Letting Them Be Little

Rather than trying to correct toddler regression, perhaps we should give them a safe space to regress. After all, if it’s going by too fast for us, it may be going too fast for them too.

I am thinking about my first-born today. This photo was taken almost exactly two years ago, a month before my daughter was born. How different our lives were with just one! I could never have imagined how exponentially full and beautiful life could become when it was so incredible already, how much my heart could expand when my baby girl arrived.

Yes, there are many things my oldest got to enjoy that my littlest one will never have, like our full attention for the first 21 months of his life. He will always be the one to encounter new milestones first and have our attention in a unique way as we undergo those same experiences as parents for the first time. Most people we meet have said how first-borns have it well – they talk about the advantages that birth order affords, or the leadership potential of first-borns. Many feel sorry for younger siblings, that they don’t get the same amount of undivided attention, new toys, or photos and videos to document their every move. There’s so much mommy-guilt inflicted on us, whether from ourselves or others, for the way we are with our younger ones, that we can sometimes get caught up in trying to make it up to them in whatever little ways we can.

Yet, in the midst of that, I find myself sometimes forgetting that my older one is in many ways still a baby himself. He seems so enormous compared to her, especially when she was just born. He could already talk at that point and seemed so mature. Perhaps we viewed him as an “older” brother already. But as my daughter is nearing age two and we still see her and treat her as our little baby, it dawned on me that she’s already older than my son was in this photo.

He seemed so huge compared to her when she was just born! But when I think about it, he was still essentially an infant himself.

I sometimes expect so much of him. I expect him to know how to wait patiently when I’m caring for the younger one, to sometimes be the bigger person and let his sister have a turn, to be more independent.

He’s always been on the more articulate side for his age. The interesting thing about that is that he’s able to articulate some of what’s going on inside. While other children manifest their emotions through acting out (which he does as well), he is also able to provide a fascinating glimpse into his inner world both then and now, as he’s been able to explicitly say to us, “I want to be a baby,” or “Mommy, pretend I’m a baby that can’t talk,” or more recently, “I’m not grown up yet, mama.”

It’s intriguing to have him narrate his own regression and thoughts, and gives me insight to the questions he has on his mind, on where he stands in our lives. At the root of it, I think he wants to know if we still love him the same way we used to, if we love him as much as we love his sister.

He’s still little. He’s still learning. He’s experienced so much transition already, all things he had absolutely no control over. We as mamas so often grieve that it goes by too fast; yet I hadn’t given much thought to how it’s changing too quickly for our kids too. That though we view our children’s growth as the cause for change in our rhythms and routines, that it’s also a change in their rhythm and routine, one that they don’t always fully understand.

I wish they could stay little forever. And today, I’m realizing that in this season, they may actually wish the same thing. Instead of jumping immediately to trying to “correct” their regressions as so many books and experts say, perhaps we should live, let, and love our little ones through them a little more.

So here’s to holding on, holding tight, and relishing the moment, letting them be the babies they still are.

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