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I had a conversation recently with a fellow working mama and good friend who has a daughter around my son’s age. She was telling me about her daughter’s first haircut—an event she’s been anticipating (and dreading) for the past six months. Even though her daughter had asked for a haircut—saying specifically, “Mommy, I want a haircut”—my friend was worried that her daughter might react badly to the cut and that it would be an unpleasant experience for everyone. Here’s what actually happened: The whole thing took less than five minutes, her daughter didn’t blink an eye at getting her bangs trimmed and she already wants to go back for her next cut. As my friend said, it was a lot of worrying about nothing.
I can relate. As a mom, I have often gotten myself worked up over something new my son had to do—which then turned out to be no big deal. The first night we moved him from his bassinet to his crib, I could not physically put my son into his new bed for 15 minutes. I just stood next to the crib with him in my arms and thought, This crib is so big and he’s so small. He’s going to be lost in here and lonely and cold. When I finally put him down, he was fine (although I did check on him umpteenth times that night). And within two days, the crib seemed to be the perfect size after all.
I’ve often wondered if part of this tendency to try to anticipate what might happen comes partly from my experience as a working mom. At work, I have to anticipate what might happen all the time: Will my boss like this idea? How can I manage my time to get this done on deadline? Who can I call next if I don’t get what I need from this interview? I almost have to imagine the worst in order to perform my best. Unfortunately, I’ve found that this isn’t the best approach as a parent. Of course, you need to be mindful of safety issues when you have a child, but for the most part you need to let them do new things—even when you think they’re not ready. And, as my friend noted, you need to let them try, even when you’re not ready. “I think it has something to do with wanting to hold on to babyhood as long as you can,” she said. “Any sort of ‘milestone’ triggers the feeling that they are growing up and, as a working mom, I have this little voice inside that wonders if I’m missing out because I'm not home all the time.”
Most recently, my husband, son and I went to a small fair at our local playground. There were a handful of rides for toddlers, and my son wanted to go on the mini-roller coaster. My husband and I were extremely hesitant and initially weren’t going to let him. But he was so intent on going that we let him walk up to the “You must be this tall to ride” sign secretly hoping that he would be too short. When he wasn’t, I asked the ride operator what he thought—he just shrugged and said, “If he’s tall enough, he can ride.” I then went even further and asked him if my son was freaking out, would he stop the ride so he could get off (he agreed). So, we let him go. My son ran up the stairs to the platform, climbed into one of the cars by himself and after being belted in by the operator, held on to the handlebar and looked straight ahead while he waited for the ride to start. When it did, he let out a yelp of delight and then would not get off for the next five rides in a row. In fact, he was having such a great time the operator let him ride for free. Twice. I may not be ready (and willing) for all the new things my son will do, but I’m so glad we both didn’t miss this one.