W is now able to wash his hands independently. Great news right? Not so much. If only it were that easy. This newly acquired skill has birthed a complex routine involving turning the stool a certain way (backwards. of course.), climbing ceremoniously on top of it, stretching up on his tip toes to turn (or jerk) on the water, and then positioning the soap precariously on the edge of the sink and pushing down with all his might to obtain a tiny little drop. Then there is the rubbing, the singing, and the playing in the bubbles. Finally, another big stretch for the hand towel, a discussion about the snow man on it (every time), one last quick pat, and off he goes. See how much easier it was when I could just do it for him? Because, you see, usually this routine is accompanied by the baby crying somewhere else in the house, M needing me to help her draw a gingerbread man RIGHT NOW, etc. etc. It’s often difficult for me to give over this routine to little W and to let him enjoy this independence.
I have to though. I have said this to parents for years. Literally years. “Independence is critical to development, it’s empowering, it’s an inner force that children cannot ignore. Honor it. Respect it. Allow it. Get out of the way.” Oh, how motherhood turns your whole world upside down, and words come back to haunt you! However, these words ring loud and clear in my head, and I cannot ignore them. My favorite quote from Dr. Maria Montessori is one my mom repeated over and over to me throughout my adult life: “Never take from the child the joy of doing it for himself.” So, I breathe (deeply), and I get out of the way because I don’t want to take away his joy.
Perhaps that sounds a little dramatic, but I believe it with my whole heart. Those little steps my W takes to complete a process most of us do without a second thought literally brings him joy. It brings him a sense of purpose, and it affirms his self-worth. My husband is training for a marathon, which feels oddly similar to the process W undergoes to wash his hands. Never would I imagine jumping into the middle of one of his long runs and saying “Don’t worry about the last 5 miles. I will just do them for you.” That would defeat the purpose of everything he is training for. In an effort to “help,” I would really be taking away.
So, I stand patiently next to the sink as W moves through this laborious routine, and instead of hurrying him along, I focus instead on the tenacity and determination of his precious little spirit. I stand in awe of the fact that just because it is hard doesn’t stop him. I am inspired by his focus to meet his goal. I learn from him. I let him teach me. For in this lesson, there is no one better to show me the way.
Find the joy~