I have met few young mothers and fathers (mothers in particular) who haven’t felt like their life was over in a significant way as the newness of their baby wore off and the toddler stage began. In fact, when we considered accepting a new foster child into our home, and my wife said she would like a child as young as possible, I couldn’t help but feel that lump in my throat that clearly communicated the end of life as we knew it. Again. Part of me wonders (and maybe some experienced parent’s can chime in here) if the toddler/preschool stage isn’t the most exhausting stage of child development. If you think about it, this is when they learn to run away from you, to climb onto dangerous ledges and mimic the gymnast on TV by back flipping off the couch. Onto their head. (Tara and I occasionally relive that memory of our first-born.)
It’s before school, but post-nap stage. It’s the “no” “why” “cry” stage. It’s the age of learning defiance without the good sense to obey mom’s stink-eye. In fact… they are only just learning what it means to employ their will in the first place, so of course they need to learn the boundaries.
No matter how you cut it, this is an exhausting time of life and there are few parents who don’t feel like they have lost their friends and freedom, with little to show for it. So how do you survive?
Well first of all, I know it is absolutely horrendous to hear someone say, “You’ll make it! When they are 18 they won’t be wiping poop on the walls” (ideally at least), but I’m going to say it anyways, you will make it. I know that when you are in the trenches it’s impossible not to dream of home. And I know that a 24-hour day seems like an eternity to be a stay at home mom, never mind the 18 years it will take your child to grow out of their toddler behaviour (separated by puberty no less, which is by all comparisons a regress back to insanity). But, actually, you will probably make it. Take it day by day and before long you will have a couple of years behind you (and by some strange trick of nature, you will actually find yourself wanting to go back! What on earth!)
Next, I know that you need to give a lot of attention to your child, but you really don’t need to sacrifice your entire life for her. I was a young youth pastor when our son was born and by virtue of my job, and our desire for Tara to be involved in ministry, we had to have a flexible schedule. That meant that we didn’t get him to bed at the same time on every night of the week. On the flip-side Malachi was really socially adjusted and when he entered Preschool, his teacher asked him if his daddy was a pastor. Apparently pastor kids have a certain out-goingness to them at that age. We have rarely let our kids dictate our schedule. Certainly we had to make adjustments, but we bought a playpen so that we could put him down when we were at friends’ houses or visiting our parents late. This is the thing, don’t be so scheduled that you schedule out everything that was important to you before you had kids. Parenting is a high calling, and self-sacrifice accompanies any noble task, but if your child has an exhausted mommy, they don’t have their best mommy. This past year I’ve headed home from work early so that Tara could get a massage, or a pedicure because those days make her feel better, and that makes her a better mom.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to work on your marriage. We have friends who do baby-sitting swaps where one week the kids are at one house while their parents go out on a date and then the next week it switches. This way you don’t have to pay for baby-sitting and your kids make friends along the way. We have always been blessed with parents who would readily babysit for us and allowed us to keep our Tuesday Date Night for many years even through the young kid stage.
I would also highly recommend joining a mom’s group of some sort. At Southland we have Selah Mom’s Ministry (you can read all about it here), or a young couple’s cell group, or a young-married’s with kids cell, or just a regular cell where you are cared for! But take care of yourself and your kids!
Next I would recommend you read a few parenting books – even one or two a year will make a huge difference in your parenting skills. And this is important to remember, parenting is an acquired skill! Some people are natural artists, but even the great artists hone their talent. Why would we treat parenting any differently? There are a couple of good books that I like to recommend, Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel; Shepherding Your Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp; How To Raise A Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis (he also has one on raising your precious princess!); and if you are comfortable with it a couple of secular titles; Hold On To Your Kids, by Gordon Neufeld; and a triad of books by author Dan Seigel which are all fairly similar in content (I’ve only fully read the first title) The Whole-Brained Child; Parenting From The Inside Out; and No-Drama Discipline.
Pray about it and pick a book to read with your husband a couple of times a week. Don’t read it all in one shot like a novel though; read one chapter and see if there is one practical thing you can implement in your parenting (even if it’s just a prayer point) and then gradually build up your skills. What if you’re not a reader? No problem! Fortunately in the Youtube era you can Google pretty much any of those titles and authors and find a talk they did on the subject of their book. The internet saves the day… again!
Finally, find a parent-mentor. I know you probably feel like if you get any more advice from a “mother-in-law” type your going to do something dangerous, but this would be a hand-picked person. And find a good coach! Find someone who has older kids that actually turned out fairly decent and ask them for tips on parenting. Invite an experienced mom into your home for a morning or afternoon to observe you as you parent and give you little ideas of what might work with your child. Make sure you find someone who will also pray for you! Prayer is a vitally important parenting skill!
Remember, even Jesus was a toddler once! I’m willing to bet he tossed his spaghetti (this is feasible, Rome was in charge), coloured on the walls, and had to learn obedience (Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:8). I suspect there were times when Mary and Joseph were overwhelmed by His and His siblings’ energy. You’re in good company is all I’m saying!
One last thing, don’t believe those ridiculous parents who brag about their child being potty-trained at 10 months of age; their kid wasn’t potty trained they were trained to recognize when to plop their kid on the potty. Unrealistic expectation… that’s what that is, and you don’t need any more of those!