Attachment Parenting, Motherhood

Why I Follow My Toddlers’ Lead

13 Comments 19 May 2011

This post has been inspired by The Real Reasons Being a Toddler is Hard and other recent (true) events.

My daughter makes a lot of her own decisions.

She is a 2 and four month old toddler.

But I’m not holding her to that. She doesn’t know how young she is. She knows that she simply “is.” My daughter is more than a toddler. She is a human being.

What drives a toddler’s decision making process? Nothing different than ours – wants and needs.

Toddlers may not have a lot of patience. Sometimes I don’t either. They may not understand reasoning. Well geeze, I think it’s hard to accept when the shoes I want really bad are too expensive!

I had no idea young children were so REAL until I loved and shared my life with one.

My daughter is so present, aware, curious, thoughtful and emotional.

It’s incredibly humbling to watch her live her little important daily life. Everything means so much. Each moment. I strive to be more like her.

Supporting Ella’s Choices

Ella decided when she wanted to use the potty. She decides what and when she wants to eat, and when to sleep (nap and nighttime).

These choices have not always been made on her own. I’ve definitely tried to impose my rules and regulations. I thought it was the “responsible parent” thing to do.

But it didn’t take me long to realize I am not the ultimate decider, Ella is.

I am simply here as a resource – to guide, nurture and support the choices she makes.

Why I’m glad I lost the nighttime battle

Let’s paint a pretty picture of bedtime, just for fun.

p.s. this is one of the biggest changes in attitude I made regarding Ella making her own choices. I’m grateful for the experience to learn how to parent my daughter better – it’s paid off for both of us.

The routine begins at 7:30. First we take a nice bath, complete with toys, songs and lavender oil. After bath, apply lotion (with more lavender oil). Pick out a bunch of books. Get snuggly in bed around 8:30 and read every book, sometimes twice. If you’re a breastfeeding mum like me, you nurse. And your child falls peacefully to sleep in a matter of minutes.

Unless of course, your child keeps nursing…

And nursing. And rolling around. Maybe even sitting up and talking to you. Before you know it,  you get resentful, want to pull out your hair and have an anxiety attack when it’s 9:45 and your child is still. not. asleep. When he/she finally does drift off, you stumble into the living room/bedroom a complete emotional wreck. Why does it have to be so hard to put down your child to bed?!

I learned it doesn’t have to be so hard when I let Ella decide when she wanted to go to bed.

Children get tired. Really, eventually they do. And when they get tired, and they want (yes, want) to go to bed, they will fall asleep pretty darn fast.

Our nighttime routine went from what I just described to crawling into bed with a few books around 9:30 at night. I’m downstairs by 9:50.

But isn’t that giving up too much authority?

Eh, maybe it is. Who knows. There is no such thing as a parenting expert.

What I do know is, I can’t force my daughter to do anything. I can teach her how to act responsibly as possible in any given situation. I can model behavior and hope she catches on.

I’m here to back her up whenever she needs help, answer questions when she doesn’t know, and generally sit back in awe and simply watch her learn about life and about herself.

When it comes down to it, I like giving Ella the opportunity to make up her own mind. I can see how she feels about making decisions. She’s empowered. She’s confident. She’s human.

Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. Janel says:

    Thank you. This is so beautifully and heartfully written. I still do this with my 17 year old and our life together is very peaceful and very respectful. I’ve long believed (she is my 4th and I did this with all of them) that whatever is the issue during the 2-4 year old years will be the same issue of the teen years. Only in a larger body, with hormones, and very verbal.

    Many of the ideas we’ve been told (indoctrinated with) about what is normal for all ages, but especially for teenagers is so false. I think the “normal teenager” who is angry, sullen, rude is the result of not doing what you describe. When we provide a huge safety net of love and safety, both the 2′s and the teen years can be amazing times — when we follow their lead about what they need and want, and who they are, and their rhythms.

    • bringbirthhome says:

      @Janel – I agree with you completely! A LLL leader and I discussed the issue of sleeping in the same bed with our children – the issue being how long they tend to stay in the same bed if they love it dearly. We both agreed that it would be better to have an 11 year old asking to sleep with us and see that bond carry into their teenage years rather than them slamming their bedroom doors shut in anger/defiance due to a lack of bonding. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Tarraguña says:

    Wow, I know what you mean. My 14 month old daughter sleeps when she wants. Now I just go with the flow and life is so much easier. Not that it is an “acceptable” choice the allow your kids to choose their own bed time, but I find it fits our parenting philosophy. I don’t wish to be a dictator. I just encourage her to sleep when she is tired and make sleep a comfortable, wonderful part of the day. I think letting her make her own decisions and supporting her will give her great self esteem and show her that I want her to follow her instincts.

  3. Javana says:

    I’m all about making life easier!

  4. Jeremy says:

    Great post! And great comments!

    I totally agree with you Janel. It seems to me, if we create a battle scene in regards to a toddler’s wants and needs–eating, sleeping, pottying, etc.–that sets the stage for the later years. I don’t know from experience, because I only have one, 15 month old, daughter. But what you’re saying supports how I feel: that the teen years don’t have to be the dark, divisive times that so many parents think they have to be, so long as you provide a safe and loving environment for your children in the early, most influential years.

    I love in the post that you say, “Isn’t that giving up too much authority?”

    That’s the pitfall that most parents–me included– become prey to sometimes. I think that I am supposed to be the authority on when my child should eat or sleep or potty or play. WRONG! Sometimes I’m hungry at 6pm. Sometimes not. Sometimes I cannot sleep at night.

    So why would it be any different with a toddler? Actually, I would expect things to be more sporadic, as they are still so new to the world!

  5. Jeremy says:

    One last thing. Last night my wife, Madhavi, and my daughter, Anjali, were going to sleep, after I gave her a bath and read books. Madhavi was exhausted, and falling asleep in the bed. Anjali got out the the bed after nursing briefly, and proceeded to run up and down the hall. We just made sure the gates were closed and the bathroom door was closed. Everything was safe. I went downstairs to get some work done. Anjali got out all of her energy after a little while, got in the bed and nursed briefly before going to sleep.

    They sleep when they are tired. So do we all.

  6. Sara says:

    I think this is a wonderful idea. My husband and I are still trying to get pregnant… well it’s possible I’m pregnant right now, but I have to wait a couple of weeks until I can find out ;)

    Anyways, I love reading your blog! You have challenged me to really look at parenting, pregnancy, and birth from a completely different angle.

    My first reaction to this was:
    “If her afternoon nap was shorter/earlier, she would get tired sooner.”

    But the more I thought about it the more I thought. Who is this really hurting? Ella is going to bed, and it’s keeping you from spending 2+ hours trying to put her down. You aren’t frustrated, and everyone’s happy with the situation the way it is. I remember watching my sister try FOREVER to put her kids down just because “it was bedtime.” Bedtime was always a nightmare for the whole family. (It’s better now that the kids are older).

    So thank you for this post, it is truly enlightening!

  7. Tony says:

    This type of parenting is whats wrong with our country. Children need boundries or they grow up not knowing how to handle authority. If you set your child in bed @ 7:30, then that is bedtime, not what they tell you. Grow a backbone and be a PARENT not a FRIEND.

  8. Kateisfun says:

    I love this post! One of the best suggestions I read while flipping through a parenting book encouraged parents to ask themselves “why?” when they heard themselves saying no. So many of the rules that exist for kids are arbitrary and make adults’ lives harder by having to enforce them. When I say no it usually has to do with a safety issue – but even then, I’ve found that I’d much rather teach my son to do something safely (i.e. going up and down the stairs, standing on a chair to watch me at the counter) then make if even more appealing by trying to make it off-limits. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Betsy Dewey says:

    I love you! Great mama! And well said!
    You might like:


  10. Alyssa says:

    Yes! I love this post. I started doing a really similar nighttime routine with my 6 month old daughter. It was always trouble when I “told” her when to go to sleep. If I put her to bed (nurse or bounce) too early, she would treat it like a nap and be up and at ‘em in 45 minutes. If I put her to bed too late, she would be overtired and restless or just plain crash. I was really frustrated. Why couldn’t I get it right? Then I just realized things were a lot easier if I didn’t try to fight her nature. I’d rather stay up with her “too late”
    and be relaxed than get her in bed early and be completely frazzled and agitated. I follow her now.

  11. Jenn says:

    {I’m going to approach this from a “bigger picture” perspective so bear with me}  
    I believe in a certain amount of flexibility.  The whole day’s activities have to be taken into consideration.  I’m not one for setting really rigid schedules – my babies always nurse when they want (I don’t care WHO it bothers) and i DON’T subscribe to CIO – but setting boundaries does not mean automatic battles.  My husband and I do and will set boundries (within eating and sleep schedules) without being tyrants.  My child needs to know that it’s not all about them and their wants and needs.  We are teaching them to be considerate of other’s needs and limitations. And this starts with being kind and considerate to family members – Here’s a scenario – I have three children 4, 2 and 6 months. My husband and I choose to eat at  5:30. But my 4 year old wants to eat at 5 and my 2 year old is choosing to eat @ 6. They both want different things. Both meals require a certain amount of preparation and clean up. Should my husband and I be in and out of the kitchen between 4:30 and 6:30 preparing and cleaning up after everyone and hope we get a chance to enjoy our own meal?  No.  After dinner my 4 year old wants to go for a walk but the 2 year old doesn’t.  I want to spend time together – the whole family in one place.  But this “letting the toddler lead” is just not realistic if you have more then one child above the age of an infant.  And regardless of how many children you have at some time or another they will NEED to learn that they don’t always get to choose.  There are family, friends, co-workers, and so on. They will need to sometimes (or often times) not get what they want. They will learn this no matter what – but not at home if they always get to choose. It all boils down to them running the show and I’m not willing to be a doormat for my kids.  There is a mutual give and take and in the end I am the parent and need to be the voice of reason and experience – modeling consideration and expecting it in return from my kids (with patience as the learn).

    I’m not saying your child is “doomed” to be a terrible person :D but in my reasoning I think kids who get too much choice at such a young age are being set-up for a rude and difficult awakening when they realize the real world is not so ready march to their tune and timing.  I let my kids be themselves in their creativity and play – with continual encouragement and support. But when I’ve prepared dinner – it’s time to eat. 


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