By Liz Bayardelle of TheStaySaneMom
Just as you’ve gotten used to the routine of sleep deprivation, come to terms with the bizarre idea of another human getting 100% of their nutriment from your body, and perfected your baby-wearing technique, things suddenly change. Your adorable little potato begins to grow. It develops personal opinions, recognizable emotions (other than “hungry” and “tired”), and a vast array of verbal emissions that almost sound like human speech.
Beware. You’ve entered the toddler zone.
Not unlike the movie Gremlins, there are certain rules that must be observed in order to facilitate successful cohabitation with the creature that was formerly your sweet, innocent baby.
Rule #1: Be Careful What You Make Fun
Toddlers are hedonistic, sensation-seeking little beast-monsters with an endless appetite for whatever bizarre things they find amusing.
This is great because if you stumble upon a game they happen to like, you will have a fantastically happy little critter for hours on end (or until they get distracted by something shiny). However, as any parent who has ever tossed their toddler into the air has discovered, if you accidentally make something fun for them that is not fun (or is physically exhausting) for you, you’re destined to wind up with a tantrum on your hands the second your flagging mommy arms are too tired to toss a 30 pound mass of squirming human into the air the 157th time.
Even more worrisome, if you accidentally give your toddler a positive response to a negative behavior, you can be sure that they’ll have added that bad behavior into their permanent repertoire faster than you can say “Pavlov’s dogs.” (Just ask any parent who’s accidentally giggled when their kid said a forbidden swear word.)
As you navigate the rough seas of toddlerdom, strive to make good things fun and bad things more boring than watching paint dry.
Rule #2: As When Camping, Hang Your Food From Trees
My daughter got nicknamed “The Octopus” at about eleven months old due to her uncanny ability to grow extra arms the second you had something she wanted…or if a bespectacled relative accidentally got their face inside the “snatching range,” as we learned the hard way.
As soon as your baby learns to crawl, walk, and (unfortunately) climb, you will learn that there is a “radius of safety” on every counter, each set of drawers, and every cabinet. Your bottom drawers will soon be emptied for safety or surrendered to the natives. You will have to put spillable, breakable, or otherwise off-limits items farther and farther back on the counter as your little human becomes, well, less little.
Overall, go into the toddler years knowing that there is a gap of about two years between when they are physically able to reach things and when they are mentally capable of resisting the urge to do so. Plan your baby-proofing (and general home decor) accordingly.
Rule #3: Beware the Tiny Stalker
It’s watching you. Literally. Always. It’s always watching you.
Until your small human goes to school, you comprise 99.9% of their social network. This means that during their most formative years they get almost all of their information about how humans act, what behavior is acceptable, and how to interact with the world from stalking you like a Navy SEAL with an axe to grind.
Like millions of moms before you, you will realize how off-putting some of your habits actually are when you see them aped by your mini-me. However, you will also experience the joy of seeing a tiny clone do something good (something you had no idea they knew how to do) just because they’d seen you do it.
The hard truth: between the ages of 1 and 4 you are being constantly watched. Exercise appropriate levels of caution.
Rule #4: Befriend the Baby Shark (Doo Doo)
Like a covert operative who has to accept their situation and “go native,” it is occasionally necessary for you to succumb to the inevitable.
Kids like stupid, puerile, and often mind-numbing things like movies with embarrassing songs (that they can and will belt out in the middle of the supermarket), ridiculous cartoon characters, and books with plots that make your inner critic start sharpening her pencil and adjusting her librarian glasses.
You can spend the last half-decade of your life pinching the bridge of your nose and rolling your eyes in disgust, or you can roll up your sleeves and embrace the baby shark. Make up a dance to that song you hate, create an imaginary back story that makes you not want to murder Dora the Explorer, and steer your little weirdo into the guilty-pleasure kids’ movies that you secretly don’t mind rewatching every morning.
Rule #5: Enjoy Your Mini-Vacations (Like the Walk to Take the Garbage Out)
Unlike every other job on the planet, being a mom is a 24/7 position. It has no time off, no clocking out, no sick days, and (unfortunately) no pay.
This means that you have to intentionally savor the moments in which you can take a deep breath, sit down, or (heaven forbid) shower with two hands (gasp). I once read a joke on Pinterest about how every time the mom put her baby in their car seat, they enjoyed a mini-vacation as they walked around the car in joyous solitude and silence. I laughed and kept scrolling, but I’ll be darned if to this day I don’t take a brief moment to breathe and relax every time I shut that rear door.
The point is moms don’t get official breaks, off hours, or down time. Try to find little moments of quiet, peace, or just less chaos and enjoy them to their fullest.
Rule #6: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Slave Labor
If you found an ATM with a glitch that made it spit out free money any time you typed in 0000, you would probably spend some quality time with it every morning until the bug was fixed.
Fortunately, there’s a similar bug in the programming software of a toddler. They absolutely love to feel grown up, act like you, and be useful. This joyous glitch means that you can make even the grumpiest of toddlers happy with one simple phrase: “Can you help Mom with this?”
My little critter is never happier than when she is helping me unload the dishwasher, “folding” laundry with me, or “helping” her big sister with her homework.
While the work resulting from toddler labor is rarely desirable in quality, speed, or accuracy (definitely double check any tax-related chores you give them), it’s an excellent idea to get them started helping out early so that it’s habit whenever the fine motor skills kick in.
Plus, if you haven’t seen a toddler try to fold a king-sized bed sheet by themselves, you don’t know the true meaning of the word “joy.”
Rule #7: Please Leave Your Dignity In the Box By the Door
Parenting is one of the least dignified verbs on the planet, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
If you can quietly shush the part of your brain that tries to keep you from doing silly dances, singing outside the safe confines of your shower, or has public conversations about what type of food would be the best at tap dancing, parenting can also be a darn good time.
What’s more, if you can check out of your adult persona for a bit and enjoy the childlike silliness, you will no doubt be rewarded by more giggles, hugs, and sloppy kisses than you can shake a toy minion at.
About the Author
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder/unabashed digital nerd, PhD student/huge psychology geek, workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of “stepmom” to a preteen and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid. Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just “mom”. Website: www.theStaySaneMom.com Facebook: www.Facebook.com/theStaySaneMom Instagram: www.Instagram.com/theStaySaneMom Pinterest: www.Pinterest.com/theStaySaneMom