Keeping with the ever popular song from the hit flick Frozen, I’m currently learning to “Let it Go”. I wish I was as cool as Elsa learning to release my superpowers into the universe, but I’m just a mom learning to “pick my battles” with my almost 4 year old. As a parent, it’s only normal to face struggles with any toddler learning to assert themselves. Let me just quickly say…this is a longer post than normal for me, so don’t worry they won’t usually be this lengthy! Anyhow, to prepare, I read numerous blogs and books on how to set boundaries and discipline so that my child can thrive and I can be the best parent possible. I also make sure the wine is stocked. I wish learning to deal with a strong-willed toddler was as easy as following instructions from a book, but the truth of the matter is, it’s individual to each child, and parents have to figure out the best solutions for their child. I’m not a family therapist, but I believe in sharing experiences and helping others learn from my battles, mistakes, and successes. Personally, I have learned more about parenting from listening to my network of parents and their experiences than any book I’ve read. So, let me set the stage for what I’m learning to “Let Go”. My sweet little girl has never really been into girly things. She loves legos, balls, sports, the colors green and blue, and she could care less about dolls or ANYTHING pink (with the exception of the Pinkalicious books). She prefers to make capes and superhero masks, and plays in a pretend rocket ship or firehouse. Playing dress up involves Ironman, Batman, and Spiderman, and not Cinderella, Belle, or Ariel. Her favorite movies are Cars, Toy Story, and Frozen. I don’t believe in any sort of gender specific toys, activities, colors, etc, but I love that she breaks some of “societies” gender rules. Audrey comes from a long list of tomboys; myself, my mother, my mother-in-law, and my sister, so this really is no surprise. I love everything about her interests, but I wanted to share these things so you could understand my story.
A few months back Audrey decided to start picking out her clothes before school. This is completely normal for her age, but I definitely liked it when little miss could care less what clothes I picked out each day. It was like playing dress up. Mommies, you know what I’m talking about! Anyhow, Mike and I were already learning to pick our battles with our spirited toddler, but I was not ready to relinquish control of the closet. Every morning, I anticipated a struggle getting dressed, and we would go through so many options to find something suitable to her liking. After a while, I started putting my foot down, because I am the parent, right! We talked about how she could pick a few days a week, and I would pick the other days. This worked for a few weeks, but slowly the battle became worse. Audrey started weaning out dresses, skirts, anything that wasn’t green or superhero related. One dreadful morning, we had a huge meltdown because I picked out a white shirt, yellow skirt patterned with birds, and leggings…Audrey lost it. She started yelling and screaming in my face, “I don’t like dresses!”. This behavior was unacceptable, so I put her on a time out. At this point, I swore my child was part bull. She sat arms crossed, stern-faced in her timeout for what felt like eternity, then it progressed to kicking and screaming, then to a full-blown hyperventilating sob fest. This kid was showing epic tantrum skills, and meanwhile I was breaking down inside. I had dealt with tantrums successfully, but in all honesty was feeling pretty inadequate this particular day! I yelled a lot that morning, which does nothing but make you feel shitty. I believed I needed to follow though with making sure she understood the rules, which meant she had to put on what I choose for her that day. I believed I needed to stay consistent, because I would only be teaching her she gets her way, if I gave in to her tantrum. Audrey was sobbing, red-faced, but finally gave in and put her clothes on. I had won, right?!
We were 30 minutes late to school that morning. On the drive, everyone was silent, even my 16 month old son who is normally mimicking fire trucks the entire car ride. Out of the blue, Audrey said in the most honest and vulnerable voice possible “I love you Mom”. She knew I was upset and frustrated, and she wanted to please me. I walked her up to the classroom and she ran to play, not turning back to say goodbye or give me a hug and a kiss like she normally does. Ughhhh the daggers that pierced my heart when she ran off. It was awful, I walked away, and started sobbing myself. What the hell!! You are probably thinking it’s just clothes, let her pick it out. But, I was trying to stick to my guns. I then realized this was bigger than teaching my child to follow instructions. Her wardrobe symbolized the one girly thing left from her infant years, and I was holding on tight. I finally admitted this was about ME, and my issue to “Let Go”. As proud of my little tomboy that I was, part of having a little girl was being able to put her in precious dresses. While I was pregnant, I remember dreaming of sweet pigtails and bow adorned hair. I needed to wake up! My little girl was growing up, and making decisions is part of learning independence. Who cares if she chooses to wear her boots with soccer shorts and a superhero cape. How can I stifle her creativity, self-expression, and independence because of my own selfishness. From that moment on, I committed to letting her pick out what she wanted (with the exception of special events). Once I let go, I realized that I was truly missing out on enjoying such a fun toddler experience. I often crack up at these crazy combos she comes up with, and now I look forward to the morning dress time. It’s true that when I see a little girl dressed up as Cinderella in a tiara, or a darling dress hanging in some retail store, I have that ahhhh-so-sweet moment, but it quickly passes. Audrey still let’s me do her hair in pigtails. More recently she loves makeup and jewelry, so we indulge in that together, when we aren’t building a rocket ship or fighting crime, which is equally as fun. But, if that should change soon, it’s 100% fine. Each family has their own toddler battles, and it’s our job to teach right from wrong when it comes to behavior, but if you find yourself in a similar situation as the one I shared, take a moment to look within yourself. Sometimes these battles aren’t about our children. We have to learn to “Let Go” of our own expectations for our children and help them become strong confident individuals, like my little astronaut below.
While I felt my situation was a little different, I do know getting dressed for toddlers in general can be a nightmare for many parents. My tips for a toddler who struggles to get dressed in the morning.
- Take them shopping so they can pick out the items. This gives them ownership, and they are proud of their choices, and more likely to dress themselves.
- Embrace the creativity, it really is awesome and will change soon enough.
- If they wear the same thing everyday, then you are saving $$$ on clothes. FANTASTIC!
- On holiday’s or special occasions remind them a day or two before the event that the agreement is to dress “nice”.
- If the agreement doesn’t work, then result to bribing. No judgements here 😉