I have come to the conclusion that just as nine months of pregnancy somewhat prepares a woman for motherhood, raising toddlers prepares a mother for raising teenagers. There are the obvious similarities between toddlers and teenagers: they throw fits when they don’t get their way, they are highly irrational and impossible to reason with, they don’t see the consequence of their actions, they have an invincibility complex, they experiment with their bodies, and they believe they are the centre of the universe. The other day, I experienced devastating encounters with both of my toddlers and was slapped in the face with a reality check.
My son is very much a four year old. Sometimes I feel like the fearsome fours are worse than the terrible twos. He is a sweet little boy with a heart of gold, and probably the person that I feel closest to on this whole earth. That being said, I have to deal with his rebellion and defiance and downright rudeness every day. It’s pretty heartbreaking. Now, for some history, my son was very attached to his bedtime routine of wrapping his blanket around himself, sucking his soother, and drifting off to sleep. He had been doing this routine from birth until his third birthday when I finally put my foot down and took the soothers away. He was not impressed, and we spent many months arguing at bedtime about why he couldn’t have them anymore. Eventually, he settled into a new bedtime routine that did not involve soothers, and things were fine.
A couple of nights ago, I crept into his room to check on him before I went to bed. I noticed he had wrapped his blanket around his head, hiding his face. Thinking it odd, not to mention a potential suffocation hazard, I gently pulled the blanket down revealing a contraband pacifier. Shocked, I pulled it out of his mouth and left the room. It was a heart-wrenching experience, seeing my little boy hiding something from me like that. We are so open and honest with each other, and yet he felt the need to have that soother so badly that he would hide it from me. I got a glimpse into the future, maybe ten years down the road. What might I discover then that he is hiding from me? Dirty magazines? Girlfriends? Drugs? How do we keep the passageway of honesty open for toddlers and teenagers? You may say I’m overreacting, but if I don’t prepare myself now, I might be completely blindsided when my kids hit their teen years.
The second event occurred the next day. I was dressed and getting ready to go out when my daughter came to stand in the doorway and watch me do my hair and makeup. She is two and a half, and the most precious thing in the world. A truly beautiful face, curly blonde hair, blue eyes, and she loves to dance. This girl is a princess, and she knows it. She loves all things girly, and I tell her many times a day how beautiful I think she is. She’s starting returning these compliments, so it didn’t surprise me when she piped up, “You look so beautiful, Mommy.” And naturally, I responded, “Thank you, sweetie! You look beautiful, too.” However, the routine ended there when she replied, “No, I don’t.”
I was floored. She’d never given me a response like that before. When asked why she didn’t think she looked beautiful, she answered, “Because. I’m not wearing my pretty clothes and you haven’t brushed my hair.”
I stared in disbelief at my sweet child’s face, now twisted into a frown. Although I was running late, I put down the blow dryer, sat down on the bathroom floor, and pulled her into my lap. I told her what many mothers surely tell their daughters at some point: your clothes don’t make you pretty, and neither does your hair or the makeup you put on your face. You are a beautiful, wonderful girl no matter what you look like, because that is how God made you, and I love you.
She looked up, smiled, kissed my cheek, and gave me a simple, “Okay. Love you, Mommy,” before running off to play. It will never be this simple again. The next time we have this conversation, it might be post-rejection from a boy on the playground, which brings all new problems. After that, it might be in the weird and awkward stage every pre-teen goes through, where “ugly” can feel more like a statement of fact than an opinion. I don’t want a vain child, but I also don’t want a little girl who grows up hating herself if she isn’t wearing the latest styles. I don’t want to deal with eating disorders and validation through the opposite sex and the painful struggle to get to the top of the social hierarchy. I want a daughter who loves herself and feels confident in who she is, not what other people think of the way she looks.
Since this conversation with her, I’ve started complimenting her at all times: when she’s dressed up to go out, and also when she’s running around in a diaper with hair resembling Medusa’s. It might be a losing battle against manipulative cosmetic companies and provocative clothing stores, but I will tell my daughter she is beautiful, and I will pray that as she continues to grow in herself, she will agree with me.
So there are my anecdotes of life with toddlers/teens-in-the-making. I’m sure it only gets harder from here.