When my two-year-old announces that he wants to help me crack an egg while I am cooking, there’s always the chance that it will slip out of his hand, roll off of the counter and crack into a slimy mess on the floor.
When he wants to help me put away some laundry, it’s always possible that he will knock over a pile of what had just been neatly-folded towels in the process.
Sometimes, he wants to help me do the dishes, which also means committing to mop the kitchen floor, or at least wiping up the soapy puddles from the ground, when we’re finished.
Every so often, my little boy decides he would rather push his stroller than sit in it, which looks like me jogging beside him to repeatedly steer the stroller away from the grass or street as he marches joyfully, yet blindly, at an impressive speed.
I’ll be the first to admit:
A toddler’s assistance is not a welcomed help when your goal is to get things done in a swift and smooth manner.
However, I’ve realized the great value in not denying my son when he reaches out his helping hands, even when it comes as an inconvenience to me.
A child does not just want to be occupied, they desire to be included.
There is this common perspective that when adults are being productive, kids are in the way, which leads us to the conclusion that we need to find another activity to keep them busy while we’re doing whatever important thing that needs to be done.
I remember watching my son out of the corner of my eye months ago as he emptied the drawers in our kitchen while I was putting away our groceries. I didn’t stop him, for I was pleased to have him occupied as I unloaded the content of my bags into the refrigerator and pantry.
Once I was finished, I took in the sight of our kitchen floor covered in utensils and thought to myself, “Motherhood is just a never-ending cycle of cleaning up messes,” already envisioning my son making another mess while I undid the one he had just created.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I started thinking differently. I‘m not quite sure how it came about, but I think it had something to do with the fact that my son always wanted to be held while I was cooking lunch so he could get a better look of the magic taking place on the countertops.
The day my husband and I finished building our son a learning tower that allowed him to join us at the counter independently and freed up my right arm and hip that had grown tired of carrying him, was the day I fell in love with the togetherness of making meals with my toddler.
Almost immediately, one of his daily requests became that we cook lunch together, sometimes even immediately after breakfast.
Quickly realizing that his desire was not to be occupied, but included, I slowly opened my eyes to all the other daily tasks I could involve him in, too.
Though it has taken a great deal of practice, I’ve done my best to slow my general pace enough for my son to dive in and receive hands-on experience in my world when whatever I’m doing catches his eye.
I attempt to structure my days in a way that allows space and time for my son to participate in household chores, and work hard to let go of any high expectations as his eyes light up in joy when he marvels at his work.
In turn, I have discovered that entertaining, and even teaching a child becomes an afterthought when you extend the invitation for them to be involved in important work.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin
So, when we unload the dishwasher, I have no issue rearranging the silverware drawer he can’t quite see into, after my two-year-old reaches as high as his arms will let him to toss forks and spoon in to make a jumbled mess.
Deep down, I think each of us carry the same desire within us to feel seen and known. We want to feel important, wanted and irreplaceable in the roles we play.
And as for me, I would much rather raise a helping hand, than someone who feels like they’re always just in the way.
So, to my son, and now, my daughter: Help me, if you please.