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How to Be More Present with Your Toddler

by | Nov 13, 2019

Zero to Three Is No Joke and It Only Happens Once!  

When I look back and think about life when my daughter was under three, I feel confident that my wife and I made the best choice for us—to be present with our daughter as much as possible during those early years. They moved very slowly when we were in them, and yet they seem like a complete blur now that they are gone.

For my wife and I to make our choice a reality required a deeply discussed and thought-through plan that we began to implement nearly three years before our child was actually born. Because our work includes a mixture of traditional jobs and longer-term freelance careers, we started saving money and building clients and commitments that would allow us the flexibility of time we wanted to have in the first three years for us both to take care of our daughter.

It wasn’t all perfect, of course, but it was our long-term plan that helped us survive and thrive during those early years with our child.

With a Solid Foundation, All Things Are Possible

Forget about the planning aspect for a second, and let’s just consider why we decided we needed a plan. There is already a lot of great information out there about how beneficial it is for a child to spend as much quality time as possible with their parents, so I won’t belabor the point.

But there are benefits for the parents as well. For parents, it’s a key time to build your relationship with your kid, which at it’s best should be a joyous exchange of love, time, attention, and a patient attitude.

From a dad’s perspective, the first year was mostly about serving a supportive role for my daughter and wife and helping to facilitate them being together as much as possible. But there was a lot of great time for me to bond with my daughter as well. But what does it mean to “bond”? Let’s break the word down further into its more meaningful subcomponents.

The first thing I found very meaningful was developing a loving relationship with my child. That began with just protecting her in every way—preventing her from eating every rock she picked up off the street, catching her in midair before she face-planted on the sidewalk after wriggling out of my arms, having a hand behind her back when she learned to walk up the stairs, etc.

After that very physical expression of my love, as she began talking, there were further emotional interactions that happened.

Kids aren’t quite a blank slate in those early years. They are more like a blank slate with invisible ink written all over in coded messages. They are a blank slate in that they are learning everything from scratch, but they are doing so with a clear set of preferences and personality traits (the coded messages in invisible ink) that seem to surprise parents all the time.

I distinctly remember being surprised when I needed to help my daughter “learn” how to express affection and respect to her family. For example, that meant we had to explain and model eye contact when family members were saying “goodbye,” explaining that her preference to just run off and play wasn’t okay because doing so impacted the feelings of the adults around her.

It seemed strange that my daughter needed a bit of mentorship in how to show her family love, but every behavior is a learned behavior, and those behavior patterns shape their young personalities. 

It’s no different than building a solid foundation for a building. If you build it with care and attention to detail, the rest of the process can be smooth. But when the foundation needs to be reworked, it just takes more time, attention, and money to rework and redo things later on in the process.

Be Present: Maximize the precious early years by having a plan before they happen

When I think back on the plan my wife and I had two or three years before our kid arrived, I recognize that we did our best with what we knew then. Anticipating that our plan would need to shift over time, as circumstances changed and we learned more, we also left room in our plan to be wrong and adjust.

The areas we identified that needed attention were related to money, jobs/flexible working schedules to be able to spend time with the new baby, and ideas about formal schooling.

Everybody will have a different list of values important to them and be in a different place with certain areas of that list, but trying to pull it together even in a small way before the sh$t hits the fan (or, more accurately, seeps out of a diaper and onto your shirt) when your baby arrives is a helpful idea to embrace. We were able to not only help give our daughter a solid foundation for the next phases she would go through but also relax and trust one another more in order to enjoy that unique time in life.

Just by thinking about things a little in advance, we were able to get so much more out of the first three years, as opposed to just barely surviving them.

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