The temper tantrums over the silliest things.
The refusal to put his shoes on before we leave the house.
The breakdowns after the end of screen time.
The frantic mischief he loves to commit.
Life with my 3-year-old can be exhausting.
My darling, spirited son is full of emotion and affection, defiance and inquisition. He’s at turns charming and maddening. With boundless energy, “creative” ideas up the wazoo (did you know you could pour Cheerios into the bathtub and drink them? YEP.) and endless questions, I KNOW he’s going to transform the world—if only he would put his pants on.
I realize just how lucky I am to guide this unique soul through the world. So lately, when I try to teach him right from wrong, or find myself starting to seethe when he refuses to listen, I’m trying to take the long view.
I remind myself that I’m not just correcting behavior in this moment, but I’m helping to build him into the amazing adult man that I know he’ll become.
Taking the long view with my high-energy son has helped put small, daily frustrations into perspective.
I’m not ‘just’ teaching a toddler, I’m also raising a man.
And when I think about the man I hope he becomes, I find a deeper sense of purpose and peace in the many lessons and character-forming moments during our days.
When I ask him to bring his breakfast bowl back into the kitchen, I’m helping build him into a husband who sees housework as his role, too.
When I teach him we need to wear shoes to preschool, he’s learning that there are some social norms that are worth accepting in the grand scheme of things.
When I expect him to carry his own backpack into school, he’s beginning to understand that he needs to be responsible for his own behavior.
When he is disciplined at school for using “potty words,” he’s learning that there are some words that offend and hurt and it’s best to not use them around our friends.
When he opens his lunchbox to find (mostly) healthy options inside, he’s learning that foods that nourish us should make up the foundation of our diet. (So we’re going to lay off the cookies for lunch, no matter how many times he asks ?.)
When we focus on “taking turns,” he learns that the world doesn’t revolve around him and that others deserve their fair share, too.
When I remind him that he needs to control his hands and express his frustration in words (not hitting), I’m teaching him that true strength is found in self-control.
When I ask him to put away his crayons directly after after coloring time, he’s learning that doing a job right the first time means you don’t have to fix a bigger problem later.
When I ask for help cleaning up a mess he didn’t make, he’s learning that part of being in a family is helping others with their problems.
When I insist he needs to put his clothes away even though he whines ‘it’s HARD!”, I am teaching him the pride of achieving hard things. (Hey, putting your clothes into the hamper counts as ‘hard’ when you’re 3.)
When I request that he take a bath after a long day of play and sweat and dirt and mess, I teach him that self-care is worth slowing down for.
When I am firm on bedtime despite his many, (MANY!!!!) protestations, he is learning that there are limits in life that should be respected—and the need for rest is one of them.
When we say prayers at the end of the day, no matter how silly he acts at the time, he’s learning his place and purpose in the universe.
When I comfort him out of a nightmare in the middle of the night, I’m teaching him that I will always be here for him, no matter what.
When I do these hundreds of tiny, sometimes tedious and frustrating things throughout the day, I’m not just correcting a toddler. This work, I truly believe, will reverberate for eternity.
I’m helping raise this boy to a man.
And getting to live life with this mischievous, curious, stubborn one-shoed spitfire isn’t just hard work—it’s the biggest privilege of my life.