No one ever prepared me for what motherhood would be like raising an independent child. There were no chapters on it in all the parenting books nor did any veteran mom in my mom-tribe share stories of what to expect. When Greyson was born he was a normal and healthy baby boy. Active from the start, always so verbal, and extremely social with everyone. It didn’t take my husband and I long to realize that there was something very special about our son. This something has clearly defined who his character is and it continues to blossom and evolve as he gets older.
However, there are many special lessons I’ve learned, and continue to learn, over the years from Greyson. He’s taught me to be flexible in my visions of parenthood and to adapt to his ever changing spirit. Raising an independent child has given me many proud moments as a mom, but it also comes as unknown territory with its fair share of challenges. Here are a few of those lessons I’ve learned in raising such a child.
“Mama, I do it”
One of the single hardest phrases to hear as a mom.
Ever since Greyson began speaking in full sentences he’s always communicated with us that he enjoyed doing things for himself. He would push my hands out of the way when I’d try to help him with a puzzle or fuss when I didn’t allow him to try something on his own first. As a new mom I had to quickly learn to accept that my baby wanted to try everything for himself and I could only offer help when he asked for it.
On one hand I’m extremely proud of him; exploring and problem solving on his own. But there’s also a very real feeling as though I am missing out on certain aspects of motherhood – you know, like being needed. From the very beginning he’s been the one to break the training wheels off from me!
However, I’ve had to accept that Greyson is driven to figure things out for himself and as his mom I have to allow him that opportunity. I may not have the motherhood I’d envisioned for myself, but for me this is motherhood. And I’ve also learned to be okay with that.
Model and teach communication.
This is vital even if you don’t have a fiercely independent child. Teaching our children to communicate, in any way, gives them the confidence to share themselves. This for Grey was imperative because early on we recognized that when we gave him the words to what he wanted or was feeling he had less tantrums and became frustrated less often. We were encouraged by our pediatrician to talk to Grey and narrate what we were doing from the mundane to reading stories. It was explained to us that the more language he was immersed in the better his cognition. It also gave us practice as parents to speak to him like a child/person and not use baby words to describe things (“water” wasn’t “wa-wa”, etc.).
Flash forward to him growing into being a raging three year old, his independence is often the cause of his tantrums. He wants to do everything for himself and I mean everything. He doesn’t quite understand why he can’t just reach into the hot pan off the stove for his bacon (although I’m tempted to let him just for the life lesson about hot things) or why he can’t party rock all night long. We still have a long road ahead of us in toddlerhood and his sense of independence continues to be a struggle for me, but I’m learning along the way to have patience.
I’ve heard from so many veteran moms out there that this independence and bull-headedness will serve him greatly when he’s older. I’m holding onto that sentiment in hopes it’s true…because this kid works my last nerve these days 😉
Create an self-reliant environment.
When Greyson was big enough for his own room my husband and I wanted him to have a space where he could freely have access to everything he needs. This idea then extended into reflecting on our home as a whole and learning to adapt it as Greyson grew. Creating this kind of environment has allowed him to be self-reliant in a lot of ways as well as learn to ask for help when he needs it. It may be a very Montessori approach to parenting, but it’s one that has many benefits. Grey feels empowered to do things for himself and we get to loosen our own sense of control.
As an infant I expressed the expectation that he’ll clean up himself by making it fun and even sang a little song. As he grew up we gave him more and more to do on his own from throwing the trash of his snacks away, cleaning up any spills, and helping with chores around the house. Just last week he began taking interest in helping the husband with the laundry. Yes! He’s excited to help “wash” things from the laundry basket and even his blanket and George. We also have him help feed our dog and fish as well as have him help open doors and use the key to unlock the door. All of these little things helps build confidence in Grey and allows for him to express his independence by helping others.
Be consistent in your routines & expectations.
Finding a consistent routine is so beneficial for everyone in the family. This is where my husband and I have seen that it’s so important to be on the same page when it comes to our expectations as well as routines at home. Our parenting styles are similar, but I tend to be the more strict parent whereas he’s more relaxed. In a lot of ways I love that about us – we’re kind of like the checks and balances and help hold each other accountable.
Balance social and individual play times.
One thing I noticed about Greyson as an infant was his swiftness in being content to play by himself. This continued as he grew up and now as a busy three year old he’s still happy playing by himself in his room. I’m impressed with his imagination and the storylines he creates with his toys. Recognizing this independence early gave us a focus as parents to ensure he was socialized with other children his age. Especially being an only child, too, I wanted to ensure that he has many opportunities to play and socialize with other kids.
A few ways we did this was placing him in the nursery at church to help wean him from his separation anxiety, enroll him at our local My Gym, and start him in preschool. On weekends we take him to the park and the New Children’s Museum downtown here in San Diego. All of these opportunities have paid off as we’ve seen him adapt to both social and independent play activities.
Learn to go with the flow…
If nothing else, the lessons I’ve learned over time has allowed me to let go of the control or the need to do things perfectly. The landscape of parenthood is always changing for us and there’s no one perfect way to raise a child. Grey is fiercely independent – always has been. Raising him just means we allow him to be himself by doing things for himself, but set firm expectations. There’s no easy way to raise a child, especially an independent one, and although he manages to push every single button, he also has this uncanny way to completely melt me. All I can do is my best and I’m confident we’re doing just that.