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December 21, 2017
There is something we all come to see as true while raising children. This is just as true now with my second child as it was with my first:
Clearly, we haven’t really made it at all. I mean, the kid is only one, but at least I‘m not covered in spit up and yearning for sleep with a colicky baby on my hip anymore. Unless she is hungry or tired (both of which are still often contributors to a bad mood), things are about a million times better than they were when she was three months old.
With the toddler years starting, though, a new set of challenges has arrived. “No, no, no” is the most common phrase I hear at my house. The stairs are barricaded up, down and sideways. Tears and screaming are a split second away from laughter and smiles at all times. But the biggest challenge I see, not just for myself, but for my patients’ parents, too, is less commonly talked about.
The challenge is what I’ll refer to as the Commercialism Trap. You start to question the experiences you provide while raising children compared to the experiences other parents are providing. Should little Johnny start French lessons at three? How about music immersion? Should we sign him up for martial arts? How about a dance class, an art class, etc., etc.? You also start to question if you have all the right “stuff” they need to learn and grow. The baby gear business is a billion dollar one because corporations know we will pay top dollar to make sure we have all the gear we need (or think we need).
It’s understandable that we would start to think more about ways to enrich our children’s lives as they get older. We’re no longer in day-to-day survival mode. We have more mental bandwidth to consider what our children will be like as adults. Every day, they do more “human” things to remind you they are actually small people, like say, “Mommy, by (my) self,” which, let’s be honest, is absolutely frightening.
It makes you pay closer attention; not only to the previously unfiltered things you say and do, but also to the ways you are consciously molding and influencing them. It makes you feel like you should provide some spectacular experience to help them be the best version of themselves. But the educational merits of only a few toddler interventions have actually been scientifically proven. They, not surprisingly, are time-tested and cheap: reading, talking and spending time with your child.
This principle hit home for me today as my husband was reading my daughter a book. She was perched on his lap, head resting on his chest, flipping the pages for him.
She held her little finger up, looked at him with a sly smirk and answered,” Hmmm…” before resting it on the butterfly hiding by the birds in the tree. It was the exact same tone of voice and facial expression he uses when I ask him a question and he’s trying to be funny before he gives a response. Then, she looked up at him, laughed (also like he does) and started asking for more books (“more, more, more;” the second most common phrase heard in my house these days). It was not spectacular. It was simple. But it was really all she needed to learn: a book and some undivided attention from the person she mimics and admires the most.
It is easy to get caught up in the commercialism of the baby gear business. Believe me, I’m just as much a sucker for the best ride-along toy, cute kids’ outfit or (fill in the blank with item of choice) as the next mom, but it’s not about how many things we buy our children. It’s not about how many classes we can sign them up for.
I remind myself daily, even as I am bombarded by retailers and educational gimmicks to think otherwise, that my strength as a parent is about my ability to stop comparing and to be focused, loving and consistent with my child, providing experiences that allow her to learn and enjoy learning, however simple those experiences may be.
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