Toddler Perfectionist

For 37 weeks I carried her in my body and for 3 and a half years I have been with her everyday watching her learn and grow and play and become… and even though I have been along for the entire ride, and yet I am still surprised around every turn.

I have heard lots of things about parenting toddlers. I knew going into it that food tastes would drastically differ from one night of spaghetti to the next night of the same. I knew that toddlers threw tantrums and wanted their way. I knew that the messes would be abundant and often and that the cuddles would be the best. I knew that they would get sticky and so would I. I knew I would hear my name 10,000 times in a day and I would be needed always… I’m not surprised by these things.

What I am surprised by are the bursts of personality that are more mature than just loud or silly or shy or smart. I didn’t realize that I would be navigating the waters of perfectionism and failure so early on.

We go to the nearby library every day that we are able. We try to start with a new activity before we work our way through the more familiar. Jemma is fascinated right now with puzzles and piecing things together. What I have noticed the last two weeks is the intense pain that flashes through her little body when something she has built falls over, or a piece she is trying to place is not straight. It isn’t like it used to be, a shrug of the shoulders or laughter at the toppling pieces.

Her face contorts, her shoulders droop, and she stomps her foot and says “I am not good at building!” or “I can’t do this.” or worst of all, “I’m sorry I messed it up, I’m just bad at this.” She begs me to do it for her, or to move on to a new activity – one she feels more successful at.

At first I didn’t realize how seriously she was feeling about it, so I would just encourage her to try again. I would combat the negative statements, modeling a re framing – “You are good at building, but that piece didn’t fit right! Try again!” “You CAN do this, it takes some practice.” “You did not mess it up, it fell over. You are super smart – let’s do it again.” The re framing is important, but it’s also important to teach her to feel through it.

I’m realizing that she feels this so strongly for a reason. I can help her to move out of it quickly, or I can gently tug her through the intensity of her emotions and back to the reality that some things don’t go as planned and that is okay.

Of course, being the lifelong learner that I am, I am stringing together these instances and seeing the common nature of them in our adult lives as well.

We try a new diet and we fail and we let the intensity of our failure knock us out of trying at all.

We intend to get up in the mornings to jog, get to the gym, or do an online workout and we miserably oversleep three days in a row and the intensity of this failure, again, knocks us out of trying at all.

We set aside time to read, or to create and we let it slip away each day until we no longer believe we are capable of or deserving of that time. The failure of it knocks us out of trying at all.

We try to bridge the distance that is forming in an important relationship, maybe with our spouse or our best friend and it doesn’t go anywhere. The intensity of this failure knocks us out of trying at all.

I could go on and on. I could list out the small and the big things that we try and we fail at and we allow ourselves to believe lies about our identities because of.

It starts so young.

My perfect, brilliant, capable three year old is already forming opinions about herself and her abilities before she even has full motor control over the fingers trying to stack the blocks correctly.

You are doing this. I am doing this. We are doing this, and sometimes we even do it to each other.

We have to stop allowing failures to dictate our narratives about who we are. It’s more than a motivational poster, quote, or concept. It is a lifestyle choice and imagine if it started with our three year olds.

Imagine if we taught them how to address the negative emotion, and re orient themselves around the truth that they ARE capable even if they fail at something. Imagine if we were able to plant a seed so deeply into their little souls that their worth is not at all impacted by failure OR success that their roots were based on this. Imagine the difference makers that seed would produce. Imagine the health of those trees growing into the world.

I’m determined to walk through the deep waters with this girl, and I know that it starts with my own re orienting, re framing, re adjusting. My narrative surrounding what I am doing, what I want to do, and what I have done – it will not be a success and failure narrative. It will be that I have worth, that I belong, that my story is important. This will be what I hold as truth beside her as she journeys through this life.

She will watch me gain weight, lose weight, eat vegetables, eat donuts, cry and laugh, succeed and fail and all the while – I will view myself as worthy, as a difference maker through it all.

What is your narrative? Is it one that is based on success and failure or on worth that is not constricted by these things? Look closely, it matters. For you and for the little eyes watching.

Push hard into joy my friends. YOU are so worth it.