With four kids to raise, I find it takes a lot of mental manoeuvering to honour each child's nature—so s/he feels seen and valued—while also establishing a family code of conduct that works for all of us.
There has been no greater push for me to rise to that challenge than parenting my youngest child.
She is spirited.
There are a lot of other words that get used to describe a kid like her: stubborn, disobedient, difficult, naughty, bad.
But she is none of those things.
She is confident, bright, and deeply committed to her belief system. If she holds on to these traits into her teen years and as an adult (please, let it be so), she will be called a leader.
She has emptied my bag of tricks and bent my steadfast rules, while also filling my heart.
The first two years were easy. She was a quiet, good-natured baby. Looking back, I realize she was taking it in, storing it up, making sense of the world as she saw it. Now, at three, she's entered a phase of finding her place.
And it leaves me breathless to see how she is unafraid to be here.
I watch her from across a room and worry about a day she loses that mindset.
I worry about failing her spirit and extinguishing her fire.
Because even when she exasperates me, it's exhilarating.
I was a sideline kind of kid.
My husband was a sideline kind of kid.
Our three older kids, although brave enough to try things I never could, prefer to be sideline kids.
She is a front-and-centre kind of kid. She has opinions and ideas and a beautiful sense of self.
A lot of her defiance or behaviours are actually a call to be heard. And when we stop and put our eyes in line with hers—so she knows we're listening—it's always worth it.
Every afternoon at preschool pick-up, it's the same routine: she sees me come to the gate, she runs away, I stand and wait, her teacher convinces her to come, she finally does.
Before I was her parent I would have said: You need to come to the gate when I pick you up at school.
Because my insecurities would have told me to make her obey.
Good children listen, and good parents make them listen.
That doesn't work for my girl and her spirit.
So instead she hears: You looked very busy. What were you doing when I came to pick you up today?
She was a dragon, a butterfly, a unicorn, a friend.
It was too exciting, too silly, too magical, too fun to stop.
And when I remind her that we should hurry so her siblings can hear all about her fun, she is delighted and determined to help us get there on time.
I am grateful she came last—when my confidence as a parent was well-established.
I think of how she might have broken me if she had come first, and how instead she makes me unafraid, too.
I've learned that while there are times you need to play offense and defense in parenting, there are many other times you must climb into the stands and be a spectator.
No matter how hard it is to sit there, we must.
Wave at them, cheer for them, show them you want to be there.
But let them play.
Because no matter the outcome of the game, this is how they win.
This article was a very helpful read if you have a spirited child, too. Lucky you.