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Autonomy and dependence

My son's problem is getting going.

In fact, he's sometimes prone to false starts and our recent favorite strategy for fixing some tantrums has been a "do over." Something he understands the concept on but often needs help getting there. He sees that he's gone off down a bad road of behavior and wants to reset, but the trick is him doing the mental yoga necessary to fix his mood and make the proper, new choice. I completely understand that, as an adult I sometimes lack the Buddhist discipline to let bad thoughts simply come and leave without clinging to them.

We finally seem to have found a babysitter. After over 3 years of rarely leaving the kids, we decided it was high time to pick a name off the local parenting e-mail list and get on with it. So she came over on Saturday afternoon to meet the children and do a short interview. Basically, what we told her is that Cole is easy...get him started on the routine and then don't worry. If there's going to be trouble with him at bedtime, it's when you tell him it's bedtime and actually get him in the room.

Once the stories begin, it's a matter of turning on his bedtime music, tucking him in, and leaving the room. Though, lately, he's been asking us to stay and play or cuddle. Something we don't begrudge him...he's 3. If a 3 year old little boy can't ask his mommy and daddy to stay and play trucks for two songs, there's no hope for our kids.

After we leave, I'll be honest, I have no idea what happens. Loud thumping, talking, toys crashing to the floor. We're asked to come back in and check...once...before we go to bed. That's it. Somehow, he magically finds his way into his bed when he's sleepy. He's not usually up for very long. We maybe have to pull the covers all the way over him, but it's not like we find him crumpled in the middle of the floor, asleep where he fell.

I find it oddly responsible and independent for a 3.5 year old. But if it's not broken...don't fix it. I'm sure one day he'll eventually still be awake at 10pm when his mom and dad head to sleep. Even then, I find his level of understanding about himself to be--usually--dead on.

My daughter is a far different story and, I fear, probably far more common. She still needs to fall asleep on us like a baby. She fears being alone. Or, maybe it's better stated, she dislikes a lack of company. She wants to be included on trips...to the store or even just to the kitchen. She wants to be held and carried and much of the tension in our house comes from her brother's love of alone time, personal space, and his autonomy.

She plays the dutiful role of annoying little sister not out of spite, but because she loves him so much. She loves all of us...perhaps too much. I know her mother is growing tired of the constant attention she requires.

They each present a different parenting challenge as Cole's independence is not without its own difficulties. (Say, a 3 year old who is taking his own sweet time at potty training.) But I just got done telling him how proud we are that he'll be attempting to ride the bus this week. It was his idea. I'm almost just as proud about that. His little sister, on the other hand, is much more confident in some areas than he ever will be. Her clingy personality masks a sociability and understanding of people whereas Cole is much more of an observer.

I never imagined having two polar opposites like them. I guess, in my head, I always figured they'd be very alike or obviously ours. In reality, their personalities ended up as an odd blend of parental elements that forces us to be introspective about what makes us tick in order to help our children.

It's a learning opportunity all the way around.

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