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Photo Courtesy Reghan Hailey

When my son was born, I knew my two-year-old daughter would need time to transition. She would need attention and quality time with me to let her know that she wasn't being replaced and that she is still loved. I made a decision before my son's birth that I'd cut her some slack in the early weeks. While I didn't plan to suddenly let her run the show, I wanted to avoid becoming too negative, as my patience would undoubtedly wear thin as we all adjusted to our new family dynamic. So, I eased up.

This was a terrible mistake. I now know that all I did was serve up my vulnerability on a silver platter and invite my strong-willed firstborn to feast. I may as well have told her that I'd be too tired for a battle of wills and just given her the keys to the house in advance. The thing about kids is that they're like bloodhounds when it comes to sniffing out your weaknesses. Before I knew it, I was struggling to keep my cool when she flat-out ignored and disobeyed me seemingly constantly. She's a little too young to reason with—not that she wants to be reasoned with, by any means—but she doesn't need to see reason. She just needs to listen to me. Isn't that every parent's dream? The people for whom you sacrifice your life to keep happy and healthy are the very people who just can't trust that you aren't trying to ruin their life by not letting them throw their toys or clip their own nails or go naked.

This toddler of mine has yet to thank me for my anticipatory understanding of her situation. In fact, I don't think she's grateful for it at all. We all make mistakes as parents, even in the early years, but now I've got to do a bit of damage control.

Hey, daughter. Remember me? I'm the mom. I carried you and birthed you and have kept you fed and loved ever since. Just thought I'd pop in and remind you that I make the rules and I'm still in charge, okay? All I need to do is remember the words of my grandmother-in-law: "Don't show your fear."

Truthfully, I'm afraid that I send the wrong messages all the time. Am I too laid back to be a good mom? Did I inadvertently set myself up for more challenges by being a little too understanding? I can see clearly now that my grave mistake was softening the boundaries for a strong-willed two-year-old. I've been a mom of two for such a short time, yet I'm already wiser. Unfortunately, that wisdom was gained through trial and error instead of some divine bestowing. This is how we, as a species, keep our edge. Our children get smarter every day, and we either get sharp or we get devoured.

This certainly isn't the last time my position in the pack will be challenged. I'm just going to stay vigilant and make sure that the next time isn't my own fault. We live and we learn, then we hopefully get to keep on living. The trick is figuring out how to raise strong individuals without getting stomped in the process. So far, I know I need a lot of patience and a lot of prayer. I'll stay one step ahead... at least until my daughter learns how to read.

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