This past Saturday, my eight-year-old cousin came to visit. I don’t see her often, but I love spending time with her. She’s a sweet, typical kid. Loves cartoons, loves to play games, loves being silly, and she’s fairly quiet, though she seems to be growing out of that. She was quieter when she was younger than she is now. The first time she ever came to visit (I think she was five), the only sound she made was when she cried about simply walking to the back room alone. Now, she has no problem with our house and will respond without trouble if you talk to her.
In my eyes, my cousin is an ideal child. Well-behaved, patient, able to sit quietly and occupy herself, polite. Out of all the times I’ve been with her, she threw a tantrum one time. And she had reason because she was tired and had been abruptly woken up. I couldn’t blame her. Nobody likes being woken up, especially not in such a rush.
Every now and then, I think if it were guaranteed my first child would be like my cousin, I’d consider being a parent. However, experiences like the above knock me back down the Earth. I don’t doubt my cousin is well-behaved most of the time, but in truth, I can only make that judgment based on the small amount of time I spend with her and what my aunt (her grandmother) tells me. At most, I only spend a few hours with my cousin when one of us visits the other. I see the sweet, playful side of her because, unless she ever feels like throwing fits for a day, there’s no reason for her to behave any differently in the few hours I’m with her.
Even if I spent a full 24 hours with her, I may not see much difference in her behavior. She would have people to pay attention to her, she knows she is wanted and loved, she has plenty of things to play with, and she has more than enough to eat if she’s hungry. The only way I’d see anything different from what I know of her is if someone or something agitated her, which, from what I hear, is rare.
It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to be proper 100% of the time, let alone a child who still has a lot of growing and learning to do. Most kids stop throwing tantrums around my cousin’s age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to deal with unpleasant feelings. If I spent a week with my cousin, chances are I’d see fits, some stubbornness, and some sadness or even anger. No matter how angelic I see her as, the fact remains she is human, not a flat character in a TV show. Spending 24/7 with her is much different than a few hours, especially if she spends that time occupying herself and not needing or wanting someone’s attention.
When I was a child, I often got upset at myself for not being perfect. I actually thought something was wrong with me (being asked by an adult what’s wrong with me didn’t help either) because I couldn’t be perfect like everyone else seemed to, or I couldn’t be good like I was the previous day. When I was old enough to seriously think about parenting, I envisioned my child always being happy and loving because they’d have no reason to ever be upset. I hadn’t yet learned that nobody is perfect and it’s okay because perfection does not exist. Children are going to act out from time to time, no matter how well their parents are raising them, because people make mistakes. I wish someone had to told me as a child, “It’s alright you feel this way. You just can’t [whatever I did that was inappropriate].” Honestly, even as an adult, I don’t see the point in punishing a kid because they’re unhappy.
My little cousin reminds me of childhood and what it was like to be so young, innocent, and joyful. And while I know it can’t last forever, I do hope, unlike me, she is able to grow and mature at her own pace instead of having to be hurried into it.