Bug has wanted a toy kitchen since he first set foot in the toddler room at church, and this was finally the year. The kitchen was the grand finale at my in-laws’ on Christmas morning and the kids went nuts. There was a brief honeymoon period during which they explored alongside each other, but then Bug decided to start cooking and, much like his mother, just wanted to be left alone in the kitchen to do his thing. We could all see Babygirl’s frustration starting to build as she stood back a few feet, reaching for the kitchen, her pleading whimpers of “Uh! Uh! Uh!” growing in both volume and angst as Bug continued putting a hand out to block her and explaining that she could not open the oven because he had something in there.
Finally, my father-in-law couldn’t take it anymore and blurted out what most of the room was thinking, “Isn’t anyone going to help her??”
I gave the slightest shake of my head to let the onlookers know that, no, I wanted to let this play out. I did, however, say, “You really want to play with the kitchen too. Bug has something in the oven and is asking you to wait. Waiting is hard.”
While continuing to block the kitchen with his body, Bug began to look around. Before I had time to wonder what for, he had found Babygirl’s lovey to help calm her while she waited. It worked and, before we knew it, Bug’s dinner was done cooking and he proudly served it to his sister who delighted in eating every imaginary bite (except for the ones that she shared with Gampy).
This scenario is not an unfamiliar one and, every time it happens, I can feel the eyes of those around us (usually strangers at the park whose opinions I could stand to worry less about) turn to watch, not the kids, but me. What am I going to do about it? Am I raising my son to be an entitled jerk (an assumption that is only reinforced by his ever-present USC apparel)? Am I raising my daughter to be a doormat? Don’t I want my kids to get along? and ISN’T ANYONE GOING TO HELP HER?!
And sometimes I do help. They are one and two years old, after all, and not equipped to resolve every conflict they find themselves in. Sometimes they really do need help. Other times, of course, they don’t and I make the mistake of stepping in anyway. But, this time I didn’t, and here is what I hope my children learned in that moment:
I am on their side. I am not on his side or her side. I side with both of them. I see the conflict and am ready to support them through it without allowing my agenda to determine who is “right,” who is “wrong,” and what is “fair.”
I trust them to solve their own problems. I acknowledged the conflict, but I didn’t offer a solution. A parent wouldn’t have come up with the solution that Bug did because it doesn’t fit a formula where everything is “fair.” He didn’t acquiesce and give her a turn. He asked her to keep waiting. But in asking her to wait, he was able to look beyond himself and think about what would help his sister.
They are a team. When I abstain from stepping in and deciding who gets their way, sending the message that I see them as adversaries who need a mediator, they are able to work together instead of against each other to resolve a conflict. If I had intervened and told Bug that he needed to let his sister have a turn, sure, they might each have had a chance to play alone in the kitchen, but they would not have shared the giggle-filled moments of eating an imaginary Christmas brunch together.
I won’t always be around to help, so it’s important to me that my kids know they can help themselves and that, when they can’t, they have each other.