“All the Toddlers Who are Independent Throw Your Hands Up at Me”

To-Do Before Baby B Numero Dos Arrives:

Pack hospital bag
Nap my face off
Move Harper out of the nursery
Channel Wendy Peffercorn and lotion and oil, oil and lotion the belly
Teach Harper the art of independence…

Um, maybe the last one isn’t exactly attainable in six weeks and truthfully, it’s probably a labor of parenting love but sometimes, I think I could kick it up a notch in the “fostering independence in our toddler” department.

Word on the street from more experienced mothers is that it’s easier to transition from one to two children if the first is relatively independent.

The thing is, she’s my first. I’m not exactly clear on when it’s realistic for her to do certain things on her own.

When I saw my friend’s 22-month-old change outfits seven times during the course of a morning play-date, my jaw fell to the floor. My daughter has never stripped a day in her life (a record I’d like to keep as a parent), but her playmate’s quick change ability made me think that the Harpinator is ready to master the art of changing her own clothes.

She’s coming into a fierce “I’ll do it myself” stage, which is helpful in fostering independence but as I stated, I’m not so sure what’s reasonable for someone of her miniature stature and age to do. I don’t mean to underestimate her, I’m just parenting from a place of “I’ve never done this before kid. Let’s just make it up as we go along. And yes, I’m still peeling your bananas, tszujing your hair, spooning a few mouthfuls of eggs into your open mouth, and squeezing the last morsels of GoGurt out of the tube for you because it never occurred to me not to. ”

Observing my friend’s daughter go to the bathroom was also a game changer. While helping Harper wash her hands, I saw this baby take herself to the bathroom, do her business, deposit it from her training toilet into the adult toilet, wash up, and continue on her way. What the miracle of miracles did I just witness?

Harper has never gone to the bathroom by herself. She’s always escorted by us, her loving but perhaps overly accommodating parentals. We help her with all the bathroom nitty gritty and then continue on our way.

This play-date turned revelation of independence really got me thinking.

I understand that the independence game with toddlers can be a tricky balance. Enter opinions, standoffs, and sometimes feeling like the ol’ house has turned into a nudest colony. But most days, I think I’d take a nudist colony instead of trying to wrestle a small cyclone into her clothes.

While I may be guilty of aiding and abetting a bit of first born child co-dependency, please don’t think this is my ultimate intention. I believe in independence in children. I just don’t really always know how to go about teaching it.

We do teach her to pick up after herself; she puts her clothes and shoes away, and she helps unload the dishwasher. She’s really a great little helper. We do chores together everyday. She’s earning her keep.

I guess I am looking to you oh wiser more experienced mothers, what are reasonable expectations for a 2.5 tiny human to do? What tasks would be most beneficial to have her master before the new baby arrives? Getting herself dressed? Solo bathroom trips? Mowing the lawn? Paying the bills?

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  1. by Ashley F

    On January 2, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Independance is one of those things I file under “They’ll do it when they’re ready.” I’ve never felt the need to force my kids to do things. Yeah, it took may take them longer than most to potty train, dress themselves, and I’m still wiping my six year old’s butt… but at the same time I had an 18 month old teach himself his letters/sounds, four year old teach himself how to read, etc. They each have their own strengths and for me I’d rather have a happy home and not fight with them over things they’ll do in their own time. My three year old may not dress herself, but it takes all of 2 minutes for me to help, not a big deal :)

  2. by Kim

    On January 2, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    WHat is and is not reasonable does often depend on the kid. I taught 2 year olds in daycare and every one did different things independantly. My tot can help cook, and i mean season and stir the soup, without ever risking a burn, but the boy refuses to use the potty or drink out of a normal cup. My philosophy is if your ok with her trying, let them try. She may latch onto it or not try again for months.

  3. by Bekka Besich

    On January 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm


    I like this idea of let them try whatever I feel comfortable with. I agree that it is dependent on the kid and some things she’s an eager beaver to do herself and other things not so much. Trial and error here we come.

  4. by A.

    On January 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I like this post. We have another on the way, too, and a 2.5 year old at home. He doesn’t dress himself, still uses a sippy, sometimes I still feed him his oatmeal (less mess), and he’s not even remotely interested in the potty. But like the first commenter mentioned, he knew all his letters, animals, shapes and colors by 18 months. Maybe I do coddle him, or I do things for him because it’s more efficient, but I also try not to push. And maybe that’s “the problem with parents today” (though I don’t think so) and I’m going to be in for it once we have a newborn.

    I guess I don’t understand the rush in making our kids so independent, especially in the first three years of life. They have 80 more years to do things for themselves.

    I appreciate reading other people’s philosophies on it and finding out I’m not the only one who still does a lot for my boy.