The other night our whole family went to have Chinese food together. As we were getting ready to go outside into the frigid cold, I started zipping up Elijah’s jacket, but was having a little bit of trouble. It was the second or third time I had done it that day and now I was pretty certain. I turned to my wife and said, “I think we need to get him another jacket. He is getting too big for this one.”
“No!” he almost screamed.
“No, but I’m not getting big. I don’t want to be bigger!”
And therein lies the crux of many of our problems.
I’ve always thought that most children wanted to grow up fast. Being older or bigger means being able to do things they can’t do now, it means privileges, rights, they don’t currently have. It is only as we get older that we wish for time to slow down, to pass by less rapidly. But I am finding myself perplexed that neither of my twin three-year-olds really want the privileges of growing up.
My children started sleeping in toddler beds when they were a little older than two-and-half years. We transitioned them after a week where they seriously tried to climb out of their cribs (Elijah even jumped out in anger) and complained about how they didn’t want to sleep in their cribs anymore. But now, several times a week, they tell me they want their cribs back, that they miss their cribs. The same cribs they wanted out of their room so they could sleep freely and get in and out of bed whenever they wanted. While I’m pretty certain if we brought the cribs back into their room, they would get very upset, we’re not going to find out. There is no going back.
In addition, my children are not potty-trained and have absolutely no desire to use a potty. None whatsoever. I joke that they will see the benefits of using a potty when they are packing to go off to college. When they have to choose between a suitcase of their clothes or iPod accessories and bringing that silly box of diapers, they’ll say, “Oh, I don’t need those anymore.” Then, and only then, will we finally be done with diapers. We have tried so many different things to persuade, to bribe, to entice them to give it a shot, but they are adamant. Sure, they complain when we change their diapers, but even that doesn’t make them want to use the potty.
When it comes to eating, Jordyn is willing to eat most things even if she only really wants to use her fingers. Elijah, however, struggles with eating almost every night. His modus operandi is to procrastinate until just about everyone else at the table has finished. Then, after having been reminded and then urged and even enticed to eat, my wife or his Tia or his Abuelita or his Nana will try to feed him until he is done. He clearly seems to relish being fed by the women in his life he loves the most.
This summer Elijah and Jordyn will start camp and in the fall they will start pre-school for the first time. They have never been to daycare, because we didn’t want anyone else taking care of our children. Instead of daycare, my wife stayed home to be with them every day. Now, they don’t want to leave Mommy, they don’t want to go to school. This also means we are unable to use school as an incentive to being potty trained.
I believe all of these issues are related by the fact that my children don’t want to be bigger, they don’t want to grow up, they don’t want to lose being a baby. I know that this is “normal” in the developmental process, but it has been going on for a rather long time. They don’t want the rights and privileges that go along with getting older. They are fearful of the unknown future and the changes it might bring them. They want the comfort of what is familiar, of Mommy, and hopefully, even of Daddy.
But I wonder if we are sending them a message that we don’t want them to grow up? Or maybe we are pushing them too hard to grow up? I really don’t think so, though I am not certain enough to rule it out. I do feel like we are dealing with forces we don’t fully understand – the toddler mind.
One of the reasons I became a therapist is because I have always had a gift in being able to understand people, their motives, their thought processes, to intuit their feelings. This has certainly helped me with my children, more than I ever imagined actually. But, it is not enough and it is situations like these, these larger developmental issues, psychological struggles, where I feel the gulf of lack of communication between us and them. They can’t tell us what is going on. They probably don’t even know. But it is our job to help them nonetheless without hurting them too badly in the process.
Right now, I feel we are stuck in the middle of two opposing forces. My children on one side, wanting to stay exactly the way they are, not wanting to get bigger, to get older and the reality of school and clothes and everything else that signals our children are getting older and older every single day. What makes this even more difficult is while I am tired of changing diapers and of cleaning up after their messy eating, I am sad to see their clothes get too small for them. I am sad to see the toddler accent disappear. I am sad my little girl doesn’t easily fit on my chest anymore or that carrying them both at the same time is harder and harder. This is the best my life has ever been and a part of me doesn’t want it to change, either. But I keep this buried in the corner of my heart and hope that they don’t notice, hope that sharing their growing up experience continues to be the most incredible time of my life.
Image by: Reggie fun, Flickr
Jeremy Schneider is a fatherhood expert, syndicated columnist, and therapist specializing in parenting, relationships, and helping people overcome depression. Learn more about Jeremy at jgs.net.