luckily, the mush stage was very short-lived, since this girl hates the sound of the blender. We buy some organic and some non-organic foods. We buy some local and some imported foods. We love bananas, which will never be “in season” in Canada. We eat some things that contain sugar, salt and preservatives. I try to follow reasonable nutritional guidelines and include vegetables with most meals, but I’m not overly concerned if the cucumbers are not consumed at breakfast.

I’m not a “Helicopter Parent”, but I still watch our unsteady toddler like a hawk when she gets anywhere near the pond, road, or anything she can climb.

I believe in empowering children by offering them reasonable, age-appropriate choices. I won’t let Willow choose whether or not to wear a sweater on a cool day, but she is welcome to choose between the grey sweater and the purple sweater. I won’t let her choose whether or not to go to bed, but she can choose to wear the red pyjamas or the blue pyjamas. She can choose whether to walk across the street holding my hand or to be carried. She can choose to take off her shoes by herself or with help. I can empathize with her unhappiness at being strapped into the car seat when we need to drive somewhere, and she can have the choice of bringing a transition object with her in the car seat, but I will not let her choose to ride on my lap, as much as she would prefer that seat!

I’m not a “happiness is the only goal” parent.  Of course I want Willow to have a happy childhood (while accepting that even if I do the best job ever, she will likely still require therapy at some point).  BUT I believe that it’s healthy for children to experience conflict and disappointment and to not always get their way. I believe that a frustrated or upset child should not always be immediately distracted and prevented from experiencing and working through tough feelings.  I believe that it is okay for a toddler to experience sadness when a parent leaves, or frustration when a limit is set or a challenge becomes too great.  I believe that it is okay to accept a child’s feelings and allow him or her to express them in a non-violent way. I think that it is far more productive to help a child identify strong feelings and to try to empathize (even when the problem he or she is getting upset about seems trivial or even ridiculous to an adult) instead of taking photos to post on child-shaming social media sites.

I believe that preventing situations in which small children feel overwhelmed is vital. Predictable routines and reminders of upcoming transitions are respectful and comforting ways of keeping the train moving along peacefully for everyone. Packing extra snacks, water, comfort items, etc. can mean the difference between a lion and a lamb on trip to an unfamiliar place. I also believe in preventing low frustration-threshold meltdowns by ensuring that children are fed, well rested, and comfortably clothed for the weather and the activity at hand, whenever possible.

I have what I believe to be reasonable developmentally appropriate expectations, and I choose not to set kids up for failure. I don’t expect Willow to sit quietly on my lap for a one hour church service that runs into her nap time. I don’t expect her to just chill out while we visit friends or family beyond her bedtime. I don’t expect her to happily wait for food for thirty minutes in a restaurant without any snacks from home.  I don’t expect her to play outside without getting dirty.

I wonder if sometimes when other parents ask me what my “style” is, they really just want to know if I will secretly or overtly judge them if they pull out a bottle to feed their infant, or talk about their co-sleeping arrangement, or use a package of disposable baby wipes, or open up a non-organic, non-local, pre-packaged, GMO-filled processed snack for their toddler.

The truth: I’m too busy wiping off my own child’s grimy hands that were just reaching into the urinal in the public bathroom to worry about whether or not you believe in anti-bacterial soap or sunscreen.  I’m too busy trying to find that banana in my backpack to feed my hungry child to even notice if your child is eating goldfish crackers.  I’m too busy getting packed up at the park so that we can get home in time for a successful nap (and avoid an overtired toddler meltdown) to wonder about who sleeps where at your house. I’m too busy trying to keep my own child’s diaper explosion contained long enough to get to the bathroom to notice that you are using local mompreneur cloth diapers and wipes.

I am not a purist. I am not an extremist. Nobody will want to claim me as the spokesperson for any parenting philosophy or program. I am a middle-of-the-road, moderately educated momma who fiercely loves her child, and who is not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. I may not be doing what you are doing, but that doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong.  I don’t know about you, but I’m too busy making my own choices and loving my own delicious miracle to really worry about the choices you are making for yours.

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