In the Montessori magazine I just picked up from Xi's school there is a list of what three-year olds should be able to do.
- Dress themselves
- Get themselves a drink
- Fix a simple snack
- Wash hands and face
- Brush teeth
- And much more
These kinds of lists are bad for parents.
I read the list and thought, oh dear. Echo is four and a half and does only one of the five activities on the list on her own. I don't even want to know what the "much more" includes because I'm afraid she doesn't do those things on her own either. I read further and the article detailed what needs to be in place for those activities to be made possible. Clothes with no buttons or snaps, a low table with crackers sitting on it and a small knife and tiny jar of peanut butter for spreading, a mini water pitcher, stools. I felt a little better. Our house certainly isn't set up this way. A low table with food sitting out? Can you say labrador retriever? That snack would be inhaled in two seconds flat. A mini water pitcher? Ours is giant and heavy and very high up. But maybe if I reorganized our world Echo could do more things independently.
Then again, maybe not.
I immediately turned to Echo and said I was thinking of setting things up better so that she could do some things on her own. She said: Great! Like what? I said like pour her own water and get herself a snack, but that we might need a new water pitcher. She asked about the food part and I said I hadn't figured that out yet. She said; Oh, okay. Because I'm in no hurry to start that stuff.
She's in no hurry to start that stuff.
Right. I forgot. I've facilitated her interests as they develop, every step of the way, and pant snapping and water pouring are no exception. She'll get there in her own sweet time.
These lists of "shoulds" wreak havoc on parents, forcing them into a place of fear and worry. Revise that, "shoulds" wreak havoc on human beings, be they parents or not.
I've been having a lot of beak up sex with my ex-boyfriend. Do you think I should do that? Is that okay?
I was thinking of not making pumpkin pie for thanksgiving and doing an apple cake instead. Do you think I shouldn't? Is that okay to not offer pumpkin pie on thanksgiving?
Do you think I should buy a house? I mean I'm thirty-eight. Shouldn't I be a homeowner by now? Is it okay to just keep renting on into adulthood?
Yesterday during recess duty a mother came to pick up her four-year old daughter and stopped to observe her first. Her daughter was growling and prowling under the play structure. I explained that this girl and her friends had been playing lions and that one girl was so kind as to play a dead human so that the pride of lions could gather round and eat her. The mom looked at me like, is that okay? So we of course got into a conversation. She was also wondering if her plan to postpone kindergarten was an okay idea. I don't know why she was asking me, we don't know each other at all, but I turned to her and said:
Yes. It's all okay.
Bella started pre-school at age two and has been in school ever since. Xi didn't start school until age seven and is totally rocking it. Echo hasn't been even a day in daycare or school of any kind. All three are wonderful girls.
There are all kinds of choices to make and "shoulds" don't help us decide, they only help us worry. Seriously I think that any parenting choice, within reason, could be appropriate for any given child. What really has the potential to harm is the parents worry and concern about those choices. Let's take Echo for instance. She doesn't dress herself or brush her own teeth or make a snack for herself. Never ever. I could worry about this. I could, after reading that list, see her as a developmentally stalled child in need of drastic measures. I could develop an entire story about her with several unhelpful labels including "lazy", "baby-ish", "lacadaisical", a "mama's girl", "spoiled" etc. I could do that and then watch as she grows to meet those expectations. I could use my fears to force her into independence, ignoring her personal pace in order to meet the goals of the list.
But really in this scenario, the problem isn't that our house isn't set up properly, it's all of the thoughts and fears I attach to the "shoulds" involved. I could get rid of our dog, track down a small pitcher, and buy a low table in order to soothe my fears, or I could simply soothe my fears and trust my daughter is developing at just the right speed. It isn't the fact that I don't have a low table with easy to prepare snacks that is the threat to her development or our relationship, it's how I think/feel/act in response to her stage of development.
The choice or action a parent makes isn't as important as how they respond and feel about those actions or choices.
It's all okay.
Echo will eventually snap her own pants. She will also eventually make a ten course meal. We may indeed end up tracking down a small water pitcher if she wants one, but I need not get it for fear of her becoming some lame adult.
It's all okay.
Instead of fretting the choices, studying "should" lists and making a checklist for ourselves and/or offspring, we'd be better off stilling the fretting. I would be much better off trusting Echo's interest and sense of self than enforcing the achievement of a list I found in a magazine. And for the record, if once you set aside the list of "shoulds" and your choice feels right, it is right. Including apple cake for thanksgiving, sex with an ex, and renting until you die.
It's all okay.