I was having a tough time yesterday, feeling like I needed some time alone to clear my head of some swirling thoughts. But as anyone with 2 toddlers can attest to, time alone is not easy to come by! So I decided that a walk was in order. My older kids were busy with Minecraft and didn’t want to go. So I strapped the 1-year-old, Bobby, on my back in the carrier and decided at the last minute to let the 2-year-old, Natalie, walk.
I love living in a small town for many reasons, one being that we can literally walk most everywhere we ever need to go. Walking is good for the soul. It slows down your mind and body, it connects you with the earth. You notice so much more while walking than you do even driving slowly in a car. But I can walk pretty quickly, even while pushing a big heavy stroller with two toddlers in it. Walking at the pace of a curious 2-year-old is something else entirely. She noticed the beetles that were crawling all over the tall, old maple tree next door. She was the first to notice the cattle trailer with longhorn cows stamping their feet in protest of their confinement. But much later, after we had been back home for hours, I noticed some things in retrospect.
I noticed that Natalie held my hand nearly the entire time we were walking. I noticed that when she did take off running up ahead, she came right back when I told her to. I noticed that she held the cart willingly as we walked through the store. I noticed that she went over to the grapes she wanted and then waited until I told her she could get them; and then she placed them in the cart without even attempting to eat one. I noticed that she didn’t try to grab anything off the shelves at all, in fact. I noticed that she waited patiently in line. I noticed that she wanted to help me carry the bags, even though they were much too heavy for her.
The amazing thing about all of my realizations is that this is a child, 26 months old, who has never once been punished. She has never been struck, never been placed in time-out. She has had everything explained to her in great detail, a countless amount of times. She has never been left alone purposefully to sort through her big emotions. That’s not to say that I haven’t lost my temper with her. I’ve been frustrated, I’ve yelled (much to my regret). But for the great majority of her life, she’s known gentleness. And it’s paying off, big time.
I used to think that well-behaved children were the result of strict boundaries, authoritarian parents, and corporal punishment. I used to think that misbehaving toddlers was “normal”, that the “terrible twos” were unavoidable. I’m here to tell you that I was wrong. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. That you can have a peaceful trip to the store without even so much as a thought of, “what if she throws a tantrum?” Parenting doesn’t have to be a never-ending power struggle. It can be a gentle walk through life, hand in hand, learning and discovering together. And it’s never too late to choose peace. If you’ve already started down the path toward authoritarian parenting, it’s not too late to choose a different path. Trust me, it’s worth it!