Relationships · Toddler Issues

At Home: The Leader and the Caretaker

During rough moments with almost 3-year old twin toddlers, I dig deep for patience when one of them chooses not to listen to my directions. It’s frequently B, though not always. Typically, when he’s tired or hungry, he doesn’t have the capability of handling small issues. Take for example, first thing in the morning. If he’s having a hard time fully awakening, he struggles to get out of his crib. Then he struggles to decide on what pants to wear, because he has only 3 pairs of “cozy pants” (they’re all sweatpants….) and if they’re all dirty, he’s not ready to face the fact that he can’t wear them. He’ll struggle on the floor for a minute or two. Depending on how tired/not fully awake he really is, he’ll either fuss for a few and then let me choose his pants for him, or he’ll put up a fight and say “nobody” can pick his pants, and while he’s at it, he’s not coming downstairs, either. This is NOT my son all the time. This is my son sometimes. But even when he’s in a good, easy-going mood – he needs to make decisions. As many decisions as I will allow him to make. At home, he’s the dominant twin. He’s the leader.

It’s in those rough moments that I think to myself, “Surely I can count on my daughter to do the right thing and model for her brother what I’m looking for, right?” And the answer is no, no I can’t count on C. Because little rule-following, people-pleasing C has started choosing her brother over everyone else. She’s taken on a caretaker role for him, whether he wants it or not.

Take for example, the pants issue. Again, some days B picks out his pants just fine and there’s no problem. Other days – he stares at the open drawer and starts to get upset. C peeks her head in his drawer and says, “Do you want your cozy pants today?” and if they’re all dirty, she’ll provide solutions, pointing to one pair and then another – “Well, these pants look pretty cozy! Do you want these instead?”  The other day when B was upset about something else, I heard her tell him, “If you go lay down in your crib, you’ll feel much better.” I feel both proud and sad for her during these moments, because she wants him to be happy and she’s logically, easily thinking of solutions that may just do the trick. But when they don’t work, and B isn’t happy – I don’t know what she feels. She doesn’t seem to show disappointment, but I don’t want her to feel guilty that she was incapable of “fixing” B in that moment. That it’s somehow her fault. Maybe she doesn’t feel guilty at all, because you know, she’s 2. If that’s the case, I want to keep it that way.

Then there are other times where I find myself just as frustrated at her as him. Recently, if C has announced that she wants something (a toy, a song, you name it), B has said something like, “No, I want ____ instead! It’s MY turn!” From the mouth of the dominant one. In fact, it happened outside this afternoon. B climbed on his toy motorcycle and C said, “Today I want to ride the tractor!” B whipped around – “No, C! That’s MY tractor! It’s mine! Do you want to go on the firetruck?” I said, “C, if you want to ride the tractor you can. It’s your toy, too.” And C responded, “No, I want to ride the firetruck!” C almost never fights. On her own, she allows him to go first. In fact, he does everything first. Absolutely everything – from brushing his teeth to washing his hands to getting out of his crib. My husband and I are concerned that we’re raising a child who always gets his way. And that we’re raising another child who is learning she will never come first. Both are bad and worrisome. The problem is when we decided to change that. Pulling C aside, I often say to her, “This time, it’s YOUR turn to pick first” or “No, even though B told you can’t play with that, you CAN play with that. Go play with that toy that you wanted.” We want her to know she still can be first, that she can be a leader, that she’s always so darn nice and deserves to get what she wants to. Guess what happens when we tell her these things?

Absolute meltdown. “Nooooo!!!” she’ll wail, “B goes first!!!” She’ll refuse to wash her hands for dinner until B does it first, even if it takes an hour. It makes her MORE upset when we try forcing her to take charge and get what she wants. She absolutely hates when we do it. Those are the times when B is screaming because he doesn’t want to do something, and C is screaming because she doesn’t want to do it UNTIL B does it. And when they’re both screaming, I feel…..exhausted.

So lately, this issue has been bothering both my husband and myself. We don’t know how to teach B that he can’t always have his way – because when we try to back up that statement by letting C have her way – she’s having none of it.  We don’t know how to get C to allow herself what she wants, even if her brother is upset. We don’t know how to teach her that she comes first, too, because every time we try, she refuses it. But I’ll tell you what – she’s not a cowering, timid little thing. If B is bossy, she’s taking what he says with 100% confidence that she’s making the right choice. The one he chose for her. She’s actively choosing to let her brother go first, because his happiness helps her world go ’round. You’ll often hear her say to him, “You’re happy!” And a toddler whose happiness is based on that of others, who will do and say what is necessary to bring that happiness – that’s a caretaker.

In recent days, we’ve thrown up our hands and come to the conclusion that we can either keep fighting C, in getting her to do what we think is best (putting her first) which has done nothing but make her really upset, or we can stand back and let the two of them continue to establish their roles. Of course, if B wants her to do something, we make him ask her nicely. We have him say “please” and “thank you”. It’s not much – but at the very least, he needs to talk to his sister respectfully.  It makes B happy to be in charge and make decisions. Many toddlers are like that. It makes C happy to allow others to make decisions for her, and when her leader is a happy leader. We don’t know what else we should be doing, but I have a feeling that these roles will be established for a long time.

At home: the leader and the caretaker

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