I can honestly say I have spent a significant portion of motherhood feeling guilty about all the ways in which I may have messed up my kid. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time with him today, or I yelled at him too loudly, or I didn’t encourage enough hands-on learning activities. Maybe I should have gotten right with having another kid so that my kid has a built-in playmate, or maybe I should be less lazy and not put my kid in front of the TV for an hour. Maybe I should have read him The Gruffalo for the 100th time, or maybe I should have colored one more page with him.
ALL THE GUILT.
But recently, I attended a women’s group meeting with some fellow mamas. I was airing out my guilt, when suddenly they all started laughing at me. I was taken aback for a moment, until they all explained themselves. See, I told them about some instances in which I had lost it in front of my kid and how I was deathly afraid that this was impacting his ability to regulate his emotions (he’s two, and he likes to scream like a banshee when he gets upset and/or bang his head on the floor/wall/door/whatever’s nearby). They were all surprised that I would even worry about this because he’s TWO. I mean, I know about the “terrible twos,” but this seemed so much worse. Anyway, they all said this was totally normal behavior (they all have kids who are between the ages of three and 13) and that I should stop beating myself up.
So, this got me thinking. Are there ways in which I am doing GOOD things for my kid? Are there ways in which I am teaching him, nurturing him, supporting him, and helping him to grow into a good, kind, thoughtful, generous, decent human being? It turns out, there are.
I read to my son all throughout the day. Not only are we interacting, but he’s learning language and colors and shapes and numbers and animals and how to use his imagination. And he’s also learning a valuable skill/hobby that will be beneficial to him later in life.
I am teaching my son to be respectful of all people, regardless of race, age, sex, gender, ethnicity, culture, beliefs, and opinions. He won’t agree with everyone he meets, but he’ll know how to be respectful and appreciative of everyone’s differences.
I am nurturing the wild/dirty/crazy side of my son. If he wants to run in the rain in his diaper, I let him. If he wants to splash in mud, I let him. If he wants to roll the bottom rack of the dishwasher all over the house, I let him. If he wants to paint himself all over, I let him (outside, of course — I’m not a total heathen). He’s a kid. I want him to feel free to do kid things. He’ll learn enough about structure later on in life.
I am supporting his free will and independence. I encourage him to make his own choices (about food, clothing, activities), and I am teaching him about life skills (laundry, cooking, taking care of his toys).
I also help him to learn expectations and boundaries. I talk with him and explain to him what behaviors are acceptable and how to communicate his feelings. I show him that there are consequences for his actions and behaviors. I also try to model positive behaviors, but I’m only human. I DO apologize when I lose it in front of him, because it’s important that he learns that adults make mistakes, too.
I nurture my son’s sense of humor and wonder. When he laughs at a “tooty” (aka, a fart), I laugh. When he is amazed at seeing a fire truck in person, I, too, am amazed. When he wants to see the moon every night, we go out and look for it. When he wants me to blow the seeds off 25 dandelions, I do it. When he deep-belly-laughs because the “mama monster” is going to get him, I GET HIM! RAHHHH!
I am teaching my son to be aware of his impact on this earth. We recycle, we cloth diaper, we compost, we garden, and we watch our energy use. I want him to know that every little footprint he reduces increases the health of this planet we call home.
I nurture the explorer in my son. Whether he’s exploring through the wilderness, through books, through television, or through his imagination, I let him make his own path. He creates the adventure — I’m just along for the ride.
I am spiritual, but not religious. But currently, we send my son to a religious daycare program. We want him to be informed, which means getting information from all sides. Because, when he’s old enough, we want him to be able to think critically and make educated decisions about his own beliefs. I like to think that this is one of the most profound ways in which I will teach my son about the world: I want him to know that he does not have to agree with things others (even his mom!) believe in, that he is his own person and can have his own beliefs, and that he will know that I love him and support him no matter what.