The Comparison Trap; Learning to Embrace my “Wild” Child

wild child walking path through woods

To the mama of the wild child, the spirited child, or strong-willed child, whichever label you identify with, or has been placed upon you, you know who you are…

The child who seems to have endless energy, who wants to move constantly, gets overstimulated, is loud, jumps on the furniture, runs ahead, that doesn’t hear you until you have repeated yourself 8 times, refuses to nap, and doesn’t want to sit still through a bedtime story. The mama who see’s a stranger having a picnic in the park with their toddler who is happily distracted by their food and sitting, or playing with their bucket and shovel at the beach, and thinks, “wow, my child would never do that.” I see you, and I have been in it with you with my 3- almost 4 year old.

wild child walking path through woods

Some of these moments, days even, can be tough, especially when you feel like you don’t have the energy to keep up. I’ve found these moments are even more difficult if I compare myself or my child to another his age, or even worse… I get unsolicited advice from the mother of an inherently timid child. 

I’ve come to realize is that it’s not really my influence that causes my wild child to be more rambunctious, and it’s not really that other mothers doing that her child is more mild mannered. My child has a personality. Just like I do, just like you do, just like another child does. Do any of us really have “control” over that? Yes, I ultimately have control over the boundaries I set, and the values I want to reinforce that are important to myself and my family. But I know that I can raise two, three, or four children the exact same way AND they are going to all have a different personality, develop different mannerisms, and have different comfort and energy levels.

I am done overthinking my child’s energy level, trying to have control over it, or second guessing myself. 

The hardest part is feeling like I have to “defend” my child or learn to respond to the advice I never asked for. Especially when this advice is coming from a parent of a generally timid kid. I have heard things like, if I “make him do more activities while sitting,” or “bring something to help him stay still,” to name just a few. It’s almost as if these parents don’t think I haven’t tried these things, and it is also insinuating that it is somehow my fault that my child is more energetic. I’ll be honest, just thinking about fighting with my kid to sit still sounds much more like a punishment for me than a lesson for him. I am not looking for power struggles or ways to increase our stress levels. What works for one kid may not work for mine, and that’s okay. My wild child needs to run it out, test his limits, explore new and familiar areas and most importantly, not be made to feel like he is an inconvenience to other adults. 

And wow do I really see his strengths in the midst of some of the days that are challenging for me. He isn’t afraid to take risks, to jump off a high ledge or climb on a big rock, and he does it strategically and thoughtfully. If he gets hurt or can’t do something the first time, he may have a BIG reaction, like cry or yell, but then he goes right back to it, trying again and again and again. He runs, and tries new things often without even asking for my help first. He loves to get dirty, go for hikes, and play. He doesn’t hide behind my legs when we go see friends or go to the playground. He puts himself immediately in a group of kids with pure innocent excitement and introduces himself. I mean, I would certainly LOVE to take responsibility for these traits… but the truth is, I really can’t. As a generally introverted person, he really didn’t learn any of these things from me. This is all him. His personality. 

While I may not have taught these traits, I am responsible for is nurturing them. For nurturing him. As an adult, I am just learning how to feel safe again doing the things that come so natural for him. Things like trusting my intuition, meeting new people, taking risks, setting boundaries, not giving up when I don’t do something well the first time. These are all things that I have, like many have, been conditioned not to do throughout our lives. I don’t want to do that to him. I don’t want to shame him for being who he is for the sake of him being more “convenient,” or have to relearn these things as an adult that come so naturally for him now as a child. I recognize now that we tend to see these characteristics as “difficult” in children, but place value on these characteristics in adults.

So mama, it is time to hang up any mom-guilt that lingers if your kid won’t sit still for a picnic, doesn’t like to read stories, or quietly color or if you avoid taking them to sit down restaurants. If they are anything like my wild child, you have an intuitive, confident, boundary-setting, risk-taking person on your hands who won’t fit into any “box.” And most importantly, mama, you are doing such a good job.

Remember that.