When my daughter was an infant she was the happiest baby on the planet. She went to anyone and eveyone, she was soooo social, she rarely ever cried. She was not only adorable, but exactly what I would have picked if I had picked all the ideal “dream child” traits. I used to dress her up constantly. She never complained, she was like my own baby doll. Then, she turned 3, we entered a pandemic, she developed anxiety, extreme shyness and her ADHD tendencies turned into full blown daily meltdowns. That perfect dream baby who had been sooooo easy turned in to the polar opposite. She was scared or anxious to be around anyone, but me. She fought almost every outfit I tried to put on her. She cowered behind me at most places. She needed constant reassurance. It was like a completely different child invaded her body. I had to learn that parenting that child you have is what was necessary.
I would go to bed in tears almost every night because my perfect child was turning into something I didn’t recognize. I kept wondering where I went wrong.
It took some time, but I realized where I went wrong – I was still trying to parent the image of a perfect child I thought she was when in reality she was a growing toddler and preschooler who was developing her personality and thanks to a Covid world and some life-altering things that happened in that 3-4 age year, her personality was changing. As it should have.
But I wasn’t changing with her. I was still parenting the child I thought I had or I wanted to have instead of parenting the child I actually had.
When I began to shift my mindset and meet her on her level, the world started to change for us in a much better way. Instead of assuming she was fine with strangers or wanted to be held or talk to eveyone like she did as an infant/toddler I started to tune in to her and ask how comfortable she was with things first. While sometimes timid when we would head to new places, eventually she began to trust that I would always have her back and do things on her timeline, not mine, she started to gain enough confidence to branch out again.
Through reassurance, structure, schedules, and therapy she has come leaps and bounds past the anxiety that crippled her past couple years.
When I finally woke up and realized she was struggling with things I was able to meet her where she was and help her find the supports she needed. I shudder to think of the places we would be stuck if I had not opened my eyes and continued to parent the wrong child because I was too stuck on who she used to be and not who she was.
I have been a nanny for over a decade and I’ve interacted with countless children and their parents. Learning to parent the child you have instead of the child you want, is a common thread for most parents.
I’ve seen it develop in almost every household I’ve worked. So, what can you do?
It may be as simple as you were involved in sports as a child and want them to be athletic as well, but they are more into reading or science. Instead of forcing your will on them, meet them at their level. Meet your child where they are, not where you want them to be. Are they in to Harry Potter? Read the series together. Would they rather play video games than baseball? Download some family friendly games and play them together and then ride your bikes and discuss.
Find ways to meet your children where they are instead of trying to parent the child you have in your mind. It’s an ongoing process for me, just when I think I have it down our daughter changes things up and I have to shift my parenting perspective. But I am down for the ride and open to taking her cue now and it keeps life interesting.
Do yourself a favor and meet your kids where they are this week and see what happens. You just might discover an awesome relationship growing!