If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my parenting journey, it’s this: parenting a toddler is hard. During Lila’s first year, I was bobbing along, still recovering from the idea that I actually had a baby, and struggling with the horrendous lack of sleep, but still managing to meet her basic needs and feeling like I was doing a pretty decent job at it. But around the time she hit 18 months, it was like someone had taken my happy, easy baby and replaced her with a small, extremely volatile and opinionated child. No longer was I able to spoon feed her mush, or dress her in whatever I chose, or get out the front door without one (or both) of us having a meltdown. Everything was a battle, nothing was sacred (including going to the loo) and everything I thought I knew about patience and understanding was thrown swiftly out the window as I realized I actually knew sweet fuck all about either of those things. Welcome, hurricane toddler!
Now, being a rather anxious parent, I wasn’t prepared for the bizarre emotional roller coaster that both of us now went through on a daily basis. I’d start off the morning positive and ready with plans for the day, only to discover than Lila had woken up grumpy and teary for no particular reason and absolutely, unequivocally did NOT want to go to the park, or the playdate, or whatever else I’d planned for us. It was play duplo or nothing. Or, I’d be feeling a bit rough after a sleepless night, craving a day of gentle activities and an early night, whereas Lila would be running around the house like someone on crack, demanding a visit to Shops! Library! Playground! It became clear pretty damn quick that they weren’t called The Terrible Two’s just because it sounds good. But it wasn’t just me, the anxious mum, who struggled. I have seen some of the most chilled out, laid back mums I know reduced to tears after a day full of No! from their toddler. I’ve compiled a list of a couple of things that can help you retain your sanity when dealing with a small grumpy human, so if you’re feeling like you’re reaching the end of your tether on a daily basis, grab a cup of tea and read on.
Define Your Parenting Style
When Lila was a baby, my parenting style was really just ‘do whatever works’. I had read all about attachment parenting, babywise and the ferber method, and watched a very interesting documentary called ‘Bringing Up Baby’ (which really just left me more confused than before), but despite all my research on which parenting method resonated with me, I always ended up doing whatever kept us all fed, rested, and alive. (Ahh…the survival method?) When she grew into a toddler, however, I knew I needed to bring something else to the table. There is a hell of a power struggle that comes with the toddler years, and it’s pretty key for your own sanity to drill in the idea that Mum Is In Charge. I had been contacted by a lovely friend from Instagram who mentioned RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) and after some investigating, I found that this was the parenting style that I most clicked with. Maybe you have had a definitive parenting style from the get-go, which is great, but of course it doesn’t do any harm to revisit this and make sure that this is working for you and your toddler. Defining your parenting style can really help on those days where you have no fucking idea why they’re crying, or when they’re having a full-scale meltdown in the middle of Aldi, or when they have decided out of the blue that going to bed is no longer necessary – because you can come at it from a place of power. It’s kinda like embarking on a diet, and getting a plan written up about what food you’re going to buy and eat, and how much. It makes you feel calm and empowered because you know what the plan is. And since toddlers have an uncanny ability to make you lose your mind completely, working up a ‘plan of attack’ with your parenting style is going to help you in those seriously trying moments. When I defined my parenting style, instead of getting visibly frustrated and losing my rag at Lila when she was still awake at 1am, I was able to calmly tell her “I understand you’re angry because you don’t want to go to sleep. But it’s very late so I’m going to put you into bed now, and you can stay awake if you want to but you do need to stay in there.” Obviously this approach didn’t work exactly as you’d hope, but it was enough to know that I was back in control of the situation, because I knew what I was going to do. You know, as opposed to just free-balling it and ending up with us both in tears. Sanity restored!
Bust Out The Stickers
Ahh, bless you, stickers. They seem to do some kind of voodoo magic on toddlers; nothing is as important as getting their hands on that god damn sticker. I had read about incentive charts numerous times but felt that Lila was still a bit young to understand. But here’s where I obviously needed to give her some more credit – toddlers are a LOT smarter than they let on. Once I introduced a sticker chart to her and taped it on the back of her bedroom door with the promise of some sparkly monkey stickers if she behaved herself, she cottoned on pretty bloody quick. Say please and thank you – get a sticker. Hold hands when we’re out – get a sticker. Sleep all night with no disruptions – get three stickers. (She’s only received the illustrious ‘three sticker reward’ a couple times, but that’s better than nothing!) Do yourself a favor, hit up the dollar store and buy some colored cardboard and some fancy stickers, and make your own sticker chart. Bonus points for getting your toddler to help create the chart! My deal with Lila is that after five stickers she gets to choose something fun to do. Although, I think the funnest part for her is actually sticking the stickers onto the chart. The only rule here is don’t take away stickers for bad behavior. Not only will you probably end up feeling like the cold blooded mother from hell, but it won’t help to reinforce good behavior.
Get Creative With Your Me-Time
Trying to schedule me-time with a toddler in tow is about as successful as trying to wax your own bikini line (Not advisable). Getting some quality time with yourself is no longer as easy as it was pre-baby – I mean, you can’t exactly drop everything and go get a massage (not that anyone was doing that anyway). But it is SO IMPORTANT to have some down time, away from your rambunctious tiny human, as much for you as it is for them. Since hitting the toddler stage, getting some chill time away from Lila became pretty much impossible, as she would lose her mind if, say, I wanted to leave her home with daddy while I went to a yoga class. Not happening, mama, not today! (Or tomorrow, or the next day. Cancel yoga membership.) So I had to start getting a bit creative with how I got my me-time. When I have appropriate babysitters around – hi mum, hi dad! – I can generally grab an hour at the gym a couple of days a week. But when they’re away, which they often are, I get up at the asscrack of dawn to get my workout in. Which isn’t fun, because I am not a morning person, and Lila still doesn’t sleep through the night, but it’s a pretty pivotal part of my day if I want to feel like I’m actually doing something for me. Sometimes even a trip to the grocery store sans toddler feels like me-time….I mean seriously, getting to walk through woollies without having to open a pouch of custard, or bust out ten biscuits, only to have to retrieve said biscuits from aisle 11 because somehow she managed to whip them over there from aisle 8 is an absolute holiday. If you can find someone kind enough to take your toddler of your hands for an hour or two during the week, do it. Don’t feel guilty. And then try and do something that helps you rather than hinders you. I am of course referring to not sitting on the couch watching sixteen episodes of friends, but rather getting out for some fresh air, doing some exercise, seeing a friend, reading a good book – pretty much anything that comes under the category of self-care (see this post for more details) is going to help you to feel as if you’ve actually had a break. If you can’t find someone to watch your little one, consider enrolling them in occasional care. I have just started this with Lila for four hours, one day a week, and it is a lil slice of heaven. If all else fails, get up before the sun and get some me-time in. Its hard, but not as hard as getting to the end of the day wanting to pull your hair our because you haven’t had a damn moment to yourself.
Find Somewhere To Visit That Benefits Both Of You
I’m talking about somewhere you can take your toddler, where you can sit down and relax and they can get some energy out. This might be a playgroup, or storytime at the library, or even going to nanna’s house. I used to take Lila to a soft play center because there was a cafe where I could sit with a coffee while she played nearby, but then she went through the clingy-toddler-all-up-in-your-grill stage and soft play was no longer a place to relax, because I end up being dragged to the bouncing castle, then the big slide, then the ball pit…which is great on days when I have the energy, but on those rough afternoons when nothing you say or do seems to help their mood, it’s not the ideal place to go, especially when we need a bit of a break from each other. Now we go to McDonalds. which – hold on, don’t ring the bad-mum-brigade just yet – is actually a great place for us to both get what we need. I get a coffee from the cafe, and Lila runs wild on the playground while I sit and read a magazine. Honestly, if there was a cafe nearby that had the same set up and wasn’t McDonald’s, I’d go there, but for the time being, it does the trick. Find a place that you can go with your little one where they can safely play while you can get a moment or two to chill. On days when they’re being super difficult, this is a go-to.
Find Your Mama Tribe
Obviously, having a nice cuppa with any friend is helpful when you feel overwhelmed, but there is something to be said for mothers groups. Because you know what? Those without kids don’t know exactly what it’s like, and those with older kids have probably forgotten what it’s like. I know when friends with newborns ask me about something, say… a sleep regression, for example, I pretty much have no recollection of going through it with Lila. I mean, I know I did go through it, and I know it probably sucked, but I don’t remember any of the juicy details. The helpful details. Hanging out with mums who have kids roughly the same age is so incredibly reassuring – knowing that you’re all pretty much going through the exact same thing and that it’s normal is really a game-changer for your peace of mind. Find mums who you can open up to, be yourself with, mums who won’t blink at having to wipe your kids nose for you, or don’t give a shit about your toddler having a huge tanty in the middle of a coffee-date, those women are your mama tribe. Find them, and utilize them. And on that note, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Decide On Your Non-Negotiables
This kinda comes under the category of parenting style, but I felt it needed a paragraph of it’s own. Having non-negotiables is a pretty good way of making sure that you remain in control of the situation, and don’t lose your marbles. There should be certain things that you simply will not allow your toddler to do, and the sooner you can get this message across to them, the easier things will be. The thing is, toddlers want to know what you expect from them. Sometimes they have no idea. Your toddler might not understand that it’s okay to throw a ball outside, but not inside, until you make it clear to them. Why is drawing on the walls any different to drawing on the paper? You need to communicate this to them, instead of just blowing your lid when you discover crayola scribbled all over your lounge room wall. When Lila started walking, instead of having her in the pram when we went out on walks, I would pull her out of the pram so that she could toddle around. But then she started to have a problem with getting in the pram at all. I had to make sitting in the pram a non-negotiable on walks, because I was giving her mixed messages about what I expected. Similarly, when she said she didn’t want to sit in the trolley at the supermarket, I would try to avoid a meltdown by simply letting her walk next to me. Mistake – shopping began to take two hours instead of twenty minutes. And I didn’t avoid the meltdowns anyway! So, sitting in the trolley at the supermarket became a non-negotiable. Once I explained to her what was going to happen, she sat in there with minimal protest, and as long as I keep her in the loop and tell her what I expect, she always sits in the trolley in the supermarket. This kinda thing applies to holding hands in the street, waiting for mum when we get out of the car, and so on. This being said, you still will need to pick your battles, but not on non-negotiable things. If your toddler insists on wearing gumboots on a 35 degree summer day, let them. Realise when things should be negotiable.
Get Them Involved
At the end of the day, toddlers really just want to do whatever it is you’re doing. That’s why some of the most popular toys are still tea-sets, or little tool-kits, or even fake vacuum cleaners or trolleys. Your child wants to hang out with you, and that’s great – but sometimes you need to get things done too. I’ve found that involving Lila in what I’m doing helps her to feel included, and helps me to feel like I’m teaching her something. Sure, it takes a lot longer to get things done, but if you’re doing it together, it counts as quality time. Lila now knows how to load and turn on the washing machine and dryer, un-stack the dishwasher, feed the chickens, muck out the coop, and sweep and tidy up. And she loves doing it! And actually, if we’re being honest, I do love the way her face lights up when she completes a task I’ve set for her (Also is a bonus not having to physically sweep the floor myself). Another of the tricks I use is having a bath with Lila. This way, I get to lay back in a nice, bubbly tub while she plays at the other end with her toys. She loves it, and I feel like I’ve managed to recharge while spending time with her – two birds, one stone.
See Things Their Way
Have you ever considered something from a toddlers point of view? Sometimes when Lila is running through the house and her dad picks her up suddenly, she wigs out. I could see he was starting to take personal offence to it, because it seemed as if she didn’t want to be held by him. But looking at it from her point of view helped him to see why she was annoyed. Imagine trying to get from point A to point B, and suddenly someone much bigger than you whisks you up and stops you from going where you wanted to. How bloody annoying, right?! It was no wonder she was getting frustrated. It can be easy to feel sometimes as if your toddler is doing things to get at you, or just being a jerk for no reason, but take a moment to see things from their perspective. They are still learning, still discovering the world, and still finding out their place in it. Figuring out what they can and can’t do, what is expected of them and what’s not, and dealing with a huge range of emotions and limitations that they just aren’t quite prepared for. Try to remember this the next time you’re both heading into a downward spiral.
Above All, Remember – This too shall pass
Even though the toddler years seem to last a bloody age, whereas the baby stage seems to positively fly-by, your little one won’t be a little one forever. Soon you’ll find yourself packing their bag for school, waving them off to summer camps, seeing them graduate from high school and not knowing what to do with yourself when they leave home. On the days when you’re battling with your toddler over not hitting the dog, or trying to explain to them why they cannot have icecream for dinner, take a deep, deep breath and remember, this will pass. Parenting is hard, but it’s also a gift, and a privilege, and all you really need to do is the best you can. You’re doing a wonderful job, don’t you forget that.