My daughter is a wonderful child. She’s bright, cheerful, has a wicked sense of humour and is very loving (although at the moment she doesn’t do hugs and kisses very often). She’s confident and outgoing and will happily walk up to people in the park or wherever we happen to be and introduce herself, saying “Hello, I’m DD! What’s your name?”. She’s very kind towards her little brother and is usually fairly tolerant when he rampages into the middle of one of her games.
But for the last week or so my happy smiley laughing girl has been mostly absent. Instead DD has been bursting into tears at the drop of a hat (literally, on one occasion) and for the smallest of reasons. Yesterday she cried because she’d picked up a red Lego brick instead of a blue one. DH and I have been at a loss as to what the underlying problem might be – she had a nasty cold last week but is over it now, and she’s sleeping well so she’s not tired. When I enquired at preschool the teachers reassured me that she’s not being bullied or picked on in any way, but asked whether something had happened at home because DD’s been bursting into tears there too.
So this afternoon DD and I left DS at home with DH and walked to the recreation ground round the corner for some girl time. It’s a huge playing field with little thickets of trees planted around the edges that DD calls her woods, and a small park with swings, a slide etc. We had a lovely time being explorers in the ‘woods’, playing in the park and blowing lots of dandelion clocks.
As the time to head home approached I asked DD if she was happy. A beaming grin was the response. I asked if anything had made her sad this week and she scrunched up her face in thought. Is she happy at home? Yes, she said. Is she happy with DS? Yes, she said, except when he interrupts my games. Is she happy with how Mummy and Daddy look after her? No, she said, and emphatically shook her head. Oh dear, I thought, and asked what the matter was.
“Well”, she said, “You and Daddy are very good at look aftering me and DS. But I don’t want you to look after me, I want to do it all by myself”. So there it is – at the grand old age of 3 years and 10 months my daughter wants her independence.
She has a fair amount of independence I think – she chooses what clothes she wears (unless the choice is vastly unsuitable, such as shorts when it was snowing), she chooses what she eats (from a choice of 2 or 3 things usually), she decides what to play or read and when. We allow her the freedom to run off when we’re out and about at parks, the beach etc, as long as she remains within about 20m. She also helps out around the house with tidying and washing and she’s an awesome little baker.
But this isn’t enough for my fiercely independent little girl. So we’ve negotiated and come to an agreement. From now on she’s in sole charge of brushing her hair and teeth (although of course we’ll supervise to make sure it’s done thoroughly). She already helps with the cooking on occasions but we’ll encourage her to do more. We’re already planning to start giving her pocket money on her birthday but I think perhaps we’ll tie it in with chores so that she feels she’s being rewarded for helping out and “look aftering” herself.
But she’s still so young, not even 4 yet. I’m still coming to terms with the idea that she’ll start school in September (which she’s extremely excited about) and here she is demanding to look after herself. I want to scoop her up and cwtch her on my lap while I read her stories and she wants the right to cook her own dinner! I know that an essential part of motherhood is knowing when to loosen the ties a little and allow more independence, exploration and freedom – I just wasn’t expecting this sort of demand so young.
I don’t know whether this strong desire for so much independence is normal at this age or whether DD is an unusual case. But she’s my first, my awesome girl, and she’s already champing at the bit to strike out on her own. I don’t know whether this is a phase or whether it will last, but I think that this is merely the first of many small steps to being in charge of her own life. And I’m pleased about that, I want her to grow up to be able to look after herself and be confident in who she is and what she’s capable of. But I also want my little girl to still want to cwtch in bed with me and read stories, and to share baths and let me kiss her scrapes and bruises better when she falls. And the opportunity to do these things suddenly seems all too fleeting.