7 Life Lessons My Toddler Is Teaching Me

Life has a weird way of turning everything on its head. Just when you think you’ve finally got your act together, just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, a wrench gets thrown in and you’ve got to figure it all out all over again. That’s what fatherhood is like. That’s what parenthood is like. My baby girl is now a rambunctious and inquisitive toddler, busy keeping her dear old dad on his tired and aching toes.

You may recall a few weeks ago when I discussed the life lessons I want to teach my daughter. I want her to slow down. I want her to recognize the value of tradition. I want her to stay true to herself and to never stop laughing. But she’s teaching me too. She’s teaching me a lot.

1. Get Back on Your Feet

There is nothing more inspiring that watching a child fail over and over again. When she tried to take her first steps, she’d stumble and fall over and over again. When she tried to feed herself with a spoon for the first time, she’d drop the food and miss her mouth over and over again. When she first tried to take off her socks, she’d whine in frustration.

But she never stopped trying. Each time she fell down, she got back up. Each time she dropped the food out of her spoon, she dug back in. That’s persistence. That’s patience. That’s recognizing that you’re having a hard time, sure, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Never give up. Never surrender.

When life is hard, your eventual success is that much sweeter.

2. Forget About What Other People Think

Many of us, myself included, have this unfortunate habit of seeking other people’s approval. We yearn for their validation, because we think we need it for our lives to matter. We focus far too much on what other people are thinking and not nearly enough on how this moment actually matters to us. And we’re wrong.

Adalynn doesn’t care that I have a gut. She doesn’t care that my hair is unkempt or that the blog received fewer page views yesterday. She doesn’t care if my Instagram post got a certain number of likes. She doesn’t care if other people are looking when she cries in public. She doesn’t care what other people think, because she’s being authentic to herself.

3. The World Waits for No One

Remember how I said that as soon as you think you’ve got everything figured out, everything changes? There are few realms where this is more evident than with raising a child. From bedtime routines to feeding rituals to educational best practices, we’re constantly playing catch-up.

It doesn’t matter whether or not I’m ready for her to upgrade to a new car seat; she needs one, so it’s going to happen. It doesn’t matter if I’m ready for her to run around on her own at the playground. It’s going to happen. A toddler — and by extension, the rest of the world — isn’t going to wait for you to be ready. Change is coming and it is constant.

The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round. And they’re not stopping for anyone.

4. Don’t Worry About the Money

One of the most common regrets that people have when they’re dying is that they worked too much and they didn’t spend enough quality time with their friends and family. We devote so many of our waking hours to making a living that we neglect making a life. If you’ve got enough to keep a roof over your head, food on the table and Wi-Fi in the air, you’re doing okay.

At this point, Adalynn clearly cannot grasp the concept of money. But she’s already telling me that it doesn’t matter. More times than I can count, she has wandered into my office to pull me away from my desk. I think I need to work, but she wants to play. All you need is love and good company. Who needs fancy new toys when a random empty box can provide a world of fun possibilities?

5. Actions Speak Louder than Words

When she was younger, she didn’t really know what was going on. Things have changed, unsurprisingly, and I’ve learned I have to be a lot more careful about what I say and do around her. The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what you tell your child to do if you act completely counter to your own words.

The mantra of “do as I say, not as I do” simply cannot apply. Our kids look up to us and they will come to model their behavior after ours. If nothing else, I feel the tremendous pressure to act as a positive role model, to the best of my ability. She’s watching. My. Every. Move.

6. Ask for Help If You Need It

I’ve always felt this great burden. I’ve always felt like I had to do everything myself and part of this comes from a rather elitist attitude. I’ve always figured that I could do it better than anyone else. I’ve always figured that in the time it would take for me to explain something to someone, I could have already done it. And asking for help is a sign of weakness, a sign that further illustrates my existing feelings of inadequacy.

That’s all wrong, of course. And I know that on an intellectual level.

I’ve always had a hard time asking for help when I clearly needed it. And as steadfast, as stubborn and as determined as my little one might be, she’s also not afraid to ask for a helping hand to get up the stairs or to take off her shoes. It’s actually really cute when she looks up and says, “Daddy! Help!”

7. Embrace the Chaos

Despite what my messy desk and flexible freelance lifestyle may lead you to believe, I like predictability. I like order. I like being in control. And none of those things can really be kept in check when you’ve got a toddler running around the house, grabbing everything within reach and tossing everything else everywhere else.

You can only pick up so many toys and books and wastepaper baskets before you realize that your efforts are largely in vain. A toddler is chaotic. The world is chaotic. The universe is chaotic. You may as well accept the pandemonium and move on with your life. There will always be another battle, another adventure, and another life lesson to learn.

And afternoon naps? They can be pretty glorious too.