It seems like it's been forever since I had toddlers. And yet only yesterday. I miss the still-baby voice, rocking him on my lap, and the sweetness and innocence of one so little and new here.
Long gone are the days I could hoist him up onto my hip or carry him to bed. Piggy-back rides and playing horsey are distant memories. The years that felt like they would last forever didn't. In fact, they only lasted for a blink.
I look at my two sons now, and I feel such pride. Such joy. And yes, sometimes sadness. It's all intermingled as I long for the days gone by, and yet love so much the stage we are in and look forward to the years to come.
My oldest has grown taller than both of his grandmothers now, and he's catching up quickly to me. He'll be 12 this year. Twelve. The last year before I use the word "teenager." My youngest is turning 10. My baby. The tallest boy in his class, looking more like a middle schooler than a soon-to-be fourth grader. Sometimes I can still catch a glimpse of their toddler-faces. It causes my heart to catch in my throat.
I have recently become acutely aware of the limited number of summers we have left as a whole family under one roof, and of the few remaining Christmases of children's laughter and scattered toys. Don't get me wrong though—tweens are wonderful. I'm enjoying this stage of kids who can bathe themselves and pour their own cereal. I'm loving the engaging conversations and the wit.
Sometimes one of them will put his long, gangly arm around me as we walk side by side and I soak up how loved this makes me feel. The same way it made me feel when it was a short, chubby toddler arm thrown across my chest as he slept a few years ago.
To the tired moms of toddlers, you've heard it all by now, I'm sure. You're going to miss this. Enjoy every second. They grow up so fast. These well-meaning words might leave you with a mix of guilt and panic. Guilt that you don't enjoy every second (who does?) and panic that it's going to end so quickly (it really does!) but here's what I want you to know, mama.
It's going to be okay. Great, even.
Tweens and teens aren't nearly the monsters they're made out to be. They're really a lot of fun. Parenting big kids is rewarding. You don't have to be downhearted about your kids growing up. Celebrate every stage along the way and delight in the season you are in.
It's okay to feel all of your feelings, just like it's okay for your kids to do the same. Feel the sadness and the joy. Miss the past and look forward to the future. It's all part of parenthood. Just make sure that, in the midst of all that, you take time to be present where you are and bask in the goodness.
In the meantime, here are a few tips to make parenting your toddler a little less exhausting:
1. Learn the basics of toddler development.
Understand that your toddler's brain is still quite underdeveloped, and there's a lot of growing and learning to do. In the meantime, they are doing the best they can. The part of their brain responsible for impulse control, logic and complex-thinking hasn't even developed yet.
This is why time-in makes more sense than time-out and manipulation isn't part of their plan, ever. They don't yet have the cognitive resources to plan out how they can behave better next time or how to drive you completely bonkers to get what they want.
2. Give them positive messages to live up to.
We hear a lot of negative messages about toddlers. "Terrible twos" and "threenagers" call to mind images of naughty or difficult children, and if that's what we are looking for and expecting, then that's what we will see.
Be mindful of your perspective and aim to see the best in your toddler. Rather than use negative language like "naughty" or "stingy," correct any unwanted behavior by describing what you do want to see. Instead of "don't be so stingy" try "Michael would like a turn with the toy. Pass it to him when you're finished." Remember that young children often come to see themselves the way we see them, so see the best in them!
3. Stay connected.
Children never outgrow their need for a strong attachment. You can't spoil a child with too much love and affection—not when they're babies or toddlers or teenagers. Keeping the relationship strong now is what will make parenting a tween or teen enjoyable instead of harrowing.
There is beauty in every exhausting day, mama. I hope you see it and that it soothes your weary soul. Keep going. You're doing great!