I’m living in a token economy right now.
Due to some previously-alluded-to adjustment issues, sweet Zoe—and everyone else!—now receive a sticker reward for “nice touches” to Riley. I personally am wearing one sticker; Riley is wearing three (the rules get a little fuzzy after the sticker is awarded).
In addition to our positive reinforcement, we are also making heavy use of “time out.” Even Java, our bichon poo, spent some time in time out today for not listening (Zoe’s advice to our canine inmate: “sorry to mommy!”)
I was never one of those moms who was totally overwhelmed by a newborn. There were tough moments, but it was actually easier than I expected. Your basic duties: hold them and help them stop crying. You’re doing great!
Toddlers? Totally different story. Your job description reads teach, coach, prevent injury to other and self (this involves putting yourself “in their head”—basically, lose half your wits, pretend you drank three energy drinks, and feel ALL THE FEELINGS at once and you might be close) and MAKE A HUMAN BEING OUT OF AN ANIMAL.
Now, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that I genuinely enjoy toddler Zoe. I’m actually kind of obsessed with how funny, intelligent, and interesting she is. But every so often, she seems untamable and I just think, please hold me and help me stop crying. I have no idea what to do with this kid.
And those times make me feel like a real big failure.
On Wednesday I was feeling particularly bogged down in despair at my inability to control (I should probably write “positively coach,” but let’s be real…) Zoe’s behavior when I got to leave the house for a few hours for a work meeting. I put my lipstick on and walked out of the house, trying to avoid a conspicuous fist pump as I breathed in the sweet, sweet air of freedom.
As I trotted into our city’s coolest coffee shop sans stroller, diaper bag, or concerns, I thought: maybe I should go back to work full time. At least I feel successful at this.
And then, as we waited for our conference call to start, one of my fellow team members showed me pictures from her daughter’s recent wedding and then read this blog post out loud to me. And unexpected tears came to my eyes because I realized: there is so much more to come.
Raising a toddler is hard. When each day takes everything that I have, it’s hard to keep the long view in focus. I find myself focusing only on this stage’s successes (or often, challenges).
But as my teammate reminded me, I’m not raising my girls to be toddlers. I’m raising my girls to be teenagers, adults, professionals, friends, moms, wives, grandmothers. There’s a whole life ahead of them.
And when I look up long enough to remember that? It totally changes my perspective.
The day-to-day life in the two-under-two trenches is hard, but by working with them every day on kindness and gentleness and self control and sharing and all of the things that make us, you know, NOT ANIMALS, I am hopeful that there will be days ahead of me where:
- my preschool-aged daughter will share some of her favorite things with her younger sister (this already happened this weekend when Zoe and I were leaving a birthday party and she told me that she wanted to share her party favors with Riley!)
- my elementary-aged daughter will discipline herself to work towards a goal she is passionate about
- my middle school daughter will stand up for an underdog at personal cost to herself
- my high school daughter will love volunteering with children at an underserved elementary school
- my college aged daughter will understand how to set boundaries
- my adult daughter will thoughtfully consider her gifts and the world’s needs, and make a career choice she enjoys
- my adult daughter will understand that a good relationship takes work, and will be dedicated to doing her part of the work, producing a joyful and life-giving relationship that we’re all proud of
- my daughters will be friends. Maybe, they will even be MY friends.
It’s easy to focus on the toddler behaviors that need to be modified (and they do need attention).
But when I take a step back, look into my daughter’s eyes, really see the amazing human being in front of me, and dream for a second about the potential, that is so much more life-giving and inspiring.
I don’t have all the answers to deal with Zoe’s pinching problem. My sticker system may not work. I might lose my temper sometimes and other times I might be so shocked by a behavior that I can’t muster a good response. Riley will have a whole different set of issues when she gets to this age (pray for me?)
But Zoe isn’t just a toddler. She is a human being with a beautiful heart and limitless potential. She’s a gift. She’s MY gift.
I love what Gloria Furman writes in her book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full:
“God’s sovereign grace releases me from the worry that I’m doing a haphazard job of orchestrating my children’s lives for them. The gospel reminds me that a mother’s plans are not ultimate; God’s are. God is the one who has created these children, and he has far more intentional intentions to glorify himself through these kids than I could ever dream up…
He knows the number of their days and no part of their story surprise Him. He is the God to whom we want to actively, daily entrust our children.”
My expertise is limited, and some days my patience is too. But God knows what she needs—and what I need. And as I earnestly seek Him, I am equipped with what I need to serve her, and to grow into the mom and person God wants me to be.
Some days, I look at my daughter thinking “AHHH! She needs to change!!!” But really, we’re both on a transformative journey.
And the sweet thing is that we’re traveling together.