When my daughter, Emilia, was a baby, I found myself taking somewhat unexpected joy in dressing her up.
Not in frilly dresses, but in baby versions of outfits I’d wear.
It was a win, win, win – she looked cuter than I ever would, the clothes were far more affordable than anything I’d buy for myself, and it was a subtle way of saying to the world, “Here! Look at this person I made! She is wonderful, and so is her tiny down vest.”
And so it went: me choosing the outfits, me calling the shots, me making the decisions, me pulling the strings.
Then she turned 3.
One morning, I turned to that 3-year-old to initiate our typical morning ritual: she would stare sleepily at Curious George while I flopped one arm into the air and then another, getting her started for the day in the clothes I had chosen.
Hold. The. Phone.
Suddenly the dress and tights I’d laid out the night before weren’t going to fly. She knew exactly what she wanted to wear – and that was a soiled pajama top paired with too-short pants and maybe there was a tutu involved. It was all very specific. She was very serious about it.
And after a few weeks of this – of negotiations and bribes and long drawn-out discussions about the impracticality of wearing ballet flats on a rainy day – I had to give up.
Because I realized that her desire to dress like the Disney adaptation of Grey Gardens wasn’t what was so hard for me to take. It was coming to grips with her otherness. Her existence beyond me. The fact that this would be just one instance in a long string of letting-gos.
That’s a hard pill to swallow.
Being a parent is an ever-evolving game of Whac-A-Mole. Except the moles are your children and the over-sized mallet is your optimism, your good intentions and your misguided notion that you have ultimate control over this situation.
The truth is, however, we don’t. At the end of the day (a very long day, where no one napped and the dishwasher broke), babies sleep when they want to. Toddlers eat when they want to. Preschoolers will assert their very strong opinions over and over again until you realize that wearing a marinara-stained Elsa dress five days in a row never hurt anyone.
But what I cling to – and what I sincerely believe to be true – is that my influence will always matter in one key area: who my children become. I may not win the stalemate over brushing hair or eating another green bean, but I can model thoughtful behavior. I won’t always succeed in sticking to our bedtime routine, but I can teach my girls what it means to be loving, accepting and welcoming to the people who come in and out of their lives. I may occasionally give in, but I will never give up on making sure the children I brought into this world are, above all else, kind.
What an awesome gift – and a huge responsibility – it is that we have the power to make that happen.
Catherine Kraemer wrote this guest blog for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of two young girls – Emilia, 3, and Grace, 1. Originally from St. Louis, she lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.