Puberty starts in the cradle
...too bad I didn’t realize that earlier

An open letter to mamas of littles. The one I wish I had read
before my little one was born.

But let’s get back to our conscientious mama. Are you surprised I know her so well? Let’s just say we spent our days together for a lot of years. And because she really was conscientious and had the best intentions, she wanted to get things figured out. So she learned some more “magic tricks” and worked on herself a bit. And the result?

I’ll try to make a long story short, since I’m sure you have better things to do than sit around reading articles about stressed-out moms. That defiant daughter started saying: “Okay, mommy, what do you suggest?” And: “Well, that didn’t go very well, mommy. Let’s change it, all right?” And they talked it over and agreed on what to do when one of them loses her cool and things start getting shrill. After so many misunderstandings over the years, it was such a relief for both of them.

You could say that the child finally developed “the ability to tolerate psychological tension” (see definition above). The defiant stage as defined by parenting books is now over. Awesome. :) But I would propose an alternative explanation: Nobody is creating tension any more. Mama learned a few simple “tricks” (which really aren’t tricks at all, she now realizes). She stopped acting out. So did her daughter. That’s it.

“You’re like that witch from Sleeping Beauty!” (Nope. Not done with the straight talk yet, mama)

And the best part? It easily could have ended a year or two earlier, or never even started at all. Suddenly mama starts replaying all those stressful situations and pointless arguments again. And one after another, things start clicking into place. Ohhh!

How her daughter hid behind the couch and yelled, “Go away!” And how she almost had a heart attack when they went to pick out her first glasses and she had to touch everything and be everywhere, until she pulled that mirror down on herself... You know, all those hair-raising situations you go through with little kids. At the post office. In the doctor’s office. In the grocery store. And all the screaming and crying. It didn’t have to be like that at all. The “developmental phase” was more the mother’s than the three-year-old daughter’s.

You’ve probably got tons of objections and different theories of your own going through your head right now, right? Sure, nothing wrong with that at all. But I’m mainly interested in real changes, not temporary band-aids. That’s what our hapless, conscientious mama wants, too.

Her daughter started saying other things too, that the mama really needed to hear. Want to hear some?

“When you used to yell at me, I thought you didn’t love me.”

“You know, when mommies nag all the time, kids learn to ignore it. They just think to themselves WHATEVER.”

“Now I know you do love me and you didn’t really mean all those things you said when you were mad. But before I wasn’t sure.”

“You were like that witch from Sleeping Beauty.”

It’s enough to send chills down my spine (especially since all those things came out of my older daughter’s mouth). But there’s a lot of children’s honesty, wisdom and love in there, isn’t there?

Two stories that don’t mean a thing...
...except for a few hurt feelings

Just now when you read what the little girl said to her mama, did you think about what your child might say?

Maybe your little one isn’t talking yet. Have you ever noticed that for some reason we often treat youngchildren that can’t talk as if they don’t have feelings, either? But your toddler knows how they feel when they’re with you. I know you know that. But listen, here are two totally common, seemingly innocuous situations that came up recently.

First innocuous situation:

“No, no, no, no, no! Don’t touch that! You’ll knock it down!”

Pretend you’re a 1-year-old. You’re busy exploring the world, and you’re interested in everything. And your mommy just yells this at you out of the blue. Close your eyes and imagine it. No, really. How do you feel?

Second innocuous situation:

“He’s a shy one, what can I say… You can never get a word out of him. Yep. Just look at him. Don’t hide behind me, come on, say ‘hi’ to the nice lady.”

Pretend you’re a 2-year-old. You’re standing by your mommy, holding onto her pant leg and looking doubtfully at the strange lady standing in front of you. You don’t like the look of her at all. And your mommy says this about you. Close your eyes and imagine it. How do you feel?

No, these moms didn’t mean anything by it, of course they didn’t. But: “You were like that witch from Sleeping Beauty, mommy.”

Sorry, I know this sounds a little rude, but this is what kids tell us when we finally start listening. I know, because I’ve been there. That conscientious mama is me, as you’ve probably worked out by now, right? This is my story. If someone had told it to me a few years ago, I would have appreciated it. So I wrote it down for you to take what you need from it.

So what do you think your child would tell you?

My second child currently isn’t saying much besides: “Mommy sit” :) But for the past 20 months we’ve been writing a totally different story together. Something similar to these two, I’d say:

The end of the conscientious mama’s story
(And a sequel for those of you still waiting to read about puberty)

Go on to part 5