We all know parenting is a full-time job.
I’m not trying to fight this. I accept the challenges of raising my small, screamy human – along with the challenges of maintaining my household, nurturing my marriage, advancing my career, keeping my dog, cat, and house plants alive (just kidding, all the plants are dead), cultivating my creative passion, and staying sane through it all. Parenting is the least appreciated, worst paying job of all time. I understand that. And I love it.
What I don’t understand is how my toddler turned into my client.
My girl Lucy is an independent kiddo. I’m not a mom who touts the developments of her child. “Well, my sweet peach Annabella is only 10 months, but she’s really so advanced. At this point I only buy her sustainably made fair trade jigsaw puzzles from Sweden.” I acknowledge that Lucy has her strengths (fine motor skills and a devilish sense of humor) and her weaknesses (vocabulary and dinnertime). But as the days and weeks and months roll along our dynamic changes.
Once upon a time, my little pink blob of a human daughter depended on me for her very survival. She needed me to fill her every need. And when I successfully nurtured, I was rewarded. It was a beautiful and symbiotic existence.
But Lucy can do more now. She can enjoy a book by herself. She can unscrew the lid from that plastic jar. Lucy can zip (and more frustratingly, unzip) her own boots. She can figure out how to untangle her favorite bunny Benicio from where he’s trapped in her shopping cart.
My girl no longer needs me to help her achieve basic satisfaction and survival. She can handle that herself. And when she identifies a need she cannot fill, she simply requests it of me. When I comply, she accepts my effort and moves on.
I don’t have a relationship with my toddler. I have a series of business transactions.
But I’m not getting nostalgic or sobbing into a pile of tiny onesies and itty bitty socks. I’m a realist. As Lucy gets older, our connection will redevelop. She’ll want more from me. She’ll express gratitude again. (Then she’ll stop expressing gratitude until her mid-20s, but that’s for a different post in a few years.) So, for now, I’m leaning in. If my toddler is my business partner, I’m going to optimize the opportunity for professional development.
Time Management. While I don’t expect Lucy to set high-level organizational goals and prioritize accordingly, I can encourage her to understand how events logically progress. I know she lacks the ability to grasp units of time. If I tell her that we can go outside in five minutes, she’ll stare at me blankly. (Or she’ll collapse into a screaming heap on the floor.) But if I say that we’re going to put away these blocks, then get her shoes and jacket, and then we can go outside and play, Lucy will start picking up toys and hurling them at the gray felt bin where they belong. Progress.
Becoming an Effective Team Member. Having found in my own life that many adults struggle with this, it seems prudent to encourage development now. I expect Lucy to be a team player, regardless of the setting. At home, that means sitting patiently at the dinner table if she finishes eating before my husband and I do. On a playdate, it means not ripping toys out of a friend’s hands or howling when another child touches her favorite book. We have open and constructive dialogues (words from me, nodding and grunts from Lucy) about these situations, to foster mutual understanding and appropriate behavioral patterns. It’s a process.
Creative Problem Solving. This will certainly be a highlight of her yearly performance evaluation, which is even more reason to further development. Lucy can’t climb onto the couch? I tell her I’m not going to pick her up. She ventures to the guest bedroom and returns with a wooden stool to give herself a leg up. Lucy loses a plastic fire truck under the couch? I ask her how she plans to get it back. She goes to the hallway closet, brings the broom, and shoves it under the couch until her fire truck (covered in dust bunnies, but otherwise unscathed) emerges. Challenge, surmounted.
This isn’t the idyllic mother/daughter relationship I envisioned when I thought about having kids. But what reality ever lives up to the arcadian dream? I adore my Lucy, and I value every minute we spend together. If she is my colleague first and my daughter second, so be it. I love a good team-building experience.