I read a lot of parenting-related books when my kids were young, but there were a lot of issues the specific books I read did NOT cover. I read “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” and “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” for most of my parenting needs in the first year. If I was really confused by a problem or situation, I read “The Baby Book” or “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five.” As I got crunchier, I also read “Naturally Healthy Babies and Children” and “How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor.”
However, I never read books (or failed to read the parts of the books mentioned above) that said what non-essential milestones a child should hit by a certain age. As long as my kid was eating right and sleeping right and wasn’t sick, I was pretty content with the physical milestones of my mothering to not ponder them too specifically. But I pondered that possible omission yesterday as I attended Curious J’s art class.
One of the nannies in the class was recounting to another nanny (she was talking loudly and it’s a fairly small room, so we all heard her tell her story) about how her little charge’s mother had made chicken noodle soup and had wanted the nanny to give it to the child for lunch. This nanny was dubious about having a small child eat soup, and for a moment I wondered why. The nanny made it clear, when she said, “And when [the little girl] was finished with lunch, there were noodles in her hair and on the chair and in her clothes and crushed into her fingers! There was more chicken soup on her than in her!”
I don’t remember if I said this or not, but I certainly thought it: Why didn’t you just feed the soup to her? Whether I asked it directly or not, the nanny’s answer was clear: A toddler of her age [2-ish] should be feeding herself.
I turned to the teacher, whom I’ve known a long time and have a very cordial relationship with, and said, “Perhaps I’m a slacker mom, but I’ve always just fed my child myself when it was messy food.” The teacher agreed that she had done the same thing when her daughter was young, and we chatted about that for a while.
It’s true, and I still do it to some extent for Curious J today. JJ and I fed Lyd ourselves for quite a long time. Part of the reason was that we didn’t want her getting messy, and part of it was that she was (and continues to be) a very slow eater. If we waited for her to finish eating on her own, she never would have finished! We didn’t want her leaving the table hungry, because we didn’t want to deal with a fussy, hungry child later. Meal times were for eating, so we fed her her food. We never over-fed her, or at least we tried not to. I don’t think we did. But she has always been a dreamy, easily distracted little girl, and we just weren’t willing to wait for her to eat. Plus, messy items – like soup – we knew were healthy albeit messy, so we just fed them to her. And I have a really hard time seeing food wasted, so I would rather feed my child myself then see my child make a mess of her food, thereby wasting much of it.
With Lyd, we fed her ourselves for most of her meals until she was at least three. She was our only child, we never thought much about it, we just did it. I also didn’t take “no” for an answer about Lyd’s food preferences. Whatever we ate, she ate. No excuses. I obviously didn’t make spicy food or hard-to-chew food, but I did not cook separately for her. She ate what was put in front of her which was the same food JJ and I ate, and for better or worse I was quite forcible about it at times. However, I remember a trip back to WI when Lyd was three where I realized that our feeding of her had crossed a line somewhere, and it was time for her to start regularly feeding herself. I don’t remember how we transitioned her over to feeding herself, but we did, and she feeds herself just fine now. But I distinctly remember that moment when I realized that the line had been crossed.
With Curious J, I promised myself to be a little better about getting her to feed herself at a younger age. But when it came down to it, I found myself on the same path to be doing all the feeding of her myself. However, something changed along the way. Curious J is NOT Lyd. Her personality is entirely different. And while she didn’t particularly object to being fed, she very much wanted to be like her big sister. Big sister was feeding herself, so that’s what little sister wanted to do, too. Curious J has had times where she has refused to let me feed her, because She Wants to Do It Herself, thank you very much. I don’t argue with that – who would? She does let me help her with messy things, and after she has finished most of a yogurt cup or applesauce cup or bowl of cereal, she will hand me the leftovers to scrape out and feed to her. But, on the whole, she really wants to do it herself. The funny thing is that with all the practice she’s gotten from a young age, she’s amazingly good at feeding herself, in my opinion! Now, perhaps she’s just an average 2.5 year old, but compared to her big sister, in my opinion she’s amazing!
I don’t know if this makes me a slacker mom or not, but it’s kind of thought-provoking to realize that I’m parenting a lot differently than other parents in this regard. I’ve noticed that there are other things I do for my children it seems other parents don’t do. Lyd can dress herself easily, but, again, she is SO slow, so when we’re in a hurry, I dress her. I always dress Curious J. For years I buckled Lyd into her carseat, and when I decided it was time for Lyd to learn, she resisted mightily. I still buckle Curious J in myself. (Although, I felt I had a good reason for that — if a kid doesn’t know how to buckle themselves in, then they can’t UNbuckle themselves, and I didn’t want a kid unbuckling herself while I was on the freeway.) I always do my girls’ hair, I put on their shoes and coats, although Lyd does her own now that she’s in school. Going to school has been so helpful for Lyd. Perhaps it was my fault, but she enjoyed being fussed over and didn’t like doing the “work” herself; going to school has given her a lot of self-confidence. Although, I don’t know if it’s entirely my fault, because her personality is kind of like that. Anyway, regardless, she can do those things on her own now, and that’s all that matters.
When I was pregnant with Curious J, we were having potty-training issues with Lyd, who was 3.5 at the time. (Yes, I potty trained her late, too.) It was very frustrating, and I didn’t know what to do. During one of our pre-birth visits, my wise doula said to me, “All these things that Lyd is or isn’t doing now that you’d like to be doing or not to be doing — those will all be resolved by the time she’s twelve.” I liked that. By setting the bar super-low, it reassured me and reminded me that all these things WILL happen in good time.
Do some things about being a slacker mom cause me more work? I suppose so. But I think they also save me a lot of fights and unpleasantness. And, despite my slacking, my kids ARE learning to do these things. It is all working out alright in the end.
(I have called it being a “slacker mom,” but I do truly think that part of this kind of mother was simply following my girls’ personalities. Lyd is smart and a wonderer and a dreamer. Curious J is smart as a whip and strongly wants to imitate what everyone else is doing. As a parent, I just try to steer them in the right direction while helping them develop their own personalities.)