Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Greater Expectations

I’m sitting on the floor with my three-year-old, biting my lip to keep from losing my temper. For what seems like the twelve-thousandth time, I calmly say, “Could you please put on your pants?”

In response, she plays with her toys, picks up books, runs around the room...basically, she does everything BUT put on her pants. Of course, it would be much faster to just dress her myself—but God forbid I try to expedite the process, or a serious fit will ensue.

Finally, I’m out of patience. I grab the pants and attempt to corral her legs into them. Naturally, this provokes a tantrum of epic proportions. My daughter erupts like Vesuvius in a fountain of screaming and tears. “I WANT TO DO IT! I WANT TO DO IT! I WANT TO DO IT!”

More screaming, more tears, until I eventually manage to get her fully dressed, down the stairs and out the door with her father, who will be dropping her off at daycare.

The moment she leaves, I feel guilty about losing my temper. Why is it so easy for her to push my buttons?

I’ve noticed a concerning trend in the way my husband and I parent our firstborn compared to her sister. We’re always asking her to “act like a big girl” in everything she does. We get mad when she yells or sings loudly when her sister's napping. And we expect her to go along with whatever we ask, just "because we said so.”

But hello—she’s a three-year-old. How can we expect her to act like a grown-up when she’s barely out of diapers?

I think there’s a birth order thing here. Even though we don't mean to, we push our firstborn harder to excel and reach new milestones, because we see her as a reflection of our parenting abilities. All of our natural doubts and anxieties about parenting—Am I doing a good job as a mom? Is she going to turn out okay?—we inadvertently pass on to her.

Each stage of her childhood is short, if not always sweet, and we'll never get it back. Why do we want her to grow up so fast?
The next time my three-year-old behaves—well, like a three-year-old, I'm really going to try not to lose it. She drives me crazy sometimes, but she’s just being a kid. Which is what I should expect her to be.

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