As a woman who never wanted to have children, I'm consistently worried I'm not doing a good enough job. Perhaps if I had spent my entire life wanting children, I'd be better equipped to parent. As someone who grew up in an abusive home as a child, I'm terrified of repeating a single mistake my toxic parent made. What if I continue the cycle, even inadvertently? So, it's safe to say I'm constantly looking for signs that I'm not failing. Thankfully, there are little things my toddler does to show me I'm doing great at being his mom, even when I'm paralyzed by self-doubt and fear and all the "fun stuff" motherhood brings along with it.
Since everyone seems to have an idea of what the "right way to parent" is, and because pointing fingers and offering unsolicited advice and judging others is pretty damn easy these days, it's easy to live your parenting life under a banner of uncertainty. I am acutely aware of just how how important I am, now that I'm a mom; not only to my son, but to every single person my son eventually comes into contact with. I have a responsibly to raise a kind human being who will not only stand up for himself, but will stand up for others. That's, you know, a lot of pressure.
So yes, I'm not ashamed to admit that while I am steadfast in my parenting decisions and truly believe I am doing what's best for my son, my family, and the people around us; I'm also on the lookout for nuggets of validation. At the end of the day, we want to be told we're doing a great job, especially when we're putting so much of our time, effort, and energy into something as important and taxing as motherhood. So, with that in mind and because stopping to give yourself a pat on the back every once in a while is never a bad thing, here are all the ways my toddler son reminds me that I'm not so shabby at this whole mom thing. In fact, I'm dong a pretty damn good job.
He Tells Me He Loves Me (Without Prompt)
Sure, my kid will say "I love you," when I say it first, and it's not like that doesn't melt my mom heart, either. However, when he randomly comes up to me and says, "I love mom," I know my son genuinely means it. He's not saying it out of some sense of obligation; he's not saying it because mom said it first; he's not saying it for any other reason than he loves mom, and that's the freakin' best. I know that when my son feels the need to tell me he loves me, it's because he feels loved, too.
He Demands Space For Himself...
Teaching my son consent is high on my priority list, and it's important to me that he learns to respect others and demand other people respect him. So, it truly makes me feel like an accomplished parent when my son has the courage to refuse a hug, a kiss, or any other physical affection. When he says he needs some time alone, I don't get upset or take it personally; I feel validated in my attempts to instill a deep sense of self, a feeling of complete bodily autonomy, and respect for consent.
...And Stands Up For Himself
My son has no problem voicing his opinion, as I am completely convinced most toddlers don't. However, I have always encouraged him to be his own person, question things (even at a very young age) and come to his own conclusions. Is this sometimes incredibly difficult? Oh, you have no idea (actually, if you're a parent I'm sure you have every idea). However, my son deserves to be treated as a human being, regardless of his age or size, because that's exactly what he is. So, when he stands up for himself, I feel like I'm doing my job in preparing him for the "real world" and whatever his future has in store.
When my son sees someone else cry, he cries. For example, I stubbed my toe on our coffee table recently (which, honestly, is a pretty regular occurrence). In an effort to keep myself from screaming every cuss word known to man, I bit the inside of my cheek and started to tear up. My son noticed the tears in my eyes, ran over to me, put his tiny toddler hands on my face, and said, "Mama, don't cry. It's OK. Mama, OK?" Then his eyes started welling up with tears, too. He refused to leave my side until he was convinced I was, in fact, OK.
Empathy isn't necessarily a trait encouraged in boys or young men (hello toxic masculinity) so it makes me unbelievably happy to know that my son has a heart for other people.
He Says "Please," Thank You," And "Excuse Me"
Maybe it's because I grew up in a military family, had a police officer for a father, or was just indoctrinated in the, "Yes, please, and no thank you," camp at an early age. Either way, it's always been important that my son to be kind and "mind his manners," for lack of a better word. So when my 2-year-old toddler already says, "please," "thank you," and "excuse me," I feel like I'm doing something right.
While we don't force my son to be affectionate, it makes me incredibly happy to watch him become a naturally affectionate person. Again, thanks to toxic masculinity, being affection isn't necessarily something our culture celebrates in men. So, to have my son be this cuddly human, who loves to hug and kiss and hold hands, lets me know that I'm not allowing outdated gender stereotypes to dictate the way I raise my son.
He Likes What He Likes And Doesn't Apologize For It
My son has two favorite toys (for now). One is a Hulk action figure, and one is a bright pink stuffed puppy. They're both equally important to him, and my son (while only 2-years-old) doesn't care that one is supposedly a "boy toy" and one is a so-called "girl toy." In fact, when a child mocked him for bringing his pink stuffed puppy to the playground, he simply hugged and kissed the puppy while walking away. So proud.
Yes, my son's natural inclination to test the limits of gravity is the worst. I have at least three cardiac episodes a day. However, my son wanting to jump and explore and test his boundaries reminds me that he feels safe, especially when he's in my presence. I know that he has the courage to try new things, because we encourage him try new things. Do I live in a perpetual state of fear? Yep. Is it worth it? You freakin' bet.
He Listens (Usually)
Granted, my child is a 2-year-old toddler so listening isn't necessarily at the top of his "things I do well" list. However, for the most part he really does listen well, especially when we're in public. While we have our moments and he tests boundaries just like the next kid, to know that my son looks up to me, relies on my judgement, and listens to me as a result, makes me feel worthwhile and important. I know that I'm doing well because I have yet to give my son a reason to not listen to me.
He Apologizes When He's Wrong...
Humility is an important lesson to learn, and one that never ceases to assist you throughout life. For me, it's important that my son understand the importance of humility early on, which is why we encourage him to apologize and make amends whenever he does something "wrong." Whether he's thrown a toy, accidentally dropped something, or simply made the wrong choice when given multiple options; knowing that my son is quick to say sorry when he does something "wrong," makes me feel better about the kind of human being he is going to grow up to be.
...And Calls Me Out When I'm Wrong
While I am my son's authority figure and I do hold a certain amount of power over him, I think it's important that he learns when to challenge authority, and why. So, to hear my son tell me that I'm wrong, when I am, reminds me that I'm teaching him to always come to his own conclusions. It also reminds me that humility is important for everyone, not just children. Sure, I may have to eat crow a few times, but to give my son that respect and show him through example, is priceless. Call me out, kiddo.
He Tells Me He Feels Safe...
As someone who grew up in an abusive home, and never felt safe as a result, it's paramount that my son feel safe. So, the afternoon he came up to me randomly, gave me a hug, and said, "Mama, I so safe," was the afternoon that I realized I had broken the cycle. I might have grown up in a physically abusive environment, but my son won't be. I might have spent my childhood being afraid, but my son never will.
...And That He Loves His Home
My family recently moved from Seattle, WA to New York City, NY. Surprisingly, that also meant a bit of an upgrade. We now live in a much larger apartment, so my son has his own room. To watch him spend time in his own environment, and to hear him say, "I love my room" and, "I love my bed," reminds me of all I've been able to give my son. I work hard for my own sense of self and fulfillment, and I had career goals way before I became a mother and those goals haven't changed, but to see my hard work pay off in such a palpable way for my son, is nothing if not incredible. I am constantly reminded of why I do what I do, and it's to give that little boy the home I never had.