My two year old is hard on herself

Avery has always been a determined learner. She has a strong inner drive to learn new things and to practice new skills. For example, she has been working on writing letters since she turned two. I’m always amazed by her aptitude and determination and focus. I try not to shower her with “Good job!” or “you’re so smart!” but rather say things like “you’re working so hard on that letter,” or “wow, look at that Q you drew!” That’s how all the parenting books have told me to give praise, so that the praise encourages and acknowledges the process and doesn’t come out sounding empty after the 100th “good job!” (That said, I of course say “good job” and “you’re so smart” some of the time).

But now I’m seeing behaviour that’s worrying me, and it has me questioning how I praise… She’s so hard on herself. She was working on drawing an A along a dotted line stencil (her own idea of fun, not prescribed practice or anything) and every time she went outside the line she put her hands to her face and said “oh no! Not right!” and then she’d hurriedly erase it and try again. She’s not even 2-1/2 yet. She blows my mind with the things she has picked up on and yet, I don’t want to push her. I like the idea of early childhood being about play and freedom from performance pressure… Is her self-criticism due to something I’m doing wrong as a parent? Am I expecting too much of her? Or is being tough on herself just part of who she is? And what can I do to help her balance wanting to master new skills with enjoying the process and taking life a little more lightly?

“mommy’s my favourite” and anyone else is chopped liver

Sometimes I wish I could be straight JUST because it would be easy to fall back on gender roles to explain away inequities in my relationship. The big issue right now is my wife being second favourite to our daughter. Actually, third favourite – she says “mommy’s my favourite, Albus [the cat] is my favourite buddy.” My wife has been met with avoidant behaviour from our daughter the last month or so. She gets home from work and Avery cringes and hits her if she goes in for a hug, and becomes INSANELY clingy to me. It’s really hard, and really sad. Can’t imagine how hard and sad it is for my wife.

But in hetero relationships, we’ve heard that it’s common for the kids to want nothing to do with the dads for a good long time. It’s easy when it’s a matter of moms versus dads. Women are so often primary caregivers, and men are socialized to not care if their kids go to their mother for every booboo and request. It’s what’s normal.

I think what’s happening with my wife and daughter IS normal, to an extent, but it’s hard to see it that way when our daughter wants one mom so much more than the other mom. We’re both moms – but our roles are as different as any opposite-sex couple out there.

The “no!” stage of toddlerhood

I’m reading Hold on to your kids: why parents matter by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté for this month’s parenting book club. I came across this excerpt that I thought was too meaningful and lovely to keep to myself. Hopefully this can bring some sense of peace and understanding to other parents going through a stage of constant resistance (or “counterwill”) with their kids.

Counterwill first appears in the toddler to help in that task of individuation. In essence, the child erects a wall of “no”s. Behind this wall, the child can gradually learn her likes and dislikes, aversions and preferences, without being overwhelmed by the far more powerful will of the parent. Counterwill may be likened to the small fence one places around a newly planted lawn to protect it from being stepped on. Because of the tenderness and tentativeness of the new emergent growth, a protective barrier has to be in place until such a time as the child’s own ideas, preferences, wants, meanings, initiatives, independence, perspectives are rooted enough and strong enough to take being trampled on without being destroyed.

Next time Avery is fighting me on which boots to wear to daycare, I’m going to try to conjure up this metaphor to bring me patience and understanding. To help me understand why it is such a big freaking deal for her to want the totally weather-inappropriate shoes instead of her warm boots. I’m not saying I’m going to let her wear flip-flops in winter, but maybe I’ll be able to calmly compromise instead of losing my patience.

Here’s another excerpt that has played out in our lives almost exactly. Avery knows her colours – like, with 100% accuracy, even the difference between aqua and turquoise. At bedtime, one of her favourite books is a book about rainbows. She would recite it word for word. And then, one day, she started pointing at the red page and saying it was pink. And at the blue page and saying it was yellow. We would get into light-hearted arguments of “no it’s red,” “no it’s pink,” “no it’s red,” “no it’s pink…”. It was strange. The book has this to say about my experience:

A five year old quite secure in the attachment with his parents might react to a “sky is blue” kind of statement by retorting adamantly that it is not. It may seem to the parent that the child is blatantly contrary, oppositional, defiant or trying to be difficult. In reality, the child’s brain is simply blocking out any ideas or thoughts that have not originated with him. Anything that is alien to him is resisted in order to make room for him to come up with his own ideas. The final content will most likely be the same – the sky is blue – but when it comes to being one’s own person, originality is what counts.

Interesting stuff!

Canadian Thanksgiving and other random updates

I’m not exactly keeping up with the daily posts for #blogtober, so far… But it’s because we’ve been away for the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend and bouncing from one family gathering to the next. At my in-laws, Avery got to spend quality time with her two cousins. One is just 5 months older than her, and the other is 2 months old. She gives her baby cousin gentle kisses on the head, and she strokes her little arms and legs and touches her fingers and toes. She’ll just sit next to her and watch her with a look of wonder and tenderness in her eye. So that makes us definitely want to give her a sibling.

When we leave family get togethers, we almost always rant for half an hour in the car as we drive away, or one of us will be crying from something a family member said or did. Family. It’s complicated.

In other news, I’m anxiously awaiting my PhD data… Data I have collected so far has not looked as expected, which is not good. It’s taking longer than I expected to collect, too. Right now we’re (loosely) planning to have baby #2 after I’ve worked for the minimum of 600 hours required to collect employment insurance. To work, I need to first get a job. To get a job, I need to first defend my dissertation. To defend, I need to write it. To write it, I need data. Data that works out for my hypotheses. So there’s a lot of pressure on getting that data collected and getting it to work out for me.

And that’s pretty much all that life involves right now – family stuff and school pressure. Thankfully, we have an amazing kid to help us find joy in the everyday moments.

Strong woman, soft mother

My wife is a do-er. She’s handy with tools, she can carry heavy things, and she always gets asked to help when there’s a building project or when someone’s moving. I used to be that person, too. When my wife and I moved in together we enlisted no help – together, we moved in every piece of furniture, every appliance, every box, by ourselves. We also fixed up our home together. I did as much sanding and painting as she did.

But when we became parents, I ended up taking on (or being given) the role of default parent. I love the role because it means that I’ve been the first person Avery asks for and comes to, but the problem with that role is that it supercedes the roles of helper-outer, heavy-lifter, project-maker, etc. I no longer get asked to help with things because it’s assumed that I’m busy with Avery. Or it’s assumed that I’m too “soft” because I’m a mom (which is the most ass backwards logic ever).

Is this just happening to me, or do other primary caregivers experience this shift in how people see them as well?

Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue

I read this book for last month’s parenting book club. It’s a parenting guide for the gender-typical parent of gender-typical kids, who want to learn to be aware of, and to minimize, the impact of limiting stereotypes on their sons and daughters. Stereotypes that are limiting include boys being unemotional or un-nurturing, and girls being bad at math (among MANY others). My wife and is somewhat gender-atypical (i.e., she doesn’t adhere to many feminine-stereotypes), so a lot of the warnings in this book around boxing girls into a female-stereotype box weren’t issues for us – our kid gets lots of stereotype-myth-busting experiences in our family. However, the book is also just so chock full of information that even we got some useful stuff from it, and I enjoyed reading it.


Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes

In a nutshell, this book is about parenting with an awareness of gender stereotypes. The title suggests that it’s about raising kids without gender stereotypes, but the author acknowledges that this scenario isn’t often practical (this is why I say it’s a book for gender-typical parents and children, for whom breaking gender norms is optional). Using a lot of statistics, the author gives you some really solid, well defended, reasons why yours kids are better off without being forced into a set of gender expectations. You won’t feel judged for letting your daughter wear pink or for enrolling your son in sports over music, but you will be reminded (or enlightened) of the very reasonable reasons for also enrolling your daughter in sports and letting your son have a doll.

The statistics are presented in an easy to comprehend way, but there’s also an entire chapter for the more technically inclined reader which describes effect sizes and experimental method. This chapter allows readers with and without a background in research and statistics to understand why the research can be trusted over the myths and misconceptions.

One criticism I have for the book is that the author uses the term gender where sex would be more appropriate. Gender is a social construct that develops as children gain a sense of identity, but Brown refers to gender as something you know about your newborn. I think this label was just used to assuage the masses – many people seem more comfortable using the term gender, rather than sex, for their little ones. There also isn’t much discussion about gender non-conforming or non-binary kids, but these kids do get an honourary mention in several chapters.

I’ll leave you with one big take-home message that I personally got from reading this book. As a society and as parents, we place too much importance on gender as a category. Kids (and adults) are already aware that males and females are different from one another, and there’s no need to highlight that as parents. Although I’m extremely conscious of gender stereotypes and of problems with dividing people into us-vs-them groups, the book reminded me that I point out my daughter’s gender on a regular basis when I say things like “you’re such a strong girl!” Yeah, I’m saying something feminist, challenging gender stereotypes that girls aren’t strong, but I’m highlighting her gender. Since reading, I’ve been calling her a kid rather than a girl. She will know her gender without me repeating it to her in every other address. When I read her books that include pictures of children, I’ve also stopped describing them as girls or boys, and instead say, “see the kid there playing with the ball?” It’s perhaps a subtle gesture, but by removing some of the importance on sex differences, we can open doors to our children to create, or at least see, a world less focused on the differences between men and women. We’ll make the world a better place by raising young people who interact like one group rather than divide themselves into unnecessary categories that compete and clash and foster such evils as toxic masculinity and violence toward women and non-binary folks.

Children’s Books about Family Diversity

After watching my daughter’s daycare provider fumble and brush off a child’s question about my daughter’s “dad” – and coming to terms with my own lack of having just the right thing to say in the moment – I wanted to get more acquainted with children’s books that broach the subject of diverse families. Reading enough books about others’ lived experiences can solve all the world’s problems. I truly believe that.

So I headed to my local library and found some real gems.

This post contains affiliate links. I could really use your help to secure my place in Amazon’s affiliate program. I still need two more books to be purchase by following one of these links in my blog (on this page or this one) in order to be accepted. Driving amazon sales through my blog won’t bring home the bacon for me, but it will help to offset some of the costs of having this blog.

After my previous post about baby books for raising socially conscious kids, my friend Speck of Awesome recommended this one.

This book is written in a celebratory tone: All families are special. It also paints diversity as the norm, rather than telling a tale about one special family that is “different”. Another thing I like about this book is it’s international applicability. I believe the families represented in the book reflect far more than the typical Western, Colonial family structures we are familiar with. This is more than a book about same-sex parents, adoption, and mixed race families (although those discussions alone would be enough to make me happy at this point); it’s more inclusive than that.

One thing to warn about in this book is that it mentions “all families are sad when they lose someone they love.” I believe this is a great piece to include in a book about families, but I’m also not ready to talk about death with my toddler. I don’t really want to provoke those questions about loss and permanence of loss. The book also seems to leave out polyamorous families (leaves it at, “some families have one parent instead of two”). Otherwise, top notch reading material for kids and their caregivers.

This book is about a child first realizing that her family looks different from other families in her school. She not only learns that all families actually look a little different from each other, but she also learns to celebrate her family and define them for herself. The book addresses how a mother’s day project at school might impact a child with two dads, but it’s relatable for any kind of family. I really have no qualms with this book. It’s a cute story and it has earned a permanent place on our bookshelf!

This is a really sweet book about families created through adoption, and in typical Todd Parr style, the families represented in its pages are diverse. The “races” of the family members are ambiguous because Parr uses all colours of the rainbow as skin colours – but, he still mixes the colours within the families because, of course, not all members of a family need to share the same skin colour. Some of the family types represented include a single mom, a single dad, elderly (i.e., grey haired) parents, mixed race parents, two moms, and two dads. The message is sweet and genuine: “We belong together because you needed someone to help you grow up healthy and strong, and I had help to give. Now we can grow up together.”

This is kind of a counting book, but it does more to represent different types of families than to teach counting. Each page showcases a different family structure. Page one is one person reading to her cat. Page two is a parent or caregiver and one child. Page three is – you guessed it – two parents and a child. The families grow in size and also diversity, some with multiple generations, some with three caregiver-type figures, and of course two moms and two dads are included. What I really like about this book is that the family members are a bit ambiguous, to the point where pretty much anybody could see themselves in one of these families, even though there are only 10 families in the book. I went so far as to imagine that one family was two dads, their baby, their surrogate, their surrogate’s partner and two children, and one grandparent. My wife interpreted this family completely differently. That’s how this book can be so all-encompassing of family types in only 10 pages. And while it doesn’t overtly teach about family diversity in terms of the text, the pictures are inclusive, and most importantly, anyone can see their own family reflected in the pages of this book.

This was on my previous book list about socially conscious baby books. It’s so incredibly relevant to today’s topic, though, that it’s worth including again. What Makes a Baby COULD NOT POSSIBLY be more inclusive. It talks about the three components you need to make a baby: an egg, sperm, and a uterus. It talks about the egg and sperm sharing stories with each other about the body they came from, which I think is a pure genius way to describe to young kids the role of DNA. All family structures, from adoptive to two dads to single mom, will all feel included by this book. And, just as important, kids reading this book will be free from imposed assumptions about family structure. This book opens the mind to the possibilities. And it does so without ever mentioning SEX – so parents who are concerned about discussions of family diversity equalling discussions about sexual activity and sexual preference, fear not. This book is colourful and eye catching with fun graphics and a narrative so clean and simple that I’m pretty sure my <2 year old can understand. Could not recommend this book more.

***Bonus Book***

This book was a random selection at my local library that I didn’t realize was anything special until my second time reading it. It’s a simple, sweet bedtime book with simple verses that you could read to a newborn or a toddler. Although it doesn’t highlight diverse family types, it does represent a very underrepresented type of parent in children’s books – the DAD (or masculine-presenting parent). Literally all of our children’s books have at least one mom (mommy, mama, etc.). That may be partially due to the fact that we are a dad-less family and we are drawn to books without dads, but I’m quite certain that books highlighting a father’s parenting role are few and far between. Hush a Bye, Baby shows dads of different races solo-parenting their babies at bedtime. Refreshing.