Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frustration, Frustration

As he approaches that magical year-and-a-half mark, my sunny, happy-go-lucky, good-natured, easygoing child is suddenly developing a tendency to periodically throw himself on the ground in abject misery. Why is this, you may ask? The answer, I can tell you in one word: Frustration.

The most difficult part of being a toddler, in my humble opinion, is the fact that your brain is developing so much faster than your physical skills. My son’s curiosity continually drives him to try to figure things out, to manipulate them, to make them work. And he gets frustrated when he’s not tall enough, not strong enough, and not coordinated enough. He’s about half an inch too short to reach the hallway light switch, and after straining at it for a few seconds, he throws himself down in frustration. He knows he needs to turn the deadbolt to open the front door, but he’s not quite strong enough to turn it all the way, so he screams in frustration. He knows that he needs to stretch his sock out to get it on his foot, but he’s not quite coordinated enough to get his fingers and his toes to work together, so he sobs in frustration.

It’s a hard time of life to be in. The world is his oyster, but nobody gave him an oyster knife so he’s stuck licking around the edges, waiting for someone to lend him a hand. He wants to dress himself, but he still has to wait for Mom or Dad to help. He knows where the basketball hoop is outside, but he can’t go play unless someone opens the door for him and helps him down the steps. He really wants to eat that bowl of rice but it keeps jumping off the spoon before he gets it in his mouth. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he cries in frustration sometimes – in fact, it’s more surprising that he doesn’t cry in frustration ALL the time.

As a mom, it’s really hard for me to watch his frustration, especially when I’m the cause of it in some ways. It frustrates me when I can’t explain to him that we need to put on his socks and shoes before we can go outside and play ball. It frustrates me when I see him struggling to master a new skill and I have to force myself to let him struggle instead of simply doing it for him. It breaks my heart to see that little tear-stained face begging me to let (or help) him do something that just isn’t safe. But I’m discovering that sometimes being a good mom means being a tough mom. It means standing by and watching my baby struggle. It means letting my child learn that you can’t always do what you want to do. Sometimes, it even means taking away something fascinating (but dangerous) and hard-heartedly ignoring the tears of frustration and anger that follow.

But those moments when I do allow him to struggle and suddenly he masters a new skill, or does something without help for the very first time…those are the moments when seeing the pride and delight in his eyes makes it worth every tear we both shed in frustration a mere moment earlier.

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