My almost three year old shot into the world (four hour labor and delivery), couldn’t sleep through the night as a baby (actually she still doesn’t), was a high energy toddler who constantly needed her mother’s attention, and is now a strong, feisty preschooler who experiences intense emotions and hates to be alone. The first two years of her life were not a walk in the park, and plenty of people had strong opinions and freely shared them with us about her and our parenting. Some said, “just leave her be, she’ll learn to play alone.” Others pointed the finger at us. “She is this way because she is your firstborn and you give her too much attention.” Some shook their heads. “She’s just strong willed and life is going to be rough for her.” And others quipped, “That girl is going to have to learn the hard way that she can’t demand so much.”
It could be argued that these perspectives may have some ounces of validity, but they seem to miss much of who our daughter is. My daughter ought not to pay for being our first child, having a spirited personality, or loving connection and relationships. Instead, I must take into account her unique personality and ask, “What do we need to learn, and how can we help her flourish in being herself (including how to regulate her emotions), grow in her curiosity, and relate to others well (which includes giving others space and taking space for herself)?” versus “How do we quiet, calm, and eradicate her feistiness and seemingly unquenchable energy and longing for connection?”
It is much easier for us as parents to pick a method of discipline or a rewards system to help “fix” our children’s behavior, but do we really want children who merely behave because they have been trained to “be good”? Ummm… “Yes!” If I’m honest, most days I just wish that my daughter would be laidback, calm, and compliant, and would just obey me. It would make my life A LOT easier, which exposes that these desires are really about me and not about my daughter flourishing. What I long to have instead of a “good kid” is a child who learns who she is and how to effectively be herself in the world?
I really believe my daughter learns how to flourish in this world through the play and relationship she has with her friends, family, and me. The truth is that play and relationships are loud and messy; involving conflict, laughter, tears, frustration, and joy. A child who is restrained, threatened, or bribed to be “good” in this world really learns nothing more than to be afraid of consequences or merely seeks the rewards of being “good”, which are all pretty narcissistic. If I desire my child to flourish in this world and play well and relate intimately with others, then I better be more ok with movement, loudness, messiness, craziness, constant curiosity, and full emotions as I attempt to engage her in relationship and play. Otherwise, I may only end up with a well-behaved child.
Here’s to a messy, crazy, laughter-filled, love overflowing home where we all grow in this messy, crazy world we live.
***Disclaimer: I realize that I only have a 3 year old and an 8 month old. So although much of my parenting is only 3 years old, a lot of my hopes and how we chose to parent in our house comes from our 16 combined years of work in the therapy field where we have sat with so many people who grew up as “good” kids, only to struggle with their identity in great depths because they were never given the chance to learn who they were and how to be in this world.