My days always start the same way, a dog pacing back and forth on the bedroom floor while I nurse my toddler in bed. My dog, like most other dogs, wants to go outside first thing in the morning. I understand how she feels, as I lie in bed waiting for my toddler to finish her morning milk, I too am holding it.
By the time we make it out of bed and upstairs, the dog has been whining and pacing for at least a half an hour, so of course I am in a hurry to get her outside. But before we can go, the toddler needs to be changed, and have her shoes put on, and of course, she wants to do it all by herself.
She struggles. She can never get her Pull-Up on just right without the help she is unwilling to accept. As she tries and tries again, she becomes frustrated, the dog whines louder, and I start to lose my patience.
The last thing I want to deal with is a puddle of dog pee on the living room carpet, so I take over and start helping my toddler get dressed. She does not like this and starts resisting.
She keeps screaming, “I do, I do!” She’s determined to resist my help.
I realized recently that I am a lot like her this way.
We both see offers to help as criticism. We’re so set on figuring it all out on our own, we don’t stop to learn from others. We both try to work through frustration instead of letting someone else show us how to do something new. And although our tantrums look slightly different—I don’t throw myself on the floor anymore—we both react to anyone getting between us and independence with fits of resistance.
Some might call me stubborn, but I prefer independent and determined. I was what some would call a difficult child. I never wanted to be taught self-sufficiency, instead I wanted to figure it all out myself through trial and error—painful, time-consuming trial and error. I tested my mother’s patience several times a day. I always worked twice as hard as any of my peers on homework—refusing to learn from the book or the teacher’s instructions. I have always been the type of person to completely disregard the confusing instructions that come with boxed furniture, instead choosing to put the pieces together like a puzzle. I have to do everything all by myself.
My toddler is only two years old though and she might grow out of her stubborn determination. Most toddlers have the same stubborn will to do everything themselves, it’s how they assert their independence. But not all of them grow into adults like me, putting up walls to prevent anyone from helping them.
I’ve been refusing help for over thirty years. It became a habit. My belief that people who wanted to help me were criticizing my ability to do things on my own remained unchallenged until recently. I wonder how much I could’ve grown if I had allowed myself to learn from others all these years.
And so now, after a lifetime of treating the world as a puzzle to figure out on my own, I decided don’t want to act like a toddler anymore. I’m starting to ask for help and advice. I’m letting go of the idea that I need to figure everything out on my own for it to be meaningful. I’m letting myself be a beginner. I’m finally starting to grow up.
Who knew I could learn so much from a two-year-old trying to force her shoes on the wrong feet?
Navarre Overton is the founder of Raising Revolution. She is a stay-at-home mom, feminist, freelance writer, and student. You can reach her on Twitter, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.