Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Admitting to petty frustrations

I admit this guiltily: I’m a little frustrated.

I’m frustrated because I’ve made no progress in my efforts to instill a new habit in my 7-year-old. All year, she has pleaded with me every weekday morning to help her get dressed. All year, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to persuade her to dress herself.

And I feel guilty in my frustration, because I completely understand it’s no big deal. I shouldn’t mind helping her. I work from home; it’s not like I’m in such a big rush to get out of the house in the morning that I can’t take the time. And by the time she needs to dress, my other child is already on the bus headed for fifth grade; it’s not like she’s taking me away from caring for other children.

I’m just tired of dressing her. I’ve been dressing her every morning for seven and a half years. I’d like her to dress herself. Which is just how I felt when she was a late walker. She was twenty months old and I was still carrying her and I just wanted her to start walking already.

But all of this makes me feel guilty because it’s such a petty thing to whine about. I’m so lucky to have a happy, healthy child. With so many cases of autism in evidence these days anywhere that children gather, I feel so fortunate that she can effortlessly verbalize her wants. I’m lucky that it’s not a physical disability that keeps her from dressing herself, just stubbornness. I’m grateful that I can afford clean, properly fitting clothes for her to put on every morning, and I’m even more grateful that we have a home in which to dress. Other mothers are dressing their daughters in homeless shelters.

None of this gratitude eradicates my frustration. I wish she would stop asking for help getting dressed. There’s no reason I can’t help her; I just don’t feel like it. It’s one job I’d like her to take on for herself. Even as my kids grow and become increasingly independent, parenting still involves a lot of daily tasks. I make breakfast for them, pack their school lunches, nag them to bathe and put their dirty clothes in the hamper, remind them of the time they need to leave the house in order to catch the school bus, tuck them into bed at night. I’d like to give up just this one thing, the daily task of putting Holly into her clothes.

Fortunately, just as when she showed no inclination to learn to walk when she was well past eighteen months, I know this will eventually change. She finally started walking after twenty months, and after that I almost never needed to carry her anymore; someday she’ll finally decide she’s ready to dress herself.

And it would be easy here to lapse into the familiar language of “…and then I’ll miss this morning ritual of helping her dress.” But you know, I don’t think I will. I have always loved being with my children and taking care of them, but I can’t think of any phases I really missed when they were over: not because I’m such a grudging parent but because kids are always growing into something new, something more interesting, something just as fun as what they gave up. True, when Tim was a toddler and pushed around a toy grocery cart filled with random household items or when Holly pulled all the canned goods out of the cupboard every day and climbed in, closing the door behind her, it was adorable, but other equally endearing activities replaced those. I’m just as happy watching Tim play baseball as I was watching him ride his trike; I like hearing him tell me about his favorite new science fiction series just as much as I once enjoyed reading Goodnight, Moon.

Earlier this week I was reading a blog entry by parenting expert Michele Borba reiterating the familiar fact that it takes 21 days to instill a habit, and that’s how long you need to expect your children to take to acquire a new practice as well. If I started tomorrow simply insisting that Holly dress herself, maybe in just three weeks it would be second nature to her. As with walking so long ago, I know it’s going to happen eventually; I just have to decide how hard I want to push for it.

Someday I might be appalled by her taste in clothes or her personal style. And I might get sentimental about those days when she was seven and still depended on me to dress her every morning. But if I could get that to change in three weeks’ time, I would. And I don’t think a day will ever come when I’ll ever be sorry to see her emerge from her bedroom, fully dressed.

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