I worked all weekend, and the weekend before that and two weekends ago too (plus my normal weekday schedule). Needless to say, it’s been a rough month for downtime in my family. I bundled weekend clinic coverage recently to make room for summer trips I took earlier on in the season, and by Saturday afternoon, I could tell my body and mind were paying the price.
So was my daughter.
I came home at 1 p.m. that day, ready to play and be present, hoping that I’d be met with excitement and energy. Instead, my little girl was a hot mess. She was sitting there on the floor when I walked in, fully dressed in her mermaid costume with a jeweled crown and black, glossy rain boots. She was sobbing.
“I don’t want to go!” she screamed when I walked through the door.
“Oh, hello, little angel child,” I thought to myself.
We were supposed to attend a housewarming party for one of our friends an hour later, and she had been acting up about going for the past three hours while she waited for me to return from work. For about 20 minutes, I tried to convince her (my mistake) that we would all be together there, that it would be fun, that she would be happy.
But when we finally had everyone in the house dressed and ready to go (which seemed like an eternity later), she was still in tears and kept talking about how she just could not do it.
I had a decision to make. I could push her to do the thing I wanted her to do so I could fulfill all of my social obligations, or I could listen to what she was asking for. On the surface, it felt like I would be giving in to her by not going along with my original plans. There are definitely times I know I need to stick to my guns despite her loud protests otherwise (like when she wants brownies for dinner or when she doesn’t feel like going to school). Most times, that’s the case, actually. Other times, though, I can tell we’re in a different zone.
After all that time spent reassuring her, I stopped to listen to what she was really telling me: I miss you, and I want to spend time with you — just you. Will you please give me your undivided attention for a few hours?
My husband and I talked by ourselves. We made sure that my daughter was in control of herself (some deep breathing while she counted to 10). I sat her down and let her know it was Daddy and me who were deciding what we were doing that day, and we decided it would be better for everyone if little sister and Daddy represented us at the party. Then I gave her a few activity choices for our time together. I was not about to be swindled into some ice cream sundae escapade.
We ended up spending four amazing hours together, just the two of us. We went to the park, had a mommy-daughter lunch date, and then came home and read books all snuggled up on the porch.
And the weird thing?
At first, I was nervous that she might take her “win” on our day’s activities as an opportunity to walk all over me, but she was the most well-behaved, grateful toddler ever for the the whole outing.
Even more amazing?
When I took the time to treat her like an actual human who had real needs (like all of us have), she spent the whole evening running around the house doing imaginary play in that mermaid outfit, entertained almost entirely by her dolls. She was almost annoyed when I asked if I could jump in to play.
“Uh, I’m really playing with my mermaid friends, Mom.”
Okaaay. Wow. It was a 180-degree change.
Yep, by attending to her very sincere request for TLC, by giving her the time she deserved, I was the one who lucked out the entire rest of the day. It blew my mind. It will for you, too, if you take a moment to consider if there is some underlying issue going on when your child is acting particularly “needy.”
I’m not prescribing that you allow yourself to be held hostage by your child’s every whim, and I’m definitely not saying that when a toddler whines hard and long enough, that is a sign that you should change your set plans the vast majority of the time. Quite the opposite. I’m just offering, for all of us, a more complex view of the way our kids behave and what their protests sometimes mean. If we pay close attention to the nuances, if we try our best to make sure we’re not missing some deeper need, we’ll all be happier in the end. I know I am.