Dear Dad of a toddler and a newborn,
Congratulations on the birth of your second child! Your life has just changed immensely. I’m sure you assumed that a second child would be no big deal. You’ve already done this, right? Sure, there will be some sleepless nights but you’re a pro now, aren’t you?
When my husband and I were expecting our second child, someone told me that the first child is hardest on the mom but the second child is hardest on the dad. Even if dad is a fabulous supporter, the first baby is mom’s 24 hour responsibility. Especially if she is breastfeeding, mom is the one who is up for hours and hours in the night and mom is (typically) the one responsible for more of the first baby’s care.
When the second baby is born, dad must step up to the plate. Mom is very busy with the newborn so when dad is home, he’s on toddler duty. I’m lucky to have a stellar husband who quickly upped his game when our daughter came along. I have friends who weren’t so lucky.
So dad, here’s a simple true or false quiz to enlighten you on your new role:
True or False: It’s Saturday afternoon and the baby is sleeping so you can take a nap. FALSE. There is still a rambunctious toddler in the house who doesn’t nap and needs entertaining, feeding, wiping and horsey rides.
True or False: You get home from work and decide to put your feet up and check the scores. FALSE. Now that there are two children and your wife is probably breastfeeding, she has hardly sat down all day and she got three hours of sleep last night. Download some recipe apps on your iPhone or dial-up Dominos…you are on dinner duty!
True or False: You come in from a busy Sunday out with the family and head to your man cave for a little time to recharge. FALSE. Your wife has been out all day too and has a hungry baby and a hungry toddler in her arms. Someone needs to make supper and someone needs to change and watch the kiddies. Take your pick. Choose kid-duty once in a while because cooking dinner is the easy job. The man cave must wait.
True or False: It’s finally bedtime and both kids are tucked in. Surely now it’s time for you to relax for a few hours with Netflix or a game on your laptop. FALSE. Sure, it’s worth a try. Get settled in for some much-needed R&R. But don’t forget that your partner needs some too. Earn huge brownie points by being the first to jump up when the cry comes through the baby monitor. Jump fast because now that there’s two kids, the baby will wake the toddler. And then the toddler will wake the baby.
True or False: You made a huge mistake having a second child. FALSE. Don’t worry, your life won’t feel this crazy forever. Things will lighten up in two years or so when your children start playing together. But for now, roll up your sleeves and cuddle those babies. You won’t regret it and your wife will love you even more.
Having just survived the terrible twos for a second time, I’ve had plenty of advice from random strangers about how to raise my toddlers. Don’t get me wrong, there have also been many kind people in the grocery store line-up who have sent an encouraging smile my way mid-tantrum. I’ve learned to develop a thick skin for the people who take it upon themselves to give me their “helpful” unsolicited advice. I polled my Facebook friends to see if they had similar experiences.
Here are some of the best (worst) things my friends and I have heard mid-tantrum:
- “My children didn’t do that. I had a 2-year-old AND newborn twins.”
- “My grandchildren don’t do that. And there’s four of them. And my daughter home schools them.”
- “Wow! He’s really upset!”
- “You should really be more consistent. That would nip this in the bud.”
- “Can I give him a piece of candy?”
- “Keep your cool.”
- “Get that kid to shut the hell up!”
- “She has a very loud scream.”
- “What a shame. He’s so cute.”
- “You are horrible parents for not buying your kid that toy.”
- “Oh my heavens!” (said with a patronizing, disgusted look)
- A friend’s toddler was screaming near a hotel elevator. A woman thought my friend and her husband were abducting their own child. My friends had to scream and get help from strangers to restrain the (elderly) woman who was convinced they were kidnappers!
So what would be helpful for a parent who’s dealing with a screaming child in public? How about:
*An empathetic smile
*”That is a tough age.”
*”Can I help carry your groceries?”
One by one we can support other parents and drown out the dreaded, unhelpful grocery store comments!
Leave your best “things people say when my toddler is screaming” in the comments below. Soldier on, mommas.
“I don’t really like my three-year old.”
“Sometimes I hate my child and then I feel terrible for thinking that.”
Both of these comments were whispered to me by friends. I admit I’ve thought similar things during my not-so-shiny moments of parenting.
I usually refrain from posting whiny, complaining-type posts and tend to focus on the sweet things my kids do. I complain a lot about sleep but try not to be that bitter mother whose kids bring more grief than joy.
But some days just suck.
The other night my husband kept texting, “leaving any minute” “be home soon” “just waiting for the bus” and it was almost 7:00 before he got home. I’m not sure if I was tired, the kids were tired or if it was a full moon, but by the time he walked in I was ready to walk out.
I get to the end of my rope regularly. Life with young children jumps from amazing and awe-inspiring one moment to out-of-control and exasperating the next. I have an up and down personality and my highest highs are followed by crashes of the lowest lows, all within one rotation of the minute hand on the clock.
The other day my children were playing together on the top bunk in my son’s room. They cuddled on the pillows with their stuffed animals and blankets, both giggling and squirming around like Labrador puppies. My son made his little sister laugh hysterically and she tickled him under his chin and teased him back; a real sibling love fest. I smiled and felt all warm inside and proud of the beautiful healthy kids I was raising. All was well.
Seconds later I turned away to brush my teeth and the whole scenario cratered. Laughs turned to screams. Giggles turned to cries. Snuggles turned to grabs and pushes. Toys flew across the room. My heart raced and blood boiled as I jumped to separate the two before someone fell off the bunk. Both kids were crying. It was the end of the world, in preschooler land. It was one of those moments when I just wanted to quit.
Growing up, if I didn’t like something, I quit. I quit competitive swimming, gymnastics, ringette, art classes and who knows what else after a few years each because I wasn’t a star at them. My world was very black and white. Do the enjoyable and easy things that I could excel at. Avoid the difficult things. That philosophy was fine when there was just me to worry about. It even worked with my husband in the picture, for the most part.
The months (and years) after becoming a mother were the hardest of my life so far. I’m not really sure how I made it through those years of terrible sleep deprivation. My fierce love for my newborn son (and then three years later, my daughter) taught me that just because something is really, really hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. The wondrous little children that were created and carried and loved and rocked and fed, sometimes with my tears blending in with theirs, are mine to keep.
It’s okay to want to quit. Anyone who tells you parenthood is blissful perfection is a liar. It doesn’t mean you love your children any less. Parenting babies and young children is like riding a ferris wheel that never stops. There’s no smiling man at the bottom to push a button if you want to get off to catch your breath.
Embrace the high highs and perfect moments, fleeting as they may be. Breathe them in and take lots of pictures. Cuddle up to your son’s snuggly warm cheeks. Trace your daughter’s dimples with your finger and hold her tiny feet in your hands. Freeze the perfect moments in your memory so you can bring them back to your mind during the times when everyone is screaming, you are trudging through a dreary day and your ferris wheel is scraping the bottom again.
The next time you have a day when you want to quit, take a deep breath and hold on. The rough times will pass and the view really will turn back to beautiful.
*A version of this post was published on Scary Mommy on July 23, 2014.
The following chart appeared on my Facebook feed this morning. Take a look and carefully read the appropriate chores for 2-3 year olds. What helpful suggestions! Don’t forget to read below for some added tips.
My 2.5 year old loves to “help” too. Her version is slightly different. It goes more like this:
Throw toys toward toy box. Decide that’s no fun and dump toy box out instead.
- One by one, remove books from shelf. Make a tower out of them. Stand on the tower to reach books from higher shelves. Fall over and scream.
- Remove brother’s dirty underwear from laundry hamper and place on head. Dance around the house and sing, “Underwear, underwear, underwear on my head!”
- Collect all the full trash baskets from around the house. Use them to make a tower, with each basket upside down, of course.
- Carry firewood around the backyard. Find some nails and a hammer and start banging. Get a splinter, hammer your fingers and cry.
- Remove all clean wash cloths from the cupboard. Unfold them. Use each one to tuck a dolly to sleep on the bathroom floor.
- Help clear the table after supper. Place each dirty utensil carefully back into the utensil drawer. Throw plates onto the counter.
- Fetch 17 diapers and a package of baby wipes. Wipe each of your older brother’s plastic super heroes’ bottoms with four baby wipes and attempt to diaper each one. (I don’t make this stuff up!)
- Find a water sprayer and some of mommy’s good towels. Drench the baseboards and big picture window until they are dripping with water. Wipe with a white towel. Repeat.
This picture reminds me of the time my daughter “helped” me clean the bathroom:
While roaming the aisles of a big-box toy store the other day, I realized that my 18 month old daughter could care less about 99% of the stuff for sale. I know what she wants for Christmas and it’s not a dolly that sits on the toilet or a pink plastic household appliance. Here’s a list of what every toddler really wants to see under the tree:
- A Kleenex box. The biggest one you can find, with the cardboard piece already ripped off the top. Free reign to pull the tissues out when she pleases, shred into tiny pieces and fling around the house.
- A box of Christmas oranges to dump, line up and move in and out of the box to her heart’s content.
- A toothbrush to chew as much as she wants, swirl in the toilet and poke her big brother with.
- Her own roll of tape. She can rip the tape out over and over with no one saying, “Give it back to mommy, please. Give it back to mommy” and prying it out of her tiny hands. A roll of wrapping paper from the dollar store will also go over well.
- A family sized box of rice to spread over every room of the house, just for fun. She already knows how to do this. She learned it last week in Sunday School.
- A Lego set for her to step on and throw against the wall while laughing with glee.
- An extra $10 to put towards the water bill so she can play at the kitchen sink and yell, “water! water!” as she pours, stirs and splashes joyfully.
- An expensive fabric angel decoration to hug and kiss with spaghetti-sauce-stained hands & face.
- An old plate to take to the cement floor in the garage, lift high over her head, and smash to smithereens.
Ah…the perfect Christmas.
*If you’ve been following me for over a year, you will recognize this post from last Christmas. I can’t resist posting it again this week.
I love the way the huge evergreens in our new neighbourhood march down the street, strong, tall and steady as they’ve been for decades. Since my son is in kindergarten now, the pattern of our days has changed. I take advantage of the hilly streets and most days go for a big walk with my daughter on the way home from school drop-off.
It is a luxury to spend this precious one-on-one time with such a darling companion. There’s usually nowhere to rush off to, no need to continually divide my attention among two children. I’m free to release my daughter from her stroller whenever she feels like it, to run and splash and laugh crazily in the perfect puddles left after last evening’s downpour.
I squeezed my hands into yellow rubber gloves and headed for the toilet. Glamorous.
After leaving this gruesome chore for far too many
weeks months, I shut myself in the basement bathroom and told the kids I wasn’t coming out until it was clean.
I avoid rubber gloves, raw meat and cleaning toilets. The minute my hands are inaccessible is the exact moment that my children need me. (You know, Murphy’s Law again.)
In the newborn years and especially in the newborn-AND-a-toddler years, time is of the essence.
In the newborn-AND-a-toddler years, Momma is always watching. Always on high alert. Ready to jump up and fly across the room to catch a falling child, grab an angry kid-hand before it strikes, catch a falling plate of spaghetti or grab a cup of milk before it splashes all over the kitchen.
Society scoffs at helicopter parents. We judge them and think, “Ha…they should be giving their kids more space.” and “How are their children ever going be independent?”
It’s a different story when the kids are tiny and you are the one responsible all day long, all night long and all week long.
The moment a new momma is handed her first baby she is responsible. The feeding, sleeping, safety, emotional well-being and intellectual development of a teeny tiny person are her responsibility. Hopefully Dad is there to help but Mom is usually the one bearing the emotional weight of it around the clock.
When my son was born the heaviness of the responsibility hit me full-on. I would tell myself “Women do this all the time all over the world. Suck it up. You’re the mother now. Relax.” When my daughter came along I revved up into an even higher gear, this time bouncing back and forth between the two like a ping-pong ball, trying (often failing) to meet their pressing needs simultaneously.
When my arms were elbow-deep in the toilet this morning, I realized something.
The kids called: “Momma, can you please get me a snack?” “Mommy, find my soother!” I kept saying, “You can do it! I’ll help you in a second!” After a few minutes of this, they stopped asking. It got very, very quiet. I peeked out of the bathroom.
My 2-year-old daughter was helping my 5-year-old son do up the zipper on his Superman costume.
My son found his own shiny red cape and velcro belt in the costume basket.
My daughter dug around under the blanket and popped her own soother in her mouth.
My son was at the sink, washing strawberries and cutting off the green parts with a kitchen knife for his little sister.
They were just fine. They were a little more independent than they had been the day before.
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the day to day-ness of parenting that I don’t notice when things shift a little. Difficult behaviours or patterns that drive me crazy for weeks or months mysteriously disappear overnight and replace themselves with something new.
The changes come a bit at a time, maybe even when I’m just cleaning the bathroom.
*This story was first posted on The Purple Fig.
“I love you, Mommy.”
Tiny, silky-smooth arms grasp my neck, pulling me closer so we are cheek to cheek.
The early morning sun splashing on our faces as the coffee gurgles and steams and milk pours into an orange plastic sippy cup.
This deepening, mother-daughter love that
overwhelms and calms
amazes and exhausts
This love is two years new.