There are times in all of our children's lives where our parenting doesn't seem to be connecting with their little hearts at all. We keep trying it our way, and they keep looking at us like we are crazy people.
Caroline hit this stage for the first time at about 18 months, when she hit the stage we've come to know as the terrible two's. Caroline came into the world and I was already a single mom. I figured out the nursing, getting through the night, and the changing of diapers, all with her 2 year old brother toddling around. I set a course of parenting for self-sufficiency. I took pride in the fact we had a well-balanced and extremely efficient household. Part of my successful efficiencies were due to the fact that Caroline had yet to express her desires for how our family operated.
Then, midway between one and two years, she did. She would whine and fuss for seemingly unending amounts of time from a simple scrape on the knee. I would respond by giving her a quick hug, acknowledging the bump and praising her for being brave. I was wishing her into bravery and strength. This didn't go well. It seemed to prolong the recovery. This interaction started happening more frequently-- with goodbyes at daycare, at the dinner table, at bedtime. I had no idea what was happening, but I knew whatever it was necessitated a different approach from me. I read parenting books begging someone to tell me a new way, but I needed to be shown by the one who knew best.
Caroline loves babies-- she always has. From the time she was a baby, she had at least 3 “babies” in tow at any given time, dolls she mothered. She wore them in slings, she soothed them, cooed to them, and bounced them on her hip from the time she could walk. She meticulously dressed them, and knew before they cried when they had woken from a nap (usually this occurred at dinner when she was tired of sitting still).
One evening it finally dawned on me-- she was showing me how she wanted to be parented. She was not a child who wanted to be picked up and brushed off and set back to play. She wanted to be held, coddled a bit, and understood. She wanted someone to coo to her and rub her back when she had trouble falling asleep. She wanted to know that even though we lived in a house that had to have some efficiencies, there would be plenty of time for cuddling together on the rocking chair and knowing her mom's arms would envelop her whenever she needed them.
She was showing me with her dolls how to be a good mom to her. This was the first of many times I've now been able to watch my children show me what they can't tell me. Now when communication is breaking down, I try to watch how they are present with their friends to see if there are any tips for me there—in the way they care for them, speak to them, reason with them, and play with them.
As it turns out, our children conduct their relationships the same way they want to be treated. We all do. Caroline showed me how to parent her, but she also taught me how to be a better leader at work-- watching team members interact, playing to their gifts, and trying to give them what they need to succeed has been part of our organization's success. When my way isn't working, it's probably because it's a way that doesn't mesh well for my team member, child, or friend. Watch and learn, friends. Our children will always show us the way.