Recently, I was out for a quick dinner at the local deli with my husband and our two school-age kids. As I walked from the counter to find a table, I noticed a younger couple sitting with their toddler daughter who sat so nicely at the table. She was actually eating with a fork! I did a double take because she looked younger than age 2 as she sat so politely, eating with that “big-girl fork.” There were no electronics or toys in front of her. She just looked delighted to be there in her high chair, using her fork —with her mommy and daddy.
I approached the couple and said, “I just have to tell you how nicely your daughter is sitting in her high-chair and eating with her fork. It’s very impressive!” Her mom, less than amused, looked up at me and replied, “Thank you… BUT…(wait for it)… she’s not potty trained!”
In that moment it ALL came back to me. I remember that I also was obsessed with potty training. Oh, and my son couldn’t hop at age 4. He couldn’t hop! How did I know this? Because I took him for an assessment, which I thought would help me decide whether or not to hold him back. My son was due in September, born in August. Even days after his birth, people would say to me, “Are you going to hold him back?” I honestly didn’t even know what they were talking about.
I’d look at them dazed (partly from sleep-deprivation) and confused and ask, “What?” They’d nod and say, “School… are you going to hold him back a grade in school?”
I’d think to myself, school? I have a week old baby in my arms and I’m just trying to figure out how to function on very little sleep, how to get the car seat in the car, how to use the breast pump, and what to do with those sausages that come out of the diaper genie! Anyway, during the preschool years others would say to me, “He’s a boy… aren’t you going to hold him back for sports?” For sports? REALLY? I am not raising an athlete. I am raising a child.
The point of my story is that sometimes we focus on and worry about the wrong stuff, and it’s unhealthy for our kids and for our relationships with our kids.
My girlfriend recently reminded me that my son was reading fluently at age 4. That’s the funny thing. At the time, I didn’t have that perspective. I didn’t see the bigger picture. Reading at age 4. Amazing! But all I could focus on was his inability to hop. I’m not sure whether my concern came from the pressure society places on boys to be athletic, or a concern that the ability to hop was a critical skill one must have. My pediatrician even balked at my concern and said, “Do you remember what age you learned to hop?”
At the deli, I glanced over at the young mom distressed about potty training and unable to appreciate the moment—the victory of eating a meal at a restaurant with a toddler sitting so quietly and politely, using a fork, nevertheless. I thought to myself, “Had I known then what I know now!”
My children are now ages 11 and 14, and I have learned that each child has a unique disposition. It is important for parents to understand and accept each child for who they are. It is harmful to our children when we compare them to others or try to change them into someone who they are not. Focusing on your child’s strengths, not their weaknesses, builds self-esteem. Also, it is unhealthy to worry about stuff that may not be bothering them. Do we really want to create worry in our kids over things that might be more of an issue to us?
I have also learned that who my children are on the inside is much more important than what they can do. The number of goals my daughter can score on a soccer field or the number of A’s my son receives on his report card does not determine who they will be. In fact, these days when I attend their parent-teacher conferences, I am actually more interested to hear that they are polite, helpful, and a good friend to their classmates than to hear about their grades.
As we walked out of the deli, I smiled as my kids, unprompted, politely thanked the staff. I thought of the toddler in the high chair who was likely fast asleep in the car with her fork still clutched in her hand…and perhaps she’s sitting in a wet diaper. I wish I could tell her momma that 10 years from now she will not remember what age her daughter learned to use the potty, that it really doesn’t matter at all.