Is Your Toddler’s Independence Hard on You?

Today my heart broke a little bit. That’s because I took Fia to her gymnastics class. We go every week. But today was different. Today she went to the “big girl” class.

Coach Sam told me awhile back to get on the waiting list for the next level up. He said he thought she was ready. I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and I hated that woman. But in that moment, standing by the uneven bars with her swinging steadily, I got a glimpse of my inner Tiger. I beamed. I was so proud. I wanted to push her. Make her the best she could be. I couldn’t wait to get home and share my joy–yes joy–with Phil.

I bounded in, out of breath, “They want to move her up in gymnastics!” I exclaimed.

He looked at me, slightly puzzled, “Yeah, okay. Great. So??”

“But they want her in an advanced class! Advanced.

He gently reminded me she was just over 2.

Yes, I know, we’re talking about a now 2 1/2 year old. But growing up, gymnastics was my love. I was never very good at it, but I persevered through high school. I always wished my parents had started me earlier. This is the only sport I can see myself being an overly pushy parent on, so I am acutely aware of the need to show restraint. Keep the Tiger on a leash.

Back to today: Fia and I arrived and went straight for the trampoline–her favorite. I noticed no other parents were chasing tots around on the mats. Just some coaches and kids quietly practicing skills. Wait, we were used to the free-for-all. We usually run in and bounce from one thing to the next, catching some mild structure and instruction in-between. This was different. Subdued. A coach approached me.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes,” I said. “We are here for my daughter’s advanced tots class.”

“Great. Wait behind the gate and at 11:45 we’ll call her in with the other girls.”

“But, what about the trampoline?”

“The advanced class isn’t free play. Parents sit and watch behind the gate. We work with the kids by themselves. You can come for the beginning though and see how she does since this is your first day.”

I gulped. She sat quietly on my lap, my arms holding her tight as we waited. When Fia was called in, I went too. But as soon as I sat down with the 6 other tots and 2 coaches, I realized she didn’t need me there. They told her to run and touch the cone. She did (I cheered loudly–then quickly shut up). Hop on one foot. She tried (didn’t realize what a skill that was). Then they were off to the trampoline. She and the others ran towards it with glee. I was left sitting on the mat. Alone. Realizing how quickly time is passing.

From afar, I watched her bounce happily and do seat drops. They moved onto the rings where my girl held on like the best of them. She waited patiently for her turn.

The balance beam was last and right in front of me. There she went walking confidently across. Then on the smaller one. All by herself.

From the moment they are born, it is our job to make them independent of us. It is primal. The baby feeds off you, then weans. She rolls towards you, then crawls away. She walks into your arms, then turns and runs. They still depend on us, but little by little they gain confidence to be okay on their own. It is a bitter and beautiful reality.

And it’s really f-cking hard.

Today I stood on the sidelines and cheered for Fia. Silently. I must remind myself to tread lightly. As she finds her footing, I must too find mine. It is a delicate balance between holding on and letting go. But this is my job–the one I signed up for when we decided to have kids. There’s a reason it’s the hardest one in the world.


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  1. by Angelica

    On June 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Oooh, made me cry a little thinking of my own kiddo. I also have a 2.5 year old and she loves to do everything herself. I get a bit frustrated when I’m in a time crunch but for the most part I let her and I’ve thought her to ask for help if she’s unable instead of saying “I can’t”. It’s lovely to see her grow but it’s definitley bitter sweet.

  2. by Courtney

    On June 7, 2012 at 5:33 am

    So true–watching them gain independence is so bittersweet. I can’t even bear to think about high school, I might have a nervous breakdown!

  3. by Cass

    On June 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Consider yourself lucky that Fia would even go to a class without you by her side. My son is over 3, and he would cry and cling to me if a gymnastics teacher told him he had to do it without Mommy. Tot independence is a good thing! ;-)

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