“Oh gosh, and now the cake batter is all over the counter, dripping onto the floor,” I think, as I recover from the shock of seeing the mixing bowl slip out of my toddler’s hands and hit the ground with a loud bang.
“Sorry Mommy,” she says, with worry in her eyes. She’s scared. She’s holding her breath, anticipating my reaction. Her concern immediately makes my heart melt. My struggles with Postpartum Depression used to make me short tempered and something like this would have annoyed me to the point of yelling at her instantly. But this time, I’m better. I smile and say, “Uh oh! Let’s get a wet rag and clean it up!”
And she lights up! Now it’s a chance to turn boring “clean up” into a game. Even though I know it’ll probably just make a bigger mess as she swirls the rag around, and I could just grab it and scoop up the mess myself in half the time, I don’t. Because it doesn’t matter, those few minutes lost. This is a moment I could look back on and potentially regret how I reacted. So I chose to react with the same enthusiasm as my toddler and used this chance to explore her senses of touch, smell, and a little bit of taste.
Trying to have patience with a toddler can be extremely tiring sometimes. We adults are used to our fast paced world where we can comprehend, think critically, decide, and then react super quickly. Sometimes, that makes us forget that toddlers need to do things at their own (slow) pace. So now that my daughter has reached the age where her most spoken phrase is, “No, I do it, Mommy,” I find myself silently repeating my own phrase: Let her do it.
I could put your mittens on in 10 seconds! “Let her do it.”
I can wipe your butt better and faster! “Let her do it.” (Or at least, let her try first!)
I’ll just clean up your toys myself, since you’ve clearly forgotten where they go. “Let her do it.”
You’re heavy and we are running late. I could just lift you into your car seat instead of you climbing in yourself! “Let her do it.
You’re not brushing every single tooth! Let me have that toothbrush. “No, let her do it. Let her try.”
We’ve already learned how to do most life skills and physical challenges. We’ve practiced little tasks like tying our own shoes so many times, we don’t even think about it anymore. But toddlers are literally discovering the world. Tying their shoes is a huge accomplishment that they look forward to trying to do on their own. And whatever is a big deal to my toddler needs to be a big deal to me, too. I need to let go and let her do it because how else will she learn?
So yes, it’s frustrating and sometimes pitiful to stand back and watch your toddler struggle to fit everything into her backpack for preschool. It’s sometimes hilarious to watch her giggle through a shirt that has gotten caught over her head and she can’t get it off. And often, it’s inspiring to get a front row seat to the moment that she learns and conquers a difficult situation.
So as hard as it is and as awkward as it feels to fight our natural tendency to do everything ourselves—try. Try to be willing to let go of control, be willing to slow down, and let them do it. And never miss a chance to be silly and encouraging, when you know you could’ve just cleaned up that cake batter mess by yourself.