When N was about 14 months, he was having horrible tantrums. As a first time mom I was unsure if these were normal in quantity and/or scale and nothing we seemed to be trying at home was working. One of the first places I went for advice was to Ms. E, the owner/teacher at N’s daycare/preschool. In addition to our own moms, she has become a great resource for us. She has provided amazing care to dozens of children and N spends 30-40 hours a week in her program so she knows him pretty darn well. Anyway, I went to her, incredibly frustrated, looking for any suggestions she had to minimize or get rid of these tantrums. During our conversation she mentioned something that stuck out to me. She said, “You have to love him for exactly who he is today.” She wasn’t suggesting we support these tantrums or indulge them, but just that there was a bigger picture to our current situation.
Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I can’t wait until this phase is over!” or “I can’t wait until he is past this!”? I’m sure these words came out of mouth during my conversation with Ms. E. and there have been other times I let myself go down this road of frustration. For parents of babies and toddlers, these phases go far beyond tantrums and can be anything from spitting food to sleepless nights that make you feel like you’re still drunk from a party the night before. When I am struggling, I’ve found it’s easy to wish for the instant and painless way out. After all, in these moments I’m usually second-guessing the type of parent I am and why I’m not able to help my son. Facing or admitting any type of failure or deficiency in myself is difficult and hard to experience.
This advice came to me at the perfect time. To me, “love him as he is today” means it’s my job to love N for everything he is and not try to change him into something I think he should be. Wishing the hard and challenging moments away, means I’m also wishing all of things I love about a particular phase or age away. Wishing challenging parts of N away means I’m trying to change who he really is.
Each new phase or age seems to bring new joys and fresh challenges. N is in a state of constant growth and development. In some ways this is thrilling; and in other ways, it is so frustrating. Slowly but surely, in each of these phases we find a rhythm. There is lots of trial and error figuring out what works for our family and our child. But, we always get there. The tantrum phase didn’t last long but neither did the days where he always fell asleep in my arms. With every phase that passes, so do some of my favorite moments.
Accepting the good and the bad; the joys and the challenges; and the milestones and the stumbles is part of accepting my son for all he is, how he is developing, and who he will eventually become. After all, we all have qualities that we, or our family and friends, prefer we didn’t. Like the rest of us, N won’t completely outgrow personality flaws with age or maturity. (And to be quite honest, his temper probably comes from me. It is a quality I do not love about myself and, perhaps, that is really why I don’t want him to have it.)
I believe it is my responsibility as a parent to build up my son and to show N that no matter who he is, even if he is different than who I thought he might be, I love him for exactly who is. There is a lot of pain and negativity in the world. I want to be a source of positivity, confidence, and reassurance for N. I want to be his champion. All of his qualities make him special and I never want him to feel I would prefer him to be different or that he has to hide something from me.
So, I decided that “love him as he is today” would be a reminder for me going forward. Implementing this mindset seemed like a scary concept as it really required most out of me. I have to let go of who I pictured my son would be; it’s intimidating thinking about constantly adapting; and it’s a significant commitment to focus on all of the wonderful parts of N in the middle of a challenging moment. However, the second I succumbed to the idea that I’m not solely controlling who he’ll become and that my role is to give love and teach with love, it got easier. It was like the moment I let go, I got an incredible sense of control and comfort back.
I hope it doesn’t feel like I’m complaining here; because I realize even though there are challenges, there is infinitely more joy. With every struggle, there is something equally or greater about N that I didn’t anticipate. For instance, the way he is able to bring out the playful side of me and the way he reminds me what matters; the way he laughs from the bottom of his belly when I tickle his thighs; and the way it feels when he puts his hand in mine or softly rubs his hand on my face to wake me up . This boy can love and, I already know, he loves deep.
Like Ms. E, this does not mean I’m willing to tolerate all of his actions or shenanigans. As I mentioned in our Stop the Mommy Wars: Part III post, we believe in teaching and discipline. Nor does it mean that I have to enjoy every aspect of a particular phase. To me, it just means that I need to learn there is much more to his actions and development as well as his whole being.
Clearly, his little phrase has stayed with me since my discussion with Ms. E. that day. I think of it often and reflect on what it means at a given time. It has become a reminder to accept things as they are, when they are and serves as a motto for me to live in and appreciate the moment. It’s not my job to change him; it’s only my job to love him.