Thursday, August 4, 2011

3 Year Old Need - Not Less, Just Different

My 3-year old just graduated from the parent-toddler swimming class to the just plain toddler swimming class. Not because he can swim safely independently now - he can't quite yet - but because he no longer needs the security of a parent with him in the water. This last Tuesday was his first day trying out the new class. He loved it. He mouthed through the glass behind which parents sit and wait, "I'm swimming by myself!" He didn't want to leave when the class was over. He wanted more fun swimming in the pool with his new teacher.

It is somewhat bittersweet for me. I love seeing him grow more independent. He is so proud that he can do things by himself now, and I delight in his new and growing repertoire of accomplishments. At the same time... my baby doesn't need me anymore! sniff.

But then when we finally left and he dashed along the sidewalk towards the car, he tripped and went sliding face down, scraping his knees and elbows, and giving himself a round red bump on his forehead. He spent the next 10 minutes curled up in my lap crying, his hand up my shirt holding the mole on my side (his go-to-comfort place on my body since he weaned) and drinking a sippy of milk.

So maybe he still does need me for something.

It's not just the physical hurts that require 'mama love'. Bad dreams, hurt feelings at playschool, his upset if he wakes up late after I have left for work in the morning - such experiences all expose his need for physical and emotional connection with me.

It is one of my unexpected observations of parenting - that my child's need for me does not, in fact, grow less as he grows older and more physically independent. I had assumed that it would, but SchmoopyBoy's need for me still appears so great. While it is not less per se, it is qualitatively different. Whereas he needed me to do more for him in the past, he now seems to need me to be emotionally available for him more than ever. I have spoken with other mothers of toddlers and older children who have confirmed this experience with their own children.

Learning to parent at each new stage of development continues to surprise and challenge me. My every expectation gets turned upside down on its head. My independently swimming, self-dressing big boy who demands privacy when using the bathroom is still in many ways my schmoopybaby.

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