I think many parents look back at the baby and toddler years fondly and say things like, “If only my teenager’s problems could be solved by a nice warm bath” “If only I could distract them with a pail and shovel in the sandbox” but I think these parents have forgotten the sheer physicality that prevails in parenting in these Early Years.
- It is exhausting to change a baby’s diaper when they hate it and are crawling away (or when they are a toddler, running away!)
- It is exhausting to chase your toddler down the street because they left the park. Again. With a baby on your hip and an older child racing beside you.
- It is exhausting when you have literally saved your toddler from death about fifty times in one day despite the fact you have “child-proofed” everything in sight.
Just plain tiring. Nursing, rocking, holding, co sleeping, co bathing, chasing, playing, feeding and starting all over again and again all night and all day.
So here are my Top Secret Super Survival Tips! (Eh, not so top secret, but doesn’t that sound fun??!)
- Keep it simple. Toddlers do not need a lot of excursions, play dates and trips to the store. Try to run errands later or have someone else do it; if there is one place you go that is repeatedly a problem, for example, a certain park or a store parking lot, then by all means skip going there for awhile. Only time can add maturity. It is that simple. Running away and being chased is just plain fun, and that behavior really can persist until they are five years of age or so. It is hard to leave when you are having a good time! Same thing with places with too many overwhelming choices; I was at the library the other day where a little boy (older toddler, probably close to three) was just sobbing because his poor Mommy wanted him to choose books and he was completely and utterly overwhelmed! He probably would have been happier if she had just stopped at the library herself and brought the books home and snuggled with him. Trying to be quiet AND not run AND pick books out of what probably looked like MILLIONS of books to him really was not working for this little guy. So I guess what I am saying is, please don’t expect too much too soon!
- Understand toddler behavior and developmental ages. There are so many posts on this blog about each age I can’t even count anymore! Check them out; there is also a whole listing of baby/toddler posts under the Baby/Toddler header.
- Have a set of tools for dealing with common toddler behaviors. See here; this one covers running away in public places and face slapping and other fun behaviors (but also look for an upcoming post): http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/11/common-toddler-challenges-and-how-to-solve-them/
- Structure the environment; your older baby/ toddler pretty much does need to be with you and under your eye at all times. Don’t be afraid to put up a gate to block off where your little one needs to be.
- Continue nursing if you can. Nursing is a great toddler tool. “Mothering Your Nursing Toddler” is a classic La Leche League book about the nursing toddler; and many La Leche League groups have Toddler Meetings. That is a great place to go and get support because everyone is going through what you are going through! See this link to find a group in your area: www.lalecheleague.org
- Continue to cultivate use of a sling if your little one will still ride in a backpack. That really does help during preparation of food and such. If this child is two or so, they may enjoy helping out with simple chores and running little errands for you around the house (like putting something in the trash, or wiping up a little spill). They do want to please you, you are not on opposing teams here!
- Stay away from negative people who tell you that your older baby or toddler is “manipulating” you or “defying” you. I know this sounds really harsh, and I am sorry, but these people are unfortunately generally uninformed regarding the development of the brain, childhood psychology and childhood development and just seem to lack a good sense of humor about children to boot! Please see this post for help: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/16/a-few-fast-words-regarding-defiance-in-children-under-the-age-of-6/
- Ask for what you need and get help. Fathers are parents too!
- Get outside every day. Babies can crawl on the ground, it really is okay. Toddlers can toddle. Good times for all!
- Work hard on rest, sleep and meal times. These basic things are very important for small children. There are posts under the Baby/Toddler header regarding sleep.
- Don’t be afraid to take naps and go to bed when your toddler goes to bed. This is a short period and it is okay to do that!
- Stay positive, sing and sing and have finger plays and Mother Goose rhymes at the ready. Distraction is your number one tool!
- Here is a post that addressed burn-out and some other intensive mothering issues: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/21/day-number-five-of-20-days-toward-being-a-more-mindful-mother/
The last major tip I have is to think of these Early Years in this way: most of us are in at least our fourth or fifth seven year cycle of life (look at those back posts on the Tapestries book, it was very interesting!), and these little ones are only in the beginning of their first. It is very hard for us in general to enter this consciousness of the toddler. Many times we give it way too much adult weight! It takes a lot of practice, and the more you can think humor and play and love, the less stressful the toddler years become!