When I was pregnant with my younger daughter, I was pretty confident that I’d have this “raising a small person” thing down pat the second time around. I mean, I had raised a daughter, pretty successfully, for the last 8 years! Another girl? This was going to be easy-peasy. Plus, I was older. Wiser, too (so I thought). Heck, I was straight-up walking, talking, Parenting Wisdom. Bow down to my daughter-raising smarts, all ye who enter here.
Even with past experience and and 8 extra goddamn years of maturity, since the birth of S2, I have continuously felt like a first time mom. How is that possible?
Because when your two children are as different as night and day, the fact that you’ve raised a child previously doesn’t mean squat. I should have known this too, as a teacher myself. For example, not every 4th grader is the same, right? Duh. Every kid is unique, including my two, similar DNA notwithstanding. Though admittedly still, I didn’t expect my two girls to be this different.
S10 Tricked Me
My older daughter, S10, was quite a difficult baby. So difficult, in fact, that during her infancy, I often questioned my fitness as a mother. S10 neither ate, nor slept (two activities that still require some coaxing today). She cried loudly, and she cried often. Overall, the first two years of mothering S10 were hard, and at the time, I was just like every other first time mom out there: frequently unsure, lacking confidence, reading all the books, and just trying to do my best.
When S10 reached about age 2, things drastically changed. Almost overnight, S10 morphed into every mother’s dream child. Inquisitive, sweet, loving, polite…… those were all words that strangers, friends, and family would use to describe her. I could literally count on my ten fingers the total amount of tantrums she has had in her life (even still, to this day). S10 was always so well-behaved, both at home and in public, that I used to exclaim to anyone who would listen, “Terrible Twos don’t exist!” I must have some wonderful, understanding friends, since nobody outright slapped me after hearing those words come out of my mouth.
Here Comes Sanctimommy
Picture it: Me with then-2 year old S10, and S10 being her usual, charming self: singing songs, asking questions, greeting people with a jovial “Hi!” and a huge, ultra-sincere grin. You could almost hear the 1950’s sitcom muzak following us around like an effing life soundtrack.
At times, in our travels, I’d notice other kids around S10’s age that appeared to be behaving, let’s just call it differently than S10. Hitting their mom! Screaming and kicking on the floor! Knocking items off of shelves! Horrifying.
I was puzzled with the most common way I saw many mothers responding to these behaviors. Their reactions included-gasp-complete indifference, with the mom silently dragging their screaming kid by the leg down the aisle with one hand, while pushing their cart of groceries with the other, while ignoring the batshit crazy beside them. What I was expecting those moms to do instead, I truly have no idea. These mothers that I saw out and about were dealing with mega-tantrums, yet they were able to avoid giving in to their child’s demands. Whilst continuing to shop! Additionally, these moms were not letting themselves get angry enough with their little ones to completely lose their s**t and go batshit crazy too. That’s some boss level patience, as well as multi-tasking to the extreme! I should have been impressed. But I wasn’t, because unfortunately, Judgmental Jill had invaded my brain.
Back in those days, I would seriously wonder, “why can’t that mom control her child? I am able to control mine!” Seeing a 2 year old toddler spitting, hitting, screaming, or running away from his/her parental figure made me cringe, and I would wonder what the parent was doing wrong to entice this sort of behavior from their kid. Man, am I thankful that I never uttered a single word neither toward nor around those moms. Because I would have gotten my ass kicked. Heck, I should have gotten my ass kicked.
Reality Check, Thy Name is S2
If there is a Lord above, She must hath heard my judgmental thoughts, and on that day, the Lord doth said:
“Let there be S2.”
Conceiving S2 took a really long time. Mike and I struggled for 5 years, on and off. After 4 rounds of Clomid, 5 IUIs, too many “natural” fertility remedies to count, acupuncture, enough blood drawn from my veins to restore a drained Keith Richards, 2 early losses, an IVF, a FET transfer, a likely 6-week loss of one of the 2 transferred embryos that presented itself as a river of blood spilling forth as I walked my 4th grade class to music special, a week of bedrest in the first trimester, modified bedrest at 32 weeks, and finally, a c-section birth at 40 weeks 3 days, one of the most wanted, anticipated, and loved babies on Earth was born.
9 lbs 1 ounce of adorable, kickass fury. S2.
In just 2 short years, S2 has taught me just as much as S10 had in her first 2 years of life. To give some perspective, before S10 was born, the amount of parenting-related knowledge I possessed could fit comfortably in one of Donald Trump’s tiny little fists (Seriously. The man has Oompa Loompa paws. Maybe that’s why he has such a big mouth. You know, to compensate……for his “hands?”).
Because of S2, my days of judging “those moms” with the screaming toddlers in the store are 100% over. Why? Because I have been “those moms.” More than once. Bitten? Smacked? Defied? Yes, yes, and yes. You may be wondering how S2’s antics were handled by me, the Pantheon of Parenting Wisdom. Right?
I handled S2’s public antics with complete indifference, silently dragging her by the leg down the aisle with one hand (as she screamed), while pushing my cart of groceries with the other, and ignoring the batshit crazy beside me. Bada-bing!
Nowadays, I don’t know what to say when people compliment S2’s behavior (she does have her moments of appropriate behavior in public too, it ain’t all bad). S2 has taught me the very important lesson that at least right now, how my daughter acts at her age is most likely not a reflection of my either wonderful or craptastic parenting. Sorry to all y’all with perfect-behaving toddlers, but I’ve lived it both ways, thus I know ’tis true.
S2 is only 2 years old. If you really think about it, how much influence could I have really had on her behavior in such a short time? First, for about half of her life, S2 wasn’t even aware that I was a separate entity from her! Second, the teaching of discipline? I have literally just started that. I’m not a behavioral magician (I wish). This “molding a small person into an upstanding citizen s**t” takes time. Even by elementary school, many kids are still learning appropriate behaviors. Trust me.
Now, this theory of toddler “nature” over parental “nuture” only goes so far with me. I also possess a firm belief that asshole parents breed asshole kids. Heck, I’ve seen it, firsthand! It is a parents job to lead by example, guide their child to make good choices, and discipline when necessary. For example, at S10’s age now, she should know basic right from wrong, have an appropriate amount of self-control, possess decent manners, and be able to act politely. This should have been taught over the years by parents, through both example as well as correction. Therefore, when people compliment S10’s behavior, I do know what to say. I’ve put in the work and time to accept praise for a parenting job well done. Thus, my response is “Thank you.”
But I can’t take credit for S2 yet, neither the negatives nor the positives. Sorry, not at age 2. At her age, behaviors that you see should be attributed more to “nature” than to “nurture.”
Now, my 2 year old is learning from her father and me, through both example and correction. S2 actually does say both “please” and “thank you” in mostly appropriate situations, and we have taught her that. However sometimes when S2 says “thank you,” she frequently follows up by getting in the person’s face, and repeating “THANK YOU” louder and louder until the person responds with “you’re welcome.” That is a behavior that we have not taught her, however at age 2, she wants a response to the words that she uses and is quite proud of. And in S2’s case, she will try her damnedest to get said response. Perseverance is one of her, uh, strengths, you could say.
Toddlers pretty much live in the “right now.” Incredibly egocentric, these little peeps truly believe that they are the absolute center of the universe. Their thinking has evolutionary roots and I’m pretty sure that at one point, viewing themselves this way was crucial to their own survival.
In other words, I ain’t gonna mess with evolution.
Currently, “NO!” and “MINE!” are S2’s favorite words.
Sometimes she will comply with requests, sometimes not. Often, she will comply but in her own, unique way, as to say “I’m doing what you want, but I’m doing it in a way that satisfies me. Like in the video below, where S2 and I were working on recognizing emotions. She knew I was filming her, and she likes playing this “game.” She also had some chewed up banana in her mouth which she had been refusing to swallow for a while. This is the result of that toddler thought process:
Two Performances, Two Vastly Different Acting Styles
At age 2 years 2 months, if I asked S10 to sing, she would sing. S10 definitely had her moments of over excitement, as evidenced in the video below, however she also had the self-discipline to not let her excitement cause physical injury to herself (or me). Also, if I asked her to say “cheese,” she would. (Please excuse the crude video, it was recorded on a flip phone back in technologically less-advanced 2008):
Contrast: At age 2 years 1 month, I asked S2 to not put smiley glitter circle stickers on a window. But she wanted to, and her wants, to her, are more important than my requests. So she did it anyway. Then she climbed on her toy box to reach said window, and touched each sticker. As she touched each one, she “sang” the word “smile” using a growly voice that made me think she may have a future career as a thrash metal vocalist:
Indeed, I have two very different daughters. Thus all that confidence from before, all that I thought I knew about raising children, my status of “mom expert” all has been flipped, shaken, cut into pieces, and finally glued back together into some sort of oddball shape. Humbled, I am back in Toddler 101 class, and this time, all judgements will be left at the door.
Easy Child, Complex Child
As a toddler, S10 possessed traits commonly referred to as characteristics of an “easy” child.
“[Some] kids are easygoing…..cheerful…..active, tolerate change, and….like new people and situations. They don’t anger easily, …….but they aren’t pushovers either.”
That sounds just like 2-year old S10. Until this:
“Easy children sometimes can be lost in the crowd, spending too much time left alone with the television or not enough time with their parents……Make sure that a child who is easy doesn’t become a neglected child.”
That made me #LOL. S10 was easy, but she still demanded a lot of attention. Constant questions, endless performances, we were her encyclopedia as well as her audience. So I could say that S10 doesn’t fit exactly into the “easy” category, and that’s OK! Who wants a “textbook”-type kid, anyway? Boooorrrring.
Spirited Toddler, Wonderful Gift
S2 possesses traits commonly referred to as characteristics of a “spirited” child.
“About one in 10 toddlers is a strong-willed, challenging kid…… More [active, impatient, impulsive, defiant, intense, sensitive, rigid.]
These kids need to burn off their energy and work through their moods. They also need firm structure to keep them safe and stable — and lots of patience.”
Old skool folks might say, “that’s a bunch of crap. Those kids are brats. [Insert horrendous old-school discipline method here] is what they need.”
#Nope. Sorry folks, but that way of thinking is just absolute crap (and that’s not me being judgmental, that’s me refusing to support disciplining children using methods that have been proven dangerous time and time again). Just cause its the old way, doesn’t mean its the right way, and just because “you turned out ok,” doesn’t mean every kid will. So stop with that nonsense, please.
I found a great article here that discusses why “spirited” kids should not be called “brats.” This paragraph in particular resonated with me:
“Does it really matter whether we call children brats or spirited? Absolutely! When parents choose to see their children as spirited, it gives them hope and encouragement. They can now focus on their child’s strengths rather than his or her shortcomings. Spirited is not just another label. It is a tool for understanding, which literally changes our response.”
I accept that S2 is who she is. Will I be teaching her to act appropriately? Yes. She needs life skills, manners, and social skills to be successful in life.
Conversely, will I be cautious that my correction of S2’s behaviors is done gently, making sure that I do not inadvertently change nor stifle the amazing person she already is? You bet your ass. S2 will be a polite, respectful, hard-working citizen, and her spirit will remain unbroken. I will see to it.
Will I ever again think that my parenting is superior to others based on how my or their 2 year old child is behaving? HELL NO. I am super grateful to S2 for teaching me that lesson. I am also grateful for S10 giving me a relatively easy ride my first trip ’round Parenting Mountain, for I may not have survived otherwise.
Summing Up My Thought Souffle’
I feel so incredibly fortunate to have the privilege of raising two wonderfully different, unique daughters, and I love them both more than words can express. Each of my girls has unique qualities, and I celebrate and enjoy the people that they are right now, as well as the people that they are becoming. And I wouldn’t change a single thing about either girl. Ever.
In conclusion, if one day, in a store, you see a 2 year old screaming and kicking on the floor while his/her mother silently holds his foot, pushes her cart, and ignores his/her child’s wailing, I ask that you please don’t judge that mom. Besides not knowing any details of that mother and child’s particular situation, at age “toddler,” a child’s misbehavior (or lack thereof) is mostly, a reflection of who the child is by nature. It is also most likely not a reflection of the effectiveness of that woman’s parenting.
Trust me on this, and kindly leave both your snark and your criticism at the door. Please.
What Can I Do, If Not Criticize?
Here are two alternative reactions to the plight of a mom dealing with an unruly toddler in a public place. I suggest choosing one or both options:
1. Give the suffering maternal figure a sympathetic nod or even a Hunger-Games style solidarity salute. She should appreciate either one.
2. Just keep walking, don’t stare, and mind yo beeswax.
Because that mom with the unruly toddler? She just might be me.