This is a tough post to write because the toddler years are very, very complex years. They are also years that I am still currently going through. However, my take on the toddler stage has vastly changed since I was a newbie in the field. I remember the time my sweet baby started turning into a moody toddler. I have spent a lot of stress, sweat and tears into these years and now, more than anything, I wish I could sit down and have a chat with myself those years ago and say, “Hey Cass, it’s okay. It’s going to be fine, better than fine! It’s going to be great. Just you wait and see. Don’t you worry about the trials, they’ll have a way of working themselves out. Be present and please, please, please (!!!) remember to have fun. These are quite possibly the best years of your life.”
I remember the exact moment in my life when I realized I knew Harlo better than anyone else. She was 2 weeks old and my mom came into town to see her for the very first time. My mom unwrapped her from her cozy swaddle to check out her newest grand baby in her 6 pounds, 14 ounces of perfection. After a few minutes, Harlo began to fuss and wiggle a bit. My mom changed her position a few times, put her on her shoulder, tried to burp her, gave her a binkie.. but nothing would quite calm her down. After a few minutes, I took Harlo back, and without thinking about it, began wrapping her up in her blanket. That seemed to be the problem and she settled right back down into newborn slumber. “Aww, mama knows just what you need,” my mom said to Harlo as I handed her back. I remember thinking, “You’re right! I did know what she needed. I knew even more than you – a seasoned pro at this mom thing because I am her mom.” I was stunned by this new found confidence. From that moment on, I started giving myself a little more credit.
When Harlo was a baby, 6-12 months old, I really had this mom thing down. I was a good little mama, doing everything I could to provide my baby the best of life and absolutely loving every single minute of it. Motherhood came so naturally to me. I felt absolutely certain I was born for this exact purpose – to be Harlo Elle’s mom. With every new stage, I seemed to love it just as much or more as the last. Harlo wasn’t what I would classify as an easy-going baby. She was quite particular about how she liked things, but it didn’t bother me a bit. She was the best baby in the world in my eyes. I felt like there wasn’t a challenge that could come my way I wouldn’t overcome gracefully. I had my next baby when Harlo was just a year and a half old and despite what others said about me being crazy and how hard it was going to be, I loved it. Harlo loved the new baby just as much as I did, it seemed, and even a milestone like that, we seemed to carry on just fine. I was busy, and it certainly wasn’t always easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was work I loved and enjoyed and that seemed to keep the ball rolling.
Like clockwork, a few months after Harlo’s 2nd birthday, the toddler tantrums started frequenting my home. Harlo would cry and lose her temper over almost everything it seemed. She didn’t want the shirt I picked out, she didn’t want the yogurt she had asked for, she didn’t want me to look at her while she was playing with that toy, she was upset if we gave her too much attention, she was upset if we gave her too little attention.. It seemed like the first time in my life of motherhood, I could not do a single thing right for this child. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and felt like I had been verbally abused all day by my toddler. I felt like I didn’t know her at all.
As if this new transition wasn’t hard enough, I got backlash from the public for the first time since becoming a new mom. Well-meaning family would say, “She’s got a temper on her, doesn’t she?” or “She sure cries a lot!” or “That Harlo.. she’s going to be a handful for you guys.” I would get dirty looks in the store from people when my toddler would act up over something. I took every comment and bad look to heart. I was devastated. I felt like I wasn’t doing it right. I felt judgement coming from every angle. I got nervous to go anywhere for fear that Harlo would have a meltdown and my parenting would be put on display for all to judge. I loved her so much and I could see beyond all the tantrums and it broke my heart that I felt like other people were making unfair judgments against the two of us. Add to this all that Stella had turned 1 and had gotten that one-year-old attitude of her own.
After a couple months of feeling sorry for myself and spending way too much time worrying about what other people thought about my family, I realized I needed to snap out of it. Just like every other stage of life before, I began researching and studying up on toddlers. We had a relatively healthy lifestyle, but I felt there was more room for improvement. I had heard about some of my friends having children with behavioral disorders switching diets around. I wondered if that would help Harlo. I took her completely off dyes and almost completely off sugars. I saw a huge improvement already. (The main source of dyes in our house at that time was her multi-vitamin! I always watch for dyes in the vitamins I buy now.) After taking her off of the dyes, I could tell she was just a little more mellow, almost like she was off caffeine. Already I felt so much better. She was, after all, still a baby. There were some things she still couldn’t communicate to me and I needed to read between the lines. This seemed to put everything into perspective for me.
Harlo was still a baby. My expectations were the problem, not Harlo’s behavior. Babies cry to communicate. At 2 1/2, Harlo was speaking so well that I was expecting her to be able to communicate things as complex as her feelings. She couldn’t do that… that comes much later in life. I noticed that her behavior would turn into a meltdown only when she felt frustrated because she couldn’t tell me something. Instead of getting upset and punishing her for misbehaving, I started calming myself down first, and then trying to help her calm down until we could figure out what was going on. This eliminated about 90% of timeouts. More importantly it taught me the BIGGEST lesson of my mother-loving life: Be present, be calm, and do not worry what other people think about your children. I had spent so much time worrying about how people viewed my parenting style and my children’s behavior. People do not know me or my child, even close friends and family cannot possibly know what goes on in our everyday life. If they really are judging us over these things, it is truly more of a reflection of who they are, and not who we are. Anyone who looks at me now while I’m pushing a cart of crying children, I just keep on pushing with a smile on my face. These are the days in my life I will treasure and no amount of dirty looks will change that.
Toddler-hood really taught me so much about my children, and myself as a parent. Now that Harlo is 4 1/2, I can see her heart so clearly. She is so sensitive, the most tender heart. It’s what I think I love most about her. She’s so in tune to how people are feeling around her and because of this she is rarely the cause of dis-ease in our home or out with friends. She is always so eager to help and make things better and happier. Her sweet little emotions are always just right on the surface. She is passionate, my girl. She loves fiercely and she expresses grief in the same manor. She has the make-up of a great woman. I can see now why she cried so much as a toddler. When I learned to truly appreciate this about her, it seemed there was no problem at all. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my Harlo. She is such a special little girl. I believe that because of her tender heart and her charged emotions, she will do wonderful things in this world.
By the time Stella hit the “terrible”-two-and-a-half’s, I had such a different perspective. Just like her sister, she displayed developing aspects of her personality that I knew would help her in this life. She is stubborn, determined and has more gumption than anyone I’ve ever met. This manifested in a lot of non-minding and trouble-making in the thick of the toddler stages, but I know she’ll do great things with these personality traits later in life when she learns to channel them for the better.
As it turns out, the toddler years are not the enemy. The days are long and sometimes frustrating and it takes a lot of patience to get through, but just like all the stages of our children’s life, it’s fleeting. It goes by much faster than we realize. If we don’t stop to enjoy it, even on the days that seems harder to do, we truly will miss out.
After all, these are the best days of our life.