My kid scares people. Actually, she tends to terrify them. It happens almost everywhere we go and generally in the same sequence of events. I set her down, she takes off in her toddler jog toward anything on two legs of a similar height, and within a minute, there’s a precious baby in tears being consoled by their parent.
Now, I’m not sure if it’s her eager finger pointing, squeals of excitement, or wide eyes, but she universally repels toddlers. I even look for kids who seem adventurous before setting her loose, almost like I’m vetting potential playmates by judging how brave they appear to be based on their comfort level striking out on their own in the playground. If I spot a “wild one”, I think to myself, “Okay, surely this kid will love mine.” Wrong. Time and time again.
I’ve come to expect this reaction by now, and thankfully it hardly fazes Emma. For now. She usually just looks back to me, or my husband almost as if to say, “Huh, that’s weird.” But, she can’t say that, because she doesn’t even speak yet. In fact, she doesn’t do much at all other than amble around smiling, squawking, occasionally falling, and trying eagerly to make contact with other tiny humans.
So, why is it that I have this innate urge to apologize on her behalf when her completely innocent attempt at making contact results in distress? My child has ultimately caused another to be distraught, and I feel bad about that, but she hasn’t actually done anything wrong.
Take last weekend for example. We visited the park, and in full Emma fashion, she enthusiastically approached a boy running toward the slides. As she got closer, I saw fear flash across his adorable face. There was an unidentified jumble of pink and denim with questionable intent barreling down on him, and thankfully, his mom swooped in to make the introductions as smooth as possible. Almost immediately, I said, “I’m sorry. She’s a little aggressive.”
WAIT. What had I just said? I exchanged a few pleasantries with the other mom, and then I ushered Emma over to our stroller to head home with daddy and grandmas in tow. Internally, I was reeling with how wrong it felt to have called my baby girl aggressive. In truth, there isn’t an aggressive bone in her body. Not yet at least. I’m sure I’ll face the days of her testing limits or getting angry with a sibling if we’re lucky enough to give her one, but she’s not doing anything that warrants an apology. I have no desire to borrow trouble.
Just like I shouldn’t have apologized when she was an extremely attached newborn, who protested at being separated from me during the early months of her life. I felt guilty that family members didn’t get quality snuggles because she would cry at our parting, so I would apologize.
The reality is… I’m not sorry, and I wasn’t then either. I’m not sorry that my baby, by some miracle, is an outgoing, adventurous, curious, and truly engaging little girl. I’m not sorry mostly because I was not any of those things myself at her age, and I’m truly thankful that she is her own little person.
My husband and I are clearly doing something right in raising a child who is comfortable and secure enough to branch out and explore this amazing world, but it comes down to her being unique and full of surprises. Just like those other mommas haven’t done a single thing wrong in raising a child who is more timid or careful by nature.
I truly believe there isn’t a single thing we can do to ensure a child develops certain personality traits. It’s up to them. What we do have influence over is them internalizing desirable characteristics, morals, and growing their self-confidence. For this reason, I refuse to let Emma grow up hearing me utter the words “Sorry” for anything that she’s doing unless it warrants an apology. Saying “I’m sorry” should be meaningful and necessary. Period.
Instead, I’m going to go out of my way to embrace her excitement. We will keep trying, and she will keep approaching other toddlers. I won’t apologize, but I will help make the introductions. I will praise her friendliness and eagerly be the middleman until we find success. In reality, we’ve only just started trying, and I’m willing to bet there are plenty of other Emma’s out there.
Most importantly, she will hear her mom encouraging her friendliness and willingness to explore, not subtly discouraging that behavior by making excuses for it.