My amazing daughter turned four years old earlier this year.

She is smart and funny and patient and kind. She is resilient and always willing to try something new. She loves making friends and isn’t afraid to be the new one in a group.

She is also four years old, which means she is continually testing boundaries, asking questions and figuring out her place in the world.

I wrote my first “Letter to a New Mom” when my daughter turned one, hoping I could pass on a little of the advice that had helped me in those first 12 months.

Every time I feel like I’ve got this parenting thing down, I’m reminded that I’m learning something new every single day.

Now I love writing these yearly summaries as they give me a chance to look back and remember how far we have all come as a family (Here is the two year old and three year old summary).

Having children is the most awe inspiring and humbling part of my life. I’m proud of many things I’ve accomplished, but my daughter is by far the thing I hold most dear. There are moments I question if I’m doing things right, but when she snuggles up and falls asleep with me at the end of the day, I know we are on the right track.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned over the past year having a three year old. I hope it helps us all realize that, as a mom, we are never really alone.

1. I can do it myself
This is probably the most repeated phrase in my daughter’s vocabulary. Her independence is soaring and, with that, comes a need to do everything on her own. For me, this means taking a deep breath, finding some patience and being willing to not have things perfect. When she wants to fold her own blankets, I would much rather deal with a haphazard folding job then tell her not to do it. As much as possible, I think it’s best when we can encourage independent behavior and learning new tasks. Yes, it means five extra minutes in the morning, but it also means exponential growth in our kids’ confidence and willingness to try new things once they master the task.

2. Be Prepared for serious questions
“Mommy, is heaven real? What happens when we die? Why do people die? Will you die? When will we die?” I think my daughter was on the toilet and I was sitting with her when she first launched one of these bombs on me. I wasn’t prepared in the least, but I always knew I didn’t want to lie to her, so I answered with as much honesty as I could, while trying to change the subject at every turn. Listening to this podcast really helped, as I realized that we need to be present and really hear and answer our children’s questions about this topic. They are having real fears and true questions around these fears. If we brush them off by saying “That will never happen” or “Let’s talk about something happier”, we are minimizing their concerns. My daughter’s questions surrounding this topic have only increased as she’s more exposed to the world, and I’ve promised myself I will always sit, be present and answer her questions as truthfully and lovingly as I can.

3. No more diapers
Hallelujah!! I know every child has a different timeline. Some will have been fully potty trained while they are still two, while some still need a form of diapers while they are four. But, in general, there will be a drastic decrease of diapering while your child is three. Yes, accidents will continue (I’m actually writing this six months after my daughter’s fourth birthday and she had an accident in her bed just last night). But, for the most part, constant diapering will slowly disappear from your life (wiping is another issue all together).

4. It’s not too early for chores
We started this practice pretty simply by making sure toys were always put away and shoes were placed in the closet. Then one night our daughter got placemats out and set the table on her own. I realized she was looking for a way to help. We started having her clear her own plate every night and push in her chair. She then wanted to help me with laundry, which I happily accepted. We are by no means perfect and I probably don’t enforce these things as much as I should, but by giving her a few small duties that we do every day, it has made her more aware of the other things that need to get done around the house.

5. You will still not sleep
I’ve included this one in every one of my year in reviews, and here it is again. Sleep will improve, but it’s still not constant and consistent. This past year we’ve gone through a month long phase of nightmares, as well as the two month phase of nighttime potty training and accidents. Just go with it, knowing that each phase does end at some point. Coffee helps.

6. Manners matter, even when you have to remind them over and over and over again
We are big on basic manners in our house. Our daughter has always been very receptive and good with this, but we’ve seen some regression this year. I think this is normal as she, again, tests boundaries and deals with more strangers in her life. Instead of getting mad or simply letting it go, we just remind her. Over and over again, if needed. We say “please” and “thank you”. We look people in the eye when they talk to us. Sometimes it seems easier to let lessons go and not deal with the battle, but if easy was what we wanted, we wouldn’t have signed up for parenting.

7. Their empathy will melt your heart
Along with the beginning of an understanding of the world around them comes an awareness that mommy and daddy can sometimes feel pain. My daughter’s need to run and get me a bandaid after a kitchen knife incident simply melted me. She wanted to hold my hand during every single IVF injection I had this year and she ran outside in the rain to give a slug her empty snail shell because she thought it was his. It’s never too early to teach our kids kindness, and, many times, they can help teach us.

8. They move at two speeds
I think kids at this age move with one of two speeds – hyperdrive or make you bang your head on the wall slow. I have to make sure I’m always diligent and never let my guard down, because she can go from 0 to 60 in two seconds and suddenly run across the street or jump off the stairs expecting me to catch her. I also need to have loads of patience, because she can decide to take 30 minutes to eat her carrots or brush her teeth.

9. They can make their own decisions
While this starts early in life, it really begins to take form while kids are three. Our daughter suddenly had a need to pick her own clothes in the morning, chose what snack she wanted (and did NOT want) and have input into what we were doing for the day. While there will always be boundaries (we don’t let her decide each day whether she goes to school or pick the cupcake for snack), we try to let her make as many of her own choices as possible. We have only two rules when it comes to clothes – they have to be weather appropriate and no princess dresses or costumes outside the house. Other than that, she can wear what she wants. I just make sure I fill her closet and drawers with clothes that fit her and are safe for playing. She comes out looking like a circus performer sometimes, but I don’t care. She feels beautiful and she has the confidence of knowing we believe in her to make her own choices. When you find yourself saying “no” all day, take a few minutes to see where you can say “yes”. While our children need boundaries, they also need some room to explore and express themselves.

10. Yet they are still our babies
They may fight and yell and use the word “no” like it’s going out of style, but they are still our babes. They need us to be present and to kiss owies. They need snuggles and affirmations. In the midst of the independence and strong-willed decisions, let’s not forget they are still looking to make sure we are solid. That we are unmovable. That we are there and always will be. When my daughter says “Mommy, I just need some alone time”, I don’t take it personally. I praise her for communicating that to me and for knowing her feelings. Then I sit back and wait for the hugs and kisses I know are coming later on.

Parenting is definitely hard. But there is no question in my mind it is the most honorable and amazing thing in my life. One day she won’t need me to help her make choices, or wipe her, or kiss her owies or answer her questions. I remember that every day, and I soak up every second of it now. I watch her sleep, smell her freshly washed hair and thank God that I am her mama.

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