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3 Ways My Toddlers Have Helped Me Unlock My Own Potential

3 Things I've Learned From My Toddlers

When I was 2, I’m pretty sure I wet the bed. When I was 7, I dreamed of being a mom and doted on my younger sisters like they were my own babies. When I was 12, I was a highly sought-after babysitter. But I also smoked cigarettes in cracked-up alleyways and decided I was old enough to drink a vat of screwdrivers with the rowdiest (and much-older-than-me) individuals I could find — individuals who, at the time, weren’t off-side to me.

I didn’t know much, and yet I knew far too much. They had character. Depth. Pain. Like me. Reality and memories that we all just wanted to waste away in, numbed by our self-prescribed antidotes. The only thing that we could control in our young lives at the time was what we would consume. It was a gateway to self-destruction. All throughout my forgotten childhood years and blacked-out teenage and young-adulthood years, I remember knowing this: There is a better way. A better life for me.

The one solid, stable “thing” that revolved around all of that hard reality and those far-fetched dreams was having my own family and working with kids. I went from couch to couch, suburb to city, group home to nun-run shelter. Throughout my years as a street kid, there was but one saving grace that I believe to this day saved me, ultimately from myself — and that’s thinking like a kid. That meant acting like a kid with actual, real-life happy kids, and being the child I once was — never the one who lived through those bad times but the one that I dreamed of, and the ones that I cared for.

Happy, shiny kids.

I began that slow climb to self perseverance and made my way, nannying, babysitting around the clock and immersing myself in the the care of others — little humans who taught me some of the very best things I know about myself. I felt graced by their innocence. All of my alternative high-school, co-op and community college hours were spent working with children of various ages, with various agencies. It seemed I had a natural gift for caring for children. I was on my best behavior around children, and it was almost as if I could be another person — this good and put-together person with something to offer — and that I, too, could be this upstanding, responsible member of society. My love and respect for children and youth of all ages only grew and deepened with time to meet the ultimate positive influence in my life: my own children.

Oh, how I have been tested in parenthood. Triggered. Loved. Taught. Challenged. And then taught some more. My kids have graced me with unwavering acceptance and given me the ultimate opportunity in this life: to think and act like a child in ways I never connected with before. When I ruminate on what makes me really happy and how I’ve been successful in life, there is a striking resemblance to how my children think and act, day in and day out. It’s in the way that they play with endless imagination. It’s in the way that they utilize every opportunity to develop and learn. It’s in the way that they explore new things and exciting environments with very little apprehension — and lots of dedication.

Success, the magazine, quotes Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley:

“Our ability to learn new things is another primary positive characteristic we lose over time. Children are designed by evolution to be extremely good learners — to be able to learn about anything that’s interesting and important in the world around them… When you look at their brains, they’re extremely flexible, so they can change what they think based on new evidence very quickly and easily.”

I could learn a thing or two from that. In fact, I don’t have to think too hard about how motherhood and my kids’ personalities during this small window of time that is toddlerhood have impacted me in some very profound ways…

Their Fresh Perspective

Whenever I take a few hours in our kid-centric, colorful and sunlight-drenched living room to shut off from my “adult” world and play with my kids, all of the complacency of my day melts away and a fresh new perspective sets in. Bright, airy environments have been proven to promote happy productive learning spaces for kids and work environments for adults. Tapping into daily play with my toddlers — and some of my own creative hobbies during those precious moments that I have for myself — really sets the bar on how productive I am in a work day and how I feel about myself, my mothering and my day in general.

Their Ability to Embrace the Unknown

Toddler spirits are free spirits — spirits that roam wild and adventurous. My toddler daughter, especially, has a can-do attitude with just about anything. In her mind, she can leap from tall surfaces and sing like a Broadway star. I watch my children unfurl endless possibilities throughout their everyday play, and when I get in on that action with them, my adult mind can’t help but stray to how I can relate this to my own work and responsibilities, to a way of thinking and experiencing new things. Most of us adults like things that are familiar and comfortable. A toddler’s world is anything but. Everything is new and often scary, and they embrace the unknown with fervor and gusto — but perhaps not with so much grace, which is overrated anyway when chasing one’s dreams and goals. “Bill Gates *insert any other uber successful entrepreneur here* is SO graceful!” Said no one ever.

Their Unwavering Tenacity

Little kids dance like nobody’s watching. I’m sure you’ve heard the latter part of that expression before, and as trite as it may sound, it’s rather true. Have you ever watched a toddler dance? It’s amazing. My two completely lose themselves in the moment. They feel that music right down to their toes and they let it pervade their senses, much like they would when eating something decadent or running through a luminescent wave of dollar store bubbles. That kind of unabashed “behavior” and ability to play freely seriously kicks adult stressors in the butt. Little kids don’t think about — nor do they care about — what other people might be thinking of them when they get lost in a moment of expression. They don’t compare themselves to others (remember I’m talking about the young kids, the toddlers) and they definitely don’t shy away from asking me or anyone else a multitude of questions until their curiosity is vanquished. “No” is not a word that they have any desire to understand, and they will indeed devise a plan to get their own way. I’ve learned to appreciate this, as frustrating as it may be as a parent — I can also take heed and turn this into a positive, as a person who, with age, has perhaps learned to take the answer “No” a little too easily. My children have given me the gift of everyday play and have taught me to be tenacious again, to compare myself to no one. These are all vital characteristics to being successful in life — all signs of real strength and individuality.

Great philosophers like Einstein and Nietzsche have long since upheld the concept that thinking like a child is often the key to adult success, and I’d have to concur as living, viable proof. Anything is possible when you’re a kid — and maybe even when you think like a kid as an adult.

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More Babbles From Selena…

Selena is a crafty, culinary mom. Regular writer here and on Disney Baby. Part-time mischief maker, all-time geek.  Elsewhere on the Internets… via her humble beginnings, mastering in general mayhem: le petit rêve

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