Seeing Children as Individuals
As I’ve struggled over the past couple of years to become the kind of mother I want to be (still a work in progress!), I realized that I sometimes focused so hard on myself that I closed my eyes to the very individualized passions and interests of my kids. Each one of them is so different and unique from the rest, sometimes it’s hard to miss. But then other times I catch myself thinking: “oh, that looks fun, we’ll all do it this afternoon.” Other times I spend time doing an activity with one child, and try to reproduce the same thing with another. Both scenarios usually don’t work out well because I failed to see them as individuals, and failed to acknowledge their own interests.
I’ve been working my way through all this for some time now, but here are some things I’ve learned over the past few months:
- Missie, at 8, is asserting herself as an individual. She’s learning reasoning, through questioning everything. Everything. She still loves to play with characters such as her littlest pets and barbies. I think she finds a real comfort in creating a little world in which she can understand everything and be in charge. She loves to run the show, loves performing (though she does get a little nervous at first!). I’ve always known that she’s a people pleaser, working incredibly hard to make good choices and be basically infallible. Lately, we’ve been working a lot on helping her (and me!) to understand that nobody is perfect. She is very interested in the deeper things of life, including her spirituality and developing understanding of God. When we first talked about how nobody is perfect she thought for a second before saying: “I know, except for God, HE is perfect!” She still loves to snuggle and touch, and frequently needs help tending to her 3 year old self. She latches on to language that describes her inner experiences and is quite sensitive towards the moods and feelings of those around her.
- Buddy is currently in a time of almost-five year old angst. He responds strongly, sometimes explosively, to his world. He wants to learn, wants to try, but has a low threshold for frustration. He is extremely curious about how things work, why it works, and why it sometimes can’t be put together again. While he’s developing a fiercely independent streak, he sometimes just wants to be babied a little, needing to make sure that our connection is still intact. He loves spending time in the kitchen, offering to help stir, cut soft things, make salads, and throw ingredients into the soup. He feels so proud when he makes toaster waffles for breakfast. He really seems to take peoples’ feelings to heart, tending to the smallest around us. He plays great with his little sister (while wishing he could keep up with his big one), the little kids in our babysitting exchange, and even the smallest girl in his class. He is tender with these children, and notices their every need. He also gets wildly excited when something strikes him as silly, and gets this hopelessly romantic look to him when he notices something beautiful: Christmas lights, a butterfly, a flower. Recently, we were at a friend’s new home and in the middle of the tour he entered her bedroom and said “I really love this!” His comment sprung from a depth that showed his authentic self, which he usually guards carefully. While he loves learning new skills, he prefers to do so in private and does not usually like when attention is drawn to him.
- Sweetpea is still developing at such a rapid pace, but I do know that she is tender with babies, loves to sing and dance, and could sit and color/paint all day. Play-dough is her all time favorite though, nothing trumps that. She is intrigued by things that move, enjoys eating a wide variety of food but usually only one at a time (bananas for breakfast, cereal for snack, a sandwich for lunch, apples for snack, broccoli for dinner…). If she could exclusively eat dips and soups that would suit her just fine. She is independent in that she can play and stay engaged for longer than many kids her age, and then loves to come in for a snuggle and nurse.
These are the types of things I want to remember when we’re locked in a power struggle, disappointed with a child’s choice, or hurt by a child’s words. Having this knowledge of our little ones can help me frame (some) of their more difficult behaviors, it helps me to find more grace and extend it more liberally. It’s still hard, and there are many days I fail terribly at this, but as I’m looking for those things that make each of them tick, I find more and more things to love about each of them.