Finding uncharted territory

princess sistersWhile doing the dishes in the kitchen a few nights ago, I heard the wonderful sounds of my two little girls in the other room giggling and talking to each other (well, as much talking as a bossy three year old and a babbling one year old can do). I heard them “ssshing” their baby dolls, falling into laughing fits while rolling around on the floor and generally being sweet with each other.

Just as I let out a sigh of relief and thanked my lucky stars that my little ones could entertain each other while I got things done around the house, the giggling turned to arguing. Where there had been “conversations” about caring for their babies, there were now the not-so-sweet shrieks of “mine!” “noooo!” “mommy!” And just like that, my short-lived efficiency of getting chores done faded into playing referee over whose turn it was to use the baby bottle.

Motherhood is uncharted territory in it of itself. Every day is fresh and new, and with each day comes a curve ball, a moment of celebration and a moment of exasperation. Just when I think I’ve figured it all out and gotten to know the patterns, tendencies and likes/dislikes of my kids, everything changes. Just like that.

Even more so, though, deep within the folds of motherhood is another area of uncharted territory for me. As an only child, I have never known what it feels like to share my parents (except for one amazing year in high school when we hosted an exchange student, my “sister”, from Brazil). I’ve never known the incredible bond of a sibling… nor have I had someone to wrestle with over any particular toy. I don’t know what it’s like to have a brother or sister who will ALWAYS be there, for better or for worse, nor do I know what it feels like to swing so quickly from getting along, to fighting, and back again. I loved my childhood, and I loved being an only child. But as I now raise my girls, I’m quickly learning that this sibling thing is quite complex.

While I observe my kids interacting and watch their own pendulum swing from loving each other to wanting nothing to do with the other, I have to make a continual choice: when do I step in and when do I let them work it out themselves? Do they need me to always step in as their referee and count out turns in ten second intervals, or can they learn to self regulate? (Yes, I know, at their age that’s quite the dream.)

wrestling girlsWhether raising two kids, twenty kids (nice work Duggars), or just one, as parents we have to decide when to step up and when to step back. When a child on the playground takes the shovel away from our kid, do we step up and do something about it? Or step back and let our kid learn to stand up for herself? I find myself questioning this all the time – step up or step back? Step in or let it unfold naturally? What will they learn with me involved? What will they learn if I fade into the background? How would a situation unfold differently if I’d stepped back, or if I’d stepped up? (Note that when their safety is at risk, my answer is to always step up!)

When do you step up or step back? What uncharted territory are you navigating?