What is the most neglected, dusty, underutilized tool in your parental toolbox? The weirdly-sized hex wrench of parenting, as it were? It is this, parents: Wait.
How can I get my baby to sleep through the night / stop spitting up / stop crying all the time? Wait.
How can I get my toddler to use the potty / stop screaming / put on her shoes / stay in bed / stop hitting me / stop hitting his siblings / stop hitting everyone? Wait.
How can I get my preschooler to dress himself / clean up her toys / use a freaking tissue / share anything, for the love of God / use the potty, I can’t believe we are still working on this, you cannot be serious. . . ? Wait.
How can I get my school-age kid or teenager to do his homework / clean his room / bathe once in a while / notice what needs to be done around here / get rid of all this junk, this place is a pigsty / stop freaking out!!! / take some responsibility / show some motivation, why are you like a floppy mattress I have to tie to the back of my truck and bodily drag through the streets / I dunno, possibly maybe think about a calendar . . . or write something down, how about that. . . ?
Just . . . wait.
I’m not saying to fall asleep at the wheel. It’s our job to nurture and teach our kids, to give them opportunities to grow and develop. But there can be a lot of nervous energy that goes into trying to make them “grow faster” . . . sleepless parental nights spent projecting today’s missing homework into a lifetime of ne’er-do-well unemployment . . . today’s wet bed into a lifetime of lonely incontinence. I’ve often felt as a parent that I couldn’t wait one minute longer for XYZ milestone to occur. When that happens, I’ve tried to pedal faster and faster-- try harder and harder to get my child to grow up, dangit.
What my smarter self is saying, though, is that developmental emergencies rarely exist. When you’ve given it the old college try and you child’s just not budging, chances are good that your child is just not ready. Trying to speed things up is like pushing a river. In fact, our frantic efforts can be worse than futile if they make our kids see growth as something to fight with us about instead of what it really is: the triumphant development of their human spirits. Growing up is your child’s job to do, with your guidance, on his or her own fiercely defended timetable. And when they feel like they “leveled up” all by themselves, that’s the sweetest feeling of all.
So, don’t be afraid to wait. After you’ve tried the hammer and the saw, after you’ve borrowed the drill press from the neighbors, when you’re sitting in pile of sawdust with a whole lot of mess still in front of you, pull out that weirdly-sized hex wrench from your parenting toolbox, clasp it hopefully in your hand, and just wait.
Chances are excellent that your kids will develop in their own, good, maddening, but ultimately inspiring time.