Archive for Toddler Independence

Let Me Do It

child hand and cookies


It’s a desire that is expressed in many ways.  “I want to help.”  “I do it myself.”  “Let me do it.”  When these words come from my three-year-old, I have to admit that I usually feel a sense of dread.  Because these words, if I indulge them, are usually followed by splattered brownie batter, laundry that requires refolding, or a simple task that takes ten times longer to complete than I had anticipated.

But I read something recently that changed my entire perception of these words:

“You may hear Jesus a hundred times a day, saying to you, ‘Let me do it.’  In your difficulties, in your problems, in all those things in your daily life which are sometimes so difficult, so distressing, when you ask yourself, ‘What shall I do? How shall I do it?’  listen to Him saying to you, ‘Let me do it.’  And then answer Him, ‘O Jesus, I thank you for all things.’  And it will be the most beautiful dialogue of love between a soul and the all-powerful and all-loving God.”  –Fr. Jean C.J. D’Elbee, I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux 

St. Therese’s theology is so applicable to us mothers!  It’s easy to feel that our lives don’t live up to the worldview of “success.”  Maybe they don’t.  But when we forget what type of success we’re supposed to be striving for, all we have to do is see Jesus in our children, hear Him in their voices, and surrender ourselves to Him through their hearts.

Our days can be overwhelming.  The messes, the piles, the crying, the tantrums, the exclamations of “Look at me!” and the drawn out “Mooooooommy!” that seems to come every 30 seconds.  There are many days when we want to just get everything done, get the kids to bed, and sit down!

But Jesus isn’t calling us to only get the laundry done, do the dishes, and resolve arguments and tantrums.  He’s calling us to grow in patience, kindness, and gentleness.  He’s calling us to greater love and unity with our family and with Him.  He’s calling us to heaven.

So when I start to have thoughts of “What shall I do?  How shall I do it?” as I list off my seemingly insurmountable tasks for the day, I try to hear Jesus when my three-year-old says “Let me do it.”

When I surrender my laundry, my cooking, and my cleaning, it is the first step in surrendering my heart.  When I favor relationships over chores, Jesus steps in and takes over.  He multiplies my time.  He makes little miracles happen within the humble walls of my home.  Like my three-year-old spinning an elaborate story about a dream she had.  Or my eleven-year-old sharing his hopes and dreams for the future.  Or my seven-year-old finally opening up about a worry that has been weighing on her mind.  I build my relationships, and somehow the truly necessary work still gets done.  I let Jesus in, and He does it.

It is when we hear Jesus in the simple conversations of our day that the dialogue between us and our children becomes that beautiful dialogue between us and our all-merciful, all-loving, all-powerful God.  And there is no sweeter success than that.

Photo credit: mccartyv via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

The Unexpected Blessings of Potty Training

A month or so ago, with the birth of my second child fast-approaching, and the idea of changing double the amount of diapers looming in my mind, I decided that it was time. My son, recently turned two, was going to learn to use the potty. No more diapers.

boy potty trainingOf course, I read up on all the methods available, got tons of advice from friends who were successful, then just went for it. The method I had chosen suggested that the first few days of training (or “learning” or whatever you’d like to call it), you really need to watch your kid like a hawk, to pick up on their cues and then follow their cues to get them to the bathroom. So, you clear your schedule for a few days, gather some fun activities to do together, and prepare to basically just give your child some undivided attention for a day or two. Sounds simple enough, right? After all, I have ONE child, I’m able to be home with him during the day, and since he has a tendency to be, well, rascally, I’m used to keeping a keen eye on him most of the time. Or so I thought.

This was the eye-opener for me. This is where I realized how distracted I typically am. As parents, we get so used to multi-tasking that we rarely actually give anything, even our child, our complete attention. I’m not saying this is wrong, or bad, or even less than ideal. It’s often how things have to be so that a household can keep running smoothly (or rather, just run). And frankly, by the end of that first day of watching my son’s every move, playing, snuggling, and loving him up without trying to do anything else, I was fried. Completely and utterly exhausted.

We had made lots of potty-training progress and had had a nice day together, but I was shocked at how difficult it had been for me to put everything else on hold. I found myself having to fight the urge to go wash up a few dishes from breakfast, check my e-mail for just a minute, or make a quick phone call to the doctor’s office. While I was sitting reading my son an endless pile of books, I was running through my to-do list in my head. When we were sitting on the floor playing with blocks, I was sorely tempted to check my Facebook account.

By the end of the day, exhausted and spent, I really started contemplating how all of my usual multi-tasking was affecting me and my family. I’ve never thought of myself as an over-achiever (I’m not), but after a day of solely caring for my child, I realized how much other stuff I usually attempted to cram into my day. Sure, the dishes need to get done eventually, and the living room should be vacuumed and everyone needs to be fed. These are realities. But what I’m talking about is being fully present in each moment during my day. So often, I find myself scattered… doing several things at once and not doing anything to the best of my ability or with as much joy as I should.

Frankly, most of the time, I don’t care if I’m vacuuming my living room to the best of my ability. But I sure do care if I’m giving my family the best and most joyful of my attention. The dishes don’t crave my undivided consideration- my son does. The laundry doesn’t need me to sit down and quietly listen- my husband does. I realized I’ve even got into the habit of praying while I do other things. Which is wonderful in the sense that we can pray at any time, but not so wonderful if that’s the only time I find to pray. My relationship with God needs moments of peace and devoted attention, too. And God has put me in this life to serve and love the people around me.

Paying attention to that responsibility is vital to my feeling of fulfillment in my vocation. Because when I’m doing too much multi-tasking, I feel distracted, lost, and unsatisfied. I can never seem to finish my to-do list, and everything seems like a burden on my limited time. My son seems more demanding and whinier to me. My husband seems less helpful. God seems less responsive to my prayers.

Of course, none of this is the case. My son seems whinier because I’m not giving him the attention that he needs. It’s hard for a two year old to communicate all of his big thoughts and feelings as it is, and when I’m trying to do something else, he can tell that I’m not really trying to understand. The same holds true for my husband. He’s not actually unhelpful, but when I’m constantly trying to do too many things at once, he can’t keep up. He shouldn’t be expected to keep up with the thoughts and plans whizzing through my head at any given moment.

And it’s the same with God. When I am quickly sending up prayers as I run into the grocery store, God is listening… I’m just too distracted to get the reply. I’ve already moved on and failed to listen. God answers prayer and speaks to us constantly, but we have to be paying attention. Our answers may come when we are playing with our children or talking with friends- but I bet you’ll rarely hear those answers if you are not fully present in those moments.

So taking the time to be fully present with my son isn’t only important because my child needs me to be present, but also because God needs me to be fully in that moment as well. When we accept the vocation of parenthood, we have to realize that God is going to speak to us through our duties within the vocation. We need to slow down. Complete our tasks in peace. Give our attention to the people and tasks that really need it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I think we should all just blow off our other responsibilities and sit around on the ground playing endless rounds of knock-down-all-the-blocks with our kids all day. First of all, I’d lose my mind. By the end of the first few days of potty-training and watching my child intently, I was pretty sure I was going to lose it. It’s a lot. Variety is the spice of life. I like doing other tasks throughout my day, and my child needs the independent time to explore on his own, as well. However, my biggest epiphany was that the time I spent with my son needed to be free of all the distractions. When I sit down to read him a book, I don’t want to get up to check something in the oven or look at my phone when I hear that I have a text. It can wait. He deserves my full attention for those few minutes.

And what’s really amazing is how much I learned about my own child, who I spend all day, every day with, just from watching him without distractions for a few days. I noticed the funny little things he does, the way he concentrates on something until he has it figured out, how determined he is to get it right. I noticed the funny face he makes when he sees a bird outside or the eye roll he does when I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. I was truly amazed at how much I was missing out on (me, a stay-at-home mom!), by constantly doing two or three things at once.

Potty-training, while not exactly a picnic, gave me the opportunity to slow down and remember why I’m doing this whole parenting thing in the first place. It served as a reminder to pay attention and witness the miracle that is my child learning and growing, so proud of his accomplishments, daily becoming the person God intends for him to be. What a gift! A greater gift, even, than not having to change two sets of diapers.

Marian Mothering: A Brief Introduction

Editor’s Note: I am thrilled to present to you Lisa Stack’s inaugural article on Marian Mothering.  Lisa will write a monthly column on this topic.  Welcome Lisa!

Lisa Stack with daughter Clare

I’m Lisa, Catholic  mom to a beautiful daughter and a son on the way!  On a monthly basis, I will share with you on CAPC my practice of mothering in Mary’s image.  This is a method that has evolved (and continues to do so) over time with great reflection on my role as a mother, and how this role enhances my faith.

This is not a guide to parenting; it is a journey to further understanding our role as ‘Mom’ and how we can deepen our connection with Christ, through Mary.  While it may initially appear complicated, it is simply a two-step practice of taking each challenge or joyous event and applying the following two questions:

  1. How did (or would) Mary approach a similar moment with Christ?
  2. How does my appreciation for Mary as a fellow mother, further my understanding and love for Christ?

In light of this month’s Table Topic, I will explain a brief example of this practice using my personal struggle in recognizing Clare’s independence, while yearning for her to stay my sweet baby forever.

Over the past few months, Clare has taken great steps to learn what it means to care for herself.  She prefers to wash her own hair, brush her own teeth, select her own clothes, and even dress herself.  She hasn’t exactly mastered these tasks yet, and I find myself wanting to jump in and help – but I don’t.  I take the challenging road of waiting patiently, until she asks me for help.  I hate to see her get frustrated when she just can’t get her foot into the right pant leg, but I know that she has to do it herself.  She desperately wants to do it herself, and I respect her process.

Initially, I found myself experiencing grief over her increasing independence.  I knew that it would come eventually, but I didn’t understand how challenging it would be for me to watch her grow and change so quickly.  As my heart ached, I looked to Mary for an example of strength. She, too, had to let her child grow and change.  She had to let Him venture out into a world alone, where not everyone would love Him.  I imagined her wanting to keep Him close and safe, knowing that others would not understand His mission.

Although Mary may have wanted to keep Christ for herself, like I want to keep Clare, she let Him go.  I drew from her strength, and her unconditional love.  I also appreciated Christ in a new light.  I saw Him through the eyes of a mother, not just as one of the many He sacrificed His life for.  Suddenly, the thought of letting Christ go out into a world where many would reject and persecute Him became far more painful, and my love for Him grew.

Imagine, for a moment, watching your child struggling to put their own pants on, while knowing that they were the son or daughter of God?  What strength and love Mary must have had to not just pick Him up and hide somewhere to keep Him safe.  What faith she must have had in God, to trust in His plan, even when it caused such great pain.

Although there is a great difference between Christ’s great sacrifice, and Clare’s morning ritual, I have come to a greater understanding of both Mary’s strength and Christ’s great mission.  When I find myself feeling grief over Clare’s independence, I remind myself of Mary’s strength, and the importance of respecting a child’s mission – even if it is, for the moment, conquering purple leggings.


Toddlers: Potty Training

Let me say right off the bat that my potty training history is a bit murky.  I don’t think I ever really had a big plan with my first two children.  We just sort of went with the flow (no pun intended).  I would buy a potty chair and let the kids live with it in the bathroom for a while.  I didn’t push it at all.  When they wanted to sit on it, I encouraged them.

When he turned two years old, my oldest son Aidan potty trained in 2 days without an issue.  Claire was nearly potty trained at 2½ when Dominic was born, but then she regressed.  I had a new baby and sleep deprivation to attend to so I didn’t worry about her potty training.  When she was nearly 3 she announced one day that she wasn’t going to wear diapers anymore and she didn’t.  I think she had one accident and that was it.  I’m talking about day training here.  Both Aidan and Claire slept in nighttime pull-ups until they were dry in the morning, then we got rid of them.  They were both about 4 or 5.

I thought Dominic would be like his older siblings, but of course not.  What was I thinking? Dominic liked wearing diapers.  He didn’t see any reason to pee in the toilet if he could just go in his pants.  I mean, his pants were right there.  This is when I started to read what my favorite parenting writers said about the subject.  Attachment advice ranges from “don’t do anything; it’ll eventually happen naturally” to creating a big potty plan complete with games and potty parties.

We got him the potty books and videos, and tried to make a big party out of going to the potty, but he didn’t buy it.  Dr. Sears says in his “Baby Book” that when it comes to potty training, late is better than early.  But then the 3 year mark passed, and still he wasn’t day trained.  Late was getting really late.  Dr. Sears suggests that at this point you can use the “running out of diapers” approach.  You show the child that there are only 10 diapers left, and then you count down as they disappear.  When you get to one diaper, you make sure the child knows that’s it.  So we tried this.  Dominic just went in his pants.

This is when we, I regret to report, resorted to the old reward measures.  Star charts didn’t work.  He liked his diapers more than stars.  We tried giving him a jelly bean every time he used the potty.  Nope.  He looked at me like “That’s it? A jelly bean?”  One reward that did work:  We made a 7-day chart with the first 6 days blank.  The 7th day had a picture of Chuck E. Cheese.  We said if he could go 7 days without an accident we would take him to Chuck E. Cheese.  Each day that he succeeded, we put a smiley face on the chart.  Guess what?  It worked.  For that first week.

I’m honestly not sure how he ever became trained.  I know that as his 4th birthday passed, he was still not trained, but at some point he decided he didn’t like the mess in his pants.  Now he’s a boy of 6 both day and night trained.  (Though he does like to wear his pants backwards).  Don’t ask me how we did it.  I thought he’d be wearing diapers in college.

Given my track record with Dominic, I perhaps have no right to offer potty training advice, except maybe to suggest putting slipcovers on your sofa.  However here’s what wiser folks suggest.

1)      Make sure your toddler is really ready:  Watch for signs of potty readiness.  Is she interested in the potty or what you’re doing there?  Does she tell you when she’s wet or poopy, or does she start taking off her diaper when she’s soiled?

BabyBjorn Potty Chair

2)      Set the stage:  Get a potty chair and some fun books or videos on potty training.  Show your toddler how the potty chair works using a doll.  We had a Baby Alive type doll with Dominic that would pee right into the potty.   After buying all sorts of fancy potty chairs for my older 3, my favorite potty chair is the no-frills one I have for Lydia.  It’s the BabyBjorn potty.  It has a deep seat, a high back, and it’s easy to clean.  Some of our favorite potty books:  The Potty Book for Girls and The Potty Book for Boys by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, My Big Girl Potty and My Big Boy by Joanna Cole, and You Can Go to the Potty by William and Martha Sears.

3)      Help your toddler make the pee to potty connection:  Watch for signs that he needs to go (squatting or sitting in the corner), then ask him “Do you need to go potty?  Let’s go potty!”  Then take him to the potty.  If he produces, make a big fuss about it – dance around and sing songs.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

4)      Dress for success:  Make training easier by dressing her in stretchy pants that she can pull down herself.

Bare bottom training is also an option.  In summer weather, you can bring the potty chair outside and let your toddler run around bare bottomed.  At some point, he’ll produce and he’ll see what happens when he pees or poos.  You can show him that the pee or poo goes in the potty.

Lydia turned 2 in January and she’s nearly potty trained.  She has been interested in the potty chair for many months and she’s recently been going into the bathroom and going potty herself, but still not consistently.  I ask her every few hours if she needs to go potty.  If we have a warm day, I let her go bare bottomed outside and that definitely helps.  No rewards or bribes.  Just lots of encouragement, cheering, and potty celebrations.

Photo credit: Cathy Yeulet (

Toddler Independence

The toddler years are the “I DO IT!” years.  No longer a helpless baby, the toddler realizes he can pour things, open things, and even walk away from us (sometimes in a crowded mall . . . ).   He will often want to do these things when it’s either unsafe or imprudent.

These bundles of energy are still too young to assess their abilities or most dangers.  He looks at the pitcher of juice — all 64 ounces of it — and at his favorite cup.  He wants to see if he can get the juice into that cup.  He really, really wants to see if he can get that juice into that cup.  We know what’ll happen if he tries to do it himself:  Not only will we have a juice puddle to clean up, but our toddler will be in a puddle of tears.

Helping our toddlers become increasingly independent is a necessary balancing act.  We don’t want to get our child stuck in some kind of dependence quicksand, but we also don’t want to throw her into an independence “deep end”.   Either extreme is unhealthy for her and damaging to the parent-child bond.

Here are a few suggestions to ponder as you manage toddler independence:

1) Don’t break the will; respect it:  Toddlers are often accused of being “willful” when they are asserting their independence.  Dr. Popcak has a fascinating discussion on the Catholic view of the human will in Parenting With Grace.  Some Protestant parent educators view the infant as evil and corrupt, and the will oppressed by the devil.  They believe we must break or suppress the child’s will, so they’re supportive of strategies that will basically crush the child’s will in an effort to save her soul.

Catholics believe that the will must be respected.  We need to teach and guide the will, but we must never “break it”.   To attempt to break, suppress, or crush the will is a violation of the child’s human dignity.  Yes, toddlers can throw tantrums and wag their fingers at us when they don’t get what they want.  But this isn’t evidence of an oppressed will; it’s just her misguided way of getting her needs met.  What is it she really needs?  Teaching her how to express her needs appropriately, with a supportive and loving tone of voice, is more fruitful than punishing her.  The first step in teaching her how to communicate her thoughts with decorum and love is to communicate with her in the same way.

2)  Independence, but at the toddler’s pace:  I like Dr. Sears’s suggestion that we let our toddler take the initiative to separate from us, rather than us from her.   Last week we were at our usual homeschooling park day.  Several families get together and the kid play while the parents chat.  Lydia (age two) always stays right on my lap, never venturing off the blanket.  She’s my “cling-on” – always on me, touching me, or sitting right next to me.  Even while we sleep, she sleeps with one leg on me.

Well, last week Lydia, wearing her favorite super-twirly purple tutu, began to venture off.  First she walked about 5 steps toward a tree, then turned around and ran back to my arms.  I welcomed her back.  Then off she went again, this time a little farther.  I didn’t make a big deal of it.  I just waved to her and blew kisses as she took those steps.  I continued talking to a friend calmly while watching Lydia explore the grass between the blanket and tree.  By the end of our play time, she was running to the tree and back (about 20 feet away) and jumping into my arms.

3)  Make her environment more toddler accessible:  Avoid the frustrations if at all possible.  Next time, put the juice in a small pitcher that your toddler can pour himself.  (I found a darling enamelware pitcher at Ikea for $6 – it’s a perfect size for a toddler.)  It might take a few tries, but eventually those little hands will be able to pour the juice.  Or don’t put the juice on the table.  Does she want to dress herself?  Buy shoes she can put on herself (without ties), roomy shirts, and elastic-waist pants.  The clothes may be on backwards, but who cares! 

My children are required to help with chores (at least that’s the theory), so I want to include my toddler.  She loves to sweep, but when she wields the broom, the back end is a dangerous weapon.  By giving her an appropriate tool — a Lydia-sized broom and dustpan– I’m making her environment more safe, avoiding toddler tantrums, and giving her an opportunity to practice industry along with her older siblings. 

4)  Encourage self-reliance but with love:  My mother lion instinct makes me want to rush in and rescue my babies the minute they’re in distress.  While it’s painful in many ways (and inconvenient), sometimes I have to step back and let my children navigate their way out of trouble.  Whether it’s figuring out how to get a ball out of a plastic castle, putting on her coat, or finding her way to me from the bathroom, I can call out to her with my familiar voice cheering her on to success.  When I sense the moment of independence has passed and I’m now dealing with a frightened toddler needing a hug, finally I can step in.

5)  Help your toddler trust other adults:  Whether relatives, extended family, or trusted friends, I try to encourage my toddlers to trust and depend upon other adults as they get older.  I would never require my children to stay with a stranger if they were upset or distressed.  My goal is to help them feel genuinely safe before I leave them in another person’s care.  Otherwise, I may lose their trust and may make them even more fearful of allowing new people to care for them.  

We had a mother’s helper for a while who was real treasure.  She was very creative and always brought games or crafts for the kids to do.  Dominic was a toddler and very guarded with strangers.  However, Erica coming over meant fun was in the air and Dominic was ready for her!  She would take Dominic on adventures around the neighborhood and after a while Dominic adored her and felt very safe in her care.  At first I stayed in the house while she cared for the children, but eventually I was able to leave for extended periods without a single tear in the house.  Too bad teenagers grow up and go off to college!

When toddlers who live in a safe, gentle, attached environment are given increased opportunities for independence, the bumps and lumps of toddlerhood are minimized.  We can allow these little cuties to make more and more choices as they grow in maturity and they will take their independence naturally.  There may be some spilled juice on the road to toddler independence, but there are far more laughs!

Photo credit: Robert Cumming (