My daughter turned 18 months old this week. As I have watched her run and climb on the playground, increasingly assert her wants and needs, and vocalize more of them every day, I realize that she is no longer my “baby.” She is a full blown toddler and the days when my will determined the course of the day are gone for good. She is her own person now.
I remember well the day I found out I was having a daughter. I could not sleep that night, thinking of my own life experiences as a woman and wondering how hers would compare. I wondered what would bring her joy, what interests she would have, whether she will find love in her life, what pain she would endure. Pregnancy hormones aside, the enormity of knowing her life would enfold alongside mine for a time, moved me to tears. My heart both opened and broke a little that day as I imagined who she would become.
I have started to see a glimmer of that person. I see her infectious smile, the way she boldly and openly approaches other kids hoping to make a friend. I see her frustration when they sometimes are less eager than she to do so. I watch her focus, bottom lip stuck out, when she is concentrating on learning something and I see her little body flail with impatience when she struggles to accomplish a goal. I watch her care tenderly for her baby dolls and seek out ways to imitate behaviors she knows to be helpful and I hope this means she will have a giving and caring heart. I see her eagerness to learn and absorb information and her love for books. I watch her develop her own dance moves and feel pride and excitement when she does something that brings her joy or accomplishment. I can start to see where she and I will have conflict as she gets older, as her will is something to be reckoned with. I see all of these things and I wonder how much of a role I have in shaping them, and what portion is to be found residing innately within her little person. It is a terrifying and awesome responsibility, parenting a little person and none of us have the answers to this question.
As I learn about my daughter, and question how I can best nurture her into a strong, confident, loving, persevering, and curious person, I have had to take a very hard look at who I am. I am not sure that anything could have prepared me for the way parenthood has made me question myself. There are the questions involving your child’s physical well being: “When to start table foods; how to encourage a healthy diet; how to establish healthy sleep habits; how guilty should I feel for letting her watch a bit of tv.” These questions are tough enough to answer, and everyone has an opinion, but as you feel your way through parenting and learn your child, you find the answers that keep your child functioning and growing. But you can measure and observe physical growth. How do you measure growth of spirit and character at such a young and impressionable age? Like many parents, I try to model behavior that encourages my daughter to develop the traits I consider to be positive and healthy. But only time will tell whether I have balanced my parenting mistakes with enough love and direction to help her develop in her own unique way and still carry the values I hope to impart.
I find that as I reflect on my mistakes as a parent, that I am growing alongside my daughter. Hoping to be the best mother I can be for her, challenges me to look at my motivations, face my own moments of selfishness, fatigue, impatience, frustration, and poor communication. It encourages me to expand my powers of empathy as I seek to understand her perspective. It makes me take a hard look at my relationship with my husband so that we can model a respectful and loving relationship and parent from a place of unity and stability. My daughter asks me to love a little harder when I feel I have nothing left to give, and I find that when I take a deep breath, I can find it within me. I am discovering what I need to do for myself in order to have something left to give, ways in which I need to grow and change, and what is essential to being me. In the process, I am parenting myself along with parenting my daughter. That is the biggest surprise of all.