While pregnant, I mentally prepared myself for the sleepless nights, brain fog, and zero “me time” that my daughter’s arrival would bring. I’d be in survival mode for the first few months of her life, but things would get easier as she grew into a toddler. Right?

My daughter was born on her due date: 9 pounds, 11 ounces of healthy baby. I experienced post-delivery complications and in the weeks after she was born, I was very weak. Nevertheless, I felt clear-headed and was able to get good chunks of sleep both at night and during the day.

After a month, when I was physically stronger and required less sleep during the day, I had a lot of free time. I had time to read, blog, cook and lightly clean the house while my daughter napped. She grew and the duration of her naps shrunk, making it easier for us to leave the house.

I took her on long walks as she sat in her stroller, to the grocery store when she was able to sit up in the cart unassisted, and to parks with green grass as she was learning to walk. For the first year and a half of her life, I wondered if I was missing something. The whole mom thing felt too easy. Then my husband got a new job. A job with much longer hours.

Around this time, my daughter started exerting her will in new ways: tantrums, hitting, and yelling “MINE!” to anyone who so much glanced at one of her belongings.

We still went on walks, but she wanted to be the one to push the stroller.

We still went to the grocery store, but she didn’t understand why we couldn’t always buy the checkout aisle candy bar.

We still went to the park, but she got upset when she couldn’t reach tall tree branches and when I wouldn’t let her trample through flowerbeds.

A few weeks passed and her behavior persisted. I began to suspect that her behavior wasn’t simply the result of a sleep regression or teething. I began to suspect that she was exerting her will in new ways because she was about to turn two, and turning into a toddler.

One evening after my daughter was asleep, my husband and I sat down to discuss discipline methods for the first time. I felt sad. I wanted my sweet baby back.

It’s been seven months since my husband started his new job, and three months since my daughter’s second birthday. My husband is a very involved dad, but because I spend more time with our daughter, this toddler stage has been more difficult for me to navigate. We discuss discipline methods and then I have to enforce them.

I’m the one to try to find ways to distract my daughter from her frustrations. And it’s me who pushes forward, trying to express how much I love her—in spite of her tantrums—when what I would really like to do is lock myself in the bathroom with one (or three) of those checkout aisle candy bars.

One of the reasons why I think the early stages of parenting were easy for me is precisely because I experienced post-delivery complications. Because I needed surgery, my daughter and I were separated for the first 24 hours of her life. As I recovered, I felt grateful to be alive, grateful for the nighttime feedings and for every minute that I got to hold her in my arms.

I decided to not waste time complaining or dwelling on the negative aspects of motherhood. I decided to be joyful.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were having a particularly hard day. She was in a bad mood, and none of my usual distraction techniques—Play-doh, fun snacks, a trip to the park—seemed to pull her out of it. When I was sure it was getting close to 6:30, the time my husband usually arrived home, I checked my phone: 4:00 P.M.

I collapsed in tears on the bed.

“Mommy, okay?” my daughter asked as she sat down beside me.

“Yes, I’m okay,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I’m just having a hard day.”

“Aww!” she said, giving me a hug and a big smile.

I smiled back through my tears. Parenting a toddler is hard, yes, much harder than I expected. But I am still grateful to be alive, and I still choose to be joyful.