I am always amazed when someone can describe their young child’s personality with great certainty. In my experience, small children are much like kaleidoscopes, constantly flitting through different emotional and behavioral states.
Don’t get me wrong, I know many things about my children have stayed constant over the years. There are behaviors, preferences and quirks that make up their core essence and will certainly live in them forever.
But so much of their day-to-day emotional state is in flux. So much of how they are behaving on a daily basis has more to do with what they’re going through than who they will be.
This knowledge can be freeing in so many ways: so much of the difficult stuff will pass, or it will change at least. It can also be heart-wrenching to know that so much of the beauty and dearness is fleeting, too. They will always be beautiful and dear, of course. But never in just the same way.
Quinn came to me as a colicky and demanding newborn. That’s not all that she was, of course: She was also amazing. And it also doesn’t even give a glimpse at all the complex feelings I had while sharing her space those magical and maddening early months.
Still, she was a tough baby. I remember thinking to myself that she would probably remain intense. I wove a picture of stubbornness, sensitivity and so many other traits from her newborn behaviors.
But then she turned 15 months, and I suddenly found myself with an easy-going and hilarious toddler. She slept well, enjoyed everything and rarely cried or fussed. Significant parts of who I thought she was … well that little person was largely gone. She kept the same glint in her eye, the same love of silliness and movement. The same desire to perfect tasks on her own time. But she was really not who I thought she would be at all.
After that, I began to see that so much of her behavior was a phase, and I tried to not read too much into her actions. I tried, and am still trying, to see them for what they are, and not as the actions of a deliberate and fully-formed human.
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned so far as a parent is to not worry so much about what my kids are doing. To realize that what I’m mostly doing here is giving them a safe place to unfold — not molding them.
That doesn’t mean I sit by and let them behave however they want. I try to remain consistent in my expectations for their behavior. What’s changed is the way I view that misbehavior: it’s a misbehavior that, with gentle correction and time, will likely pass.
I started reading more about childhood development and less about behavior problem-solving.
Even then, I’ve been thrown for a loop by so many of the childhood changes. Just because I know roughly what to expect at a certain age doesn’t mean I’m ready for how it will feel when my child does it.
Like when your toddler hits you repeatedly, when your young child says they hate you, or when your kindergartner openly defies you and dares you to make the next move.
This is hard stuff. But I fight to retain perspective. To remember that this is all normal stuff. “Kids are not little grown-ups,” I mumble to myself.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it used to depress me when my kids did something bad. Was I ruining them? Were they turning out awful? Was everyone staring at me in disgust?
Well, yes, people usually do stare in disgust. That’s another thing we all need to work on. I personally try really hard to give encouraging looks when I see parents struggling in public. But I’m no saint. I will still sometimes make assumptions about a kid — that she’s mean, or he’s over-sensitive — just based on a few interactions.
Instead, I really need to coach my brain to remember the ephemeral nature of early childhood. To remember that being a kid means constant change, that learning and growing requires lots of mistakes.
There is ugly stuff they are going to go through. They have to. That’s what growing up is.
Children are ever-changing, and they provide daily flashes of wonder and annoyance. I try to remember that while it requires immense patience, it really is a privilege to watch them grow. They won’t be young forever.
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and just launched a new blog Critical Playdate. She is mama to Ruby, 4, Quinn, 6, and Nora, 16 months. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, reading and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.