I'd like to think that, on a daily basis, I am teaching my son something valuable. Whether it's something small but relatively important (like how to count to 10) or something monumental that will aid him socially in the future (like how to make sure you respect other people's boundaries) I take the lessons I'm teaching — or hope to teach — my son very personally. However, far more than I would care to necessarily admit, I experience moments that'll make me realize my kid is teaching me, and not the other way around. Sure, he's only a 2-year-old toddler and he's still mastering the toilet, but the kid is smart and naturally kind and is full of life lessons that are worth me noticing and learning and applying to my daily life.
Of course, my son doesn't realize that he's making me a better person, which makes these essential life lessons all the more amazing. The more I'm around my son and the more I learn about the person he's becoming, the more I realize that our relationship isn't a one-way street. We're in a partnership, so-to-speak, and we're both teaching one another and making one another better as we make our way through life as mother and child. That's, you know, pretty awesome.
Knowing that my son is teaching me as much as I am teaching him also takes the pressure off. I don't have to be this "picture perfect" person that my son looks to as some fictitious and unhealthy standard in which he should measure himself against. Instead, I'm a normal human being that can constantly be bettering herself. So, with that in mind, here are just a few moments when I realize that my son is the one dishing out the life lessons.
When You Make A Mistake And They Tell You It'll Be OK
I have messed up so many times in my two years as a mother that, honestly, I've lost count. (That or I've completely blocked the many mistakes I've made out of my mind because, you know, self preservation). I'll mess up dinner or I'll forget to run an errand or I'll break yet another phone and my son will notice, now that he's old enough to realize when something has gone wrong.
In those moments, he's quick to say, "It's OK, mom," and usually follow it up with a hug and and a kiss. It's endearing and it's adorable and it's a constant reminder that mistakes are normal and they're never the end of the world. I'm so hard on myself because, well, my son is important to me, but I deserve to be kind to myself and give myself the room to be a normal, flawed human being.
When They Wave At Strangers
My son is so friendly and, at times, it's terrifying. He wants to wave at everyone and say "hello" and even go up and hug strangers (we're working on respecting personal boundaries).
It's easy (especially as a woman in the world) to suspect the worst of people; usually a glass-half-empty mindset is what keeps you safe and protects you from certain people. However, my son hasn't learned about the dangers of the world, yet. He doesn't know that there are "good" people and "bad" people, he just sees people and wants to get to know them. Watching him be blissfully naive and just all-around friendly reminds me that while it might be easy to focus on the sh*tty things, there's good in the world. While it might be necessary, at times, to remain cautious, there's also something to be said for putting yourself out there and meeting new people.
When They Make Friends Without Even Thinking
I don't know about you, dear reader, but I have found it unbelievably difficult to make friends the older I get. I'm scared of rejection and I'm scared of being judged and I'm scared that the woman I want to befriend won't think I'm "cool enough." Honestly, it's like freshman year of high school all over again, except I don't have my friends from middle school around to comfort me.
My son isn't inhibited by any of those fears,though, and will walk up to a kid on the playground with confidence and curiosity. He'll ask to play or offer to share his toys and before I know it, he's made a new best friend. It's endearing and a great lesson I need to continue to re-learn the more I put myself out there and attempt to find my "tribe" in a new city: you can't meet new people if you don't try.
When They Dress Themselves Based On What They Like, Not What's "In Style" Or "Cool"
My son has just now reached the age where he wants to make his own decisions (which is sometimes a great thing and sometimes a real pain in the ass thing). What he wears on a daily basis is a life choice he seems very adamant about making, and I think he should as it's a great way to start teaching him about bodily autonomy and consent.
So it's very obvious that my son doesn't care what's "in" and what's "cool" and how his body looks in a particular outfit, when he wears a cape and shorts with winter boots and a long-sleeve pink shirt; all mismatching and not necessarily "in style." He simply wears what he likes to wear and what is comfortable and what can help him move and jump and run and, as a woman who is subjected to scrutiny or harassment on a pretty regular basis because of something I'm wearing (or not wearing), I've made it a point to take this lesson to heart. How I feel in my clothes is way more important than how I look in my clothes.
When They Play With Whatever Toy They Like, And Don't Worry About Whether Or Not It's A "Boy" Toy Or A "Girl" Toy
My son is into comic book characters at the moment, and has to sleep with his Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Spider-Man action figures otherwise he'll have a full-on meltdown. However, he also likes pushing around a doll in a mini-stroller, pretending to put on mom's makeup and playing with my jewelry. He doesn't care that our society has arbitrarily decided that dolls are "girl toys" and action figures are "boy toys," because, to him, toys are toys.
It would be super awesome if toy manufacturers and stores and our culture, in general, would take note. Toys don't have specific genders and we shouldn't be teaching our children that they do.
When They Speak Up When They Don't Want To Be Touched
In our house, we don't just kiss people or hug people without asking. I will ask my son if he wants to give mom a kiss and he will either come over and plant a big ole slobbery kiss on my lips, or he will say, "No!" He isn't afraid to let people — including people he loves and cares about — know that he doesn't want to be touched or he needs his personal space. He doesn't care if he is "hurting someone's feelings" because he knows (even at a young age and even if he can't articulate exactly why he feels this way) that he is endowed with the right to be in charge of his own body.
If this isn't a lesson our entire society — especially during this tumultuous and triggering presidential election — could stand to learn, I don't know what is.
When They Eat What They Want And Eat Until They're Full
As a woman who has experienced and suffered from an eating disorder, I can't tell you how incredible it is to watch my son eat. He doesn't care about "portion control" and he doesn't count calories and he doesn't worry about how many hours of park playtime he needs to "log in" so that he can make up for a meal. He just eats because eating is necessary and enjoyable and, when he's full, he stops eating. It's honestly that simple, but it's also that important and a lesson that so many people can learn from (myself included).
When They're Not Afraid To Cry
My son cries when he's frustrated and he cries when he's hurt and he cries when he's scared and he doesn't think that's "wrong" or "bad" or "weak," just because the gender we assigned him at birth is male. He doesn't hold himself to unnecessary and hurtful gender stereotypes that convince men that showing an ounce of emotion is "feminine" and, as a result, something that takes away from their perceived masculinity.
Talk about a vital lesson that our entire culture desperately needs. Toxic masculinity is a real thing and it's why so many of our boys grow up thinking that bragging about sexual assault is "locker room talk" and rape is just "boys being boys" and certain parts of being an actual human (like emotions) is "off-limits" to an entire gender.
When They Ask For Help Without Thinking
Truth time: For me, asking for help is difficult. I kind of hate it. I grew up being told that asking for help is admitting failure and failure is a weakness. Yeah, my toxic childhood wasn't necessarily the best.
My son is quick to ask for help, however, and he doesn't think twice about what someone may think about him needing or asking for assistance. If he can't get his shoes on he says, "Mom, help?" and then brings me his shoes. If he needs help putting away his toys he'll let me know and we'll put them away together. He knows that, sometimes, the best way to accomplish a task or get what he wants and/or needs is to have help from someone else so, to him, asking for it just makes logical sense. Make no mistake, this little lesson my son teaches me on a daily basis is one I consistently focus on. When you're a mother, it can be hard to ask for help, but I'd argue being a mother is just another reason (of many reasons) why I should ask for help.
When They Love You, Unconditionally
It doesn't matter if I've had a particularly horrible day; my son loves me. It doesn't matter if I've made a mistake that directly affected him in some way; my son loves me. It doesn't matter if I haven't showered or I ordered Chinese food for the fourth day this week or I've let a coworker down by failing to complete a deadline; my son loves me.
Every day my son teaches me what it means to love someone unconditionally, and that's a lesson worth learning as frequently as possible.