One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a mother was about relinquishing control.
“Training” my children to do things before they were developmentally ready wasted time and emotional energy. How I regret those power struggles.
Eventually I realized that there were many things I didn’t need to teach my children. I could trust them to meet certain milestones without incentives, threats, or persuasion. These milestones included:
- Sleeping through the night.
- Learning to use the bathroom i.e. toilet train
- Weaning from breastfeeding.
- Getting onto a “schedule” for meals and naps. Babies generally fall into a routine after a few weeks or months.
- Eating enough to grow and thrive, if offered a variety of nutritional food, a fork and a spoon.
- Separating from me without a fuss.
- Dressing themselves.
I believe that my job is to provide a secure emotional base and a reasonable level of encouragement. I had faith (at least in those areas) that my children’s inborn mechanisms and a natural desire to mature would kick in eventually. Unfortunately, in our culture, this isn’t simple. Dozens of instruction books help parents train children to do what they would eventually do anyway. It’s so frustrating to find out that your child is abnormal; i.e. he is not doing what the books say he should be doing. Until you realize that the problem is the book, not the child.
Not all babies sleep through the night at six weeks, or six months. And it’s normal for children to nurse for a few years; both the Talmud and the World Health Organization consider two years a minimum. Kids will sleep all night by the time they are bar or bat mitzvah. And (hopefully) when it’s time for them to get married, no one will ask when they got out of diapers.
Yes, there are exceptions. Sometimes a child who develops later than average needs an evaluation. Sometimes we have to speed things along, like when we wean a child from diapers in preparation for preschool, or leave a baby with a sitter. But most children will do what they need to do if we take for granted that they can.
I’ve listed some behaviors that I don’t believe parents need to worry much about. The question that interests me now, and which I hope to explore in a future post, is what *do* we need to actively teach our children?