The days are long but the years are short. Early childhood is the longest shortest time. Yada, yada, yada. Why is parenting such a perplexing conundrum? I call it the cha cha because it so often feels like for every step forward there are at least two steps back. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to enjoy the dance. It’s hardest when I get bogged down with whatever milestone is taking over my life at any given moment. Sleep setbacks, potty training, temper tantrums, hunger strikes. Take your pick. With an exceedingly active and willful (I hate that word!) child in the terrible twos stage, sometimes it’s all of the above.
A wise, more veteran parenting friend than I observed a few years ago that whatever issue is currently at hand feels like it is lasting FOREVER! Then suddenly it’s over and you’re onto the next Big Thing, whatever that next Big Thing is. Too often lately, I feel like I’m barely surviving from one big thing to the next with minimal enjoyment or respite in between. It feels horrible to admit that, but more often than not, it’s just how it has been. Why do the challenging stages sometimes seem to last FOREVER! and the sweet stages last for approximately five minutes?
My mantra has been to think of my child as a second kid, even though he is my first. I tell myself that to help relax, keep things in perspective, go with the flow. But I’ve been anything but those blissful states as the challenges of managing a strong-willed toddler have nearly reduced me to a mere pile of tears.
Though I feel I’m losing the parenting battle most days lately, I’m trying to emerge from near-drowning in self-pity and frustration. I’ve come up with some tools to help preserve what sanity is still partially intact. I write them primarily for my full-time mommy self, but I hope they can help you, too, whatever your situation may be.
Take a cue from Daniel Tiger. Take a deep breath and count to four (or ten or twenty, whatever it takes…) It’s great for your body and it’s good modeling for your kid. My son senses oh so much. Whenever he thinks anything is afoot with me, he’ll say nicely, “Calm down please, Mommy.”
PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD
Sometimes just getting down on the floor for a good tickle or imaginary tiger den outing is all it takes for me to remember what an amazingly creative child I am blessed to have.
APPRECIATE THE LITTLE THINGS
Because really, they are huge. Instead of getting annoyed with how poky my little guy is when we are getting ready to leave the house, I have been consciously reminding myself to savor all of the little songs he’s singing, stories he’s telling, hugs he is giving. I know I’m biased, but he is undeniably incredible!
CONNECT WITH YOUR SPOUSE
Date nights must happen. Period. There can be no excuse. I should know. I am still newish to town, my husband works a lot, we have zero family in town and have no regular babysitters. We live for the few and far between moments when our families visit and then we (guiltily) bail for a dinner date out on our own. This “once-in-a-blue-moon” stuff is simply not enough! (We are working on it.)
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Beating yourself up does not help. Having no break or life outside of child rearing does not help. Find a hobby. Volunteer. Exercise. Treat yourself to something you love and focus your energy on that for a spell. A little time away from my child makes me appreciate time with him so much more.
CULTIVATE YOUR TRIBE
This is really an extension of “be kind to yourself.” You cannot do this alone. I’ve written before about creative child care solutions. Find support for yourself, too. Take a class, join a parenting group, vent to your best friend 1000 miles away. Just do what it takes to stay connected to the outside world and parent and non-parent friends.
No, these are not earth-shattering, ground-breaking ideas nouveau. They are simple reminders, really. And no, my child is not the first toddler to be fully displaying his total toddler-ness. I know these things. But I’m attempting to share some of the difficult moments because they’ve been all too frequent for me lately and maybe some of you can relate. I’m sick of staring at glossy stock photos of other people’s faux perfect lives.
Those aren’t helpful to me! Those days just don’t happen where I come from. Underneath the photoshopping and touch ups, though, some moments are perfect. And those are what keep me going. Besides being an utter walking whiny disaster lately, my child has been such a sweetheart. Who else would come to me for cuddles and ask me to tell him a story about his imaginary electric car friend? Who else notices the background music while shopping and stops to ask me to dance in the grocery store aisle or the airport bathroom? Who else stops to kiss my boo boo when I knock my shin against the table?
This amazing, adorable, sensational squirt of a guy.
I liken it to running the hills around my house. Even though it feels like 90% of the run is uphill, I know it has to be around 50/50% uphill and down. Even though parenting an especially, um, ambitious toddler feels like at least 90% of the time lately is super frustrating, it’s probably more like 50% or even, if I’m being honest, less than that. And in the grand scheme of parenting, I’m sure this will feel like a nanosecond.
Hug longer, kiss wetter, breathe deeper. Be grateful for all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, the nonsensical, the magical. Keep loving them all the more.