Those of us with young children who have entered into the “I do it MYSELF” phase have come to understand a great irony of life. We spend the first few years of parenthood imagining a future in which we don’t have to do every little thing for our children. We long for the day when butts will be wiped by hands other than our own, when we no longer have to force limp limbs into coats or kicking feet into shoes. We say things like, “life will just be so much easier when she starts getting dressed herself.”
Then one day, your child will decide to get dressed all by herself. And on that day, you will come to know the true agony of watching a three-year-old trying to remove her day clothes and put on underpants and a pair of footed, zippered pajamas with no help. At all.
And woe betide you if you do try to help. In fact, offering to help is such a rookie mistake that, if made a second time, you really do deserve the wrath your offer will ignite.
Unfortunately for us parents, surviving a preschooler’s attempts at independence isn’t as easy as just withholding your assistance. Oh no. There is a host of rules that you must follow in order to survive your day unscathed. I have broken these rules more times than I can count, and I have suffered accordingly.
Rule #1: Do not offer to help. This is the most basic rule, and really should go without saying. But I am saying it anyway.
Rule #2: Do not attempt to provide child with items necessary for task completion. Don’t you dare give her those socks!
Rule #3: Do not look directly at items necessary for task completion.
Rule #4: Do not think about items necessary for task completion. They read minds.
Rule #5: Do not compliment child. They can sense an unspoken offer for help.
Rule #6: Do not provide suggestions or advice of any kind. Even though there is a nearly 100% chance that she will drop the entire bowl of Cheez-its into the toilet if she brings them into the bathroom with her.
Rule #7: Do not speak to child.
Rule #8 Do not make eye contact with child. Again, they read minds.
Rule #9: Do not look in child’s general direction.
Rule #10: Do not attempt even the smallest tug of the child’s shirt, even though her head is stuck and she is about to fall of the bed.
Rule #11: Do not breathe the same air as child. She can hear your frustration in every sharp intake of breath.
Rule #12: Do not exist in near proximity to child.
The consequences of breaking any of these rules will be that she has to do it. all. over. again. Including the part where she gets her head stuck in the shirt.
Basically, just leave the room with your eyes closed and your ears covered. Stand with your back toward the general direction of your child. Do not think about your child until she has completed the task and given you express permission to address her. Unless, of course, the child with her head stuck in her shirt does fall of the bed, in which case why didn’t you offer to help you terrible, neglectful parent?!