I Used to Think 'Wild' Kids Had Bad Moms -- Until I Had My Own

happy red headed girl
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When my firstborn daughter attended a co-op preschool, I loved being in her classroom twice a month. Not only was I able to watch her learn and play, but I also got to see the other children and match names to faces. And I got to judge the other parents.

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I scoffed as a few of the little girls with older siblings precociously chased the boys, imploring them to be their boyfriends. While my sweet, angelic child knew only the lyrics to "Elmo's World," these little ones could sing the entire One Direction catalog. They watched the Disney shows. NOT Disney Junior. Naturally, I assumed their parents were horribly permissive.

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My second child, my son, attended the same preschool. We were surrounded by pint-sized mean girls who knew more about fashion and music trends than I did. I had met their parents, and could not reconcile the attentiveness I witnessed with the way their daughters carried on. But clearly they didn't shield their children's innocence as fiercely as I did.

Five years later, my third child started preschool.

My husband and I had tried to raise her the same as our first two. She watched Elmo and Mickey Mouse and played with My Little Pony dolls and Little People princesses. But there was something inherently mischievous about this child. Our first two had been easy toddlers. We never childproofed; there was no need. When we were out in public, there was no worry that they would take off in a parking lot. Those two clung to our legs for dear life. We were more worried about tripping over them than having to chase after them.

But while my oldest was still committed to her youthful innocence, my 3-year-old must have been secretly watching MTV. She declared her intention to dye her hair purple. In the middle of the grocery store, she said she would like both her ears and her nose pierced for her fourth birthday. During the Super Bowl halftime show, my oldest shook her head as she informed me that Lady Gaga's dance moves were not appropriate for young eyes. Number three? She was imitating the moves as she told us, "I like to shake my booty."

I was reeling. How had my sweet, tiny preschooler turned into a dreaded threenager?

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This child absorbed popular culture like a sponge. She would only need to hear a song once in the grocery store in order to catch the rhythm and know the lyrics. Before she even spoke in full sentences, she was singing "All the Single Ladies." While my first daughter preferred Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, number three wanted to watch The Book of Life on repeat -- a morbid cartoon about La Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Echoing the soundtrack, she danced around the house singing Radiohead: "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdoooo."

My mother had always warned us that our words should be sweet, lest someday we had to eat them. I was in for a bitter meal. All of the times I judged the mothers of the little girls who had different dispositions than my own came rushing back to haunt me. My third-born would have fit in perfectly with those little girls. She probably would have been their queen bee.

I soon realized that my first child wasn't just sweet and easy because I was a stellar parent, but also because that was her natural disposition. She has remained the same docile and agreeable child to this day. I had taken entirely too much credit for her personality. Similarly, my third-born is her own person. And that person has wild plans and precocious ideas. It took this child and her large personality to make me realize that while we can direct and redirect all we want, even preschoolers have their own worldview.

And while nose-piercing is off the table for the time being, I've agreed to consider earrings and maybe some hair chalk now and again. Even if her older sister disapproves.

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