I have three kids. Two of them (not to name names, but the first two) were fairly easy small people to raise. I swear to you, they never had tantrums. They never screamed “NO!” at me (at least until they were four), and they certainly didn’t take their diaper off and pee on my carpet.
This third one is trouble. This third one is two going on 15, and I tell you what, he doesn’t give a flip about my parenting self-esteem. He pushes my buttons, tries my patience, and constantly makes me feel like a failure. Fortunately, he’s really cute, which helps on those really hard days. But, man, he’s an expert at making me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.
Until his birth, I hadn’t felt this out of control as a parent. I truly hadn’t. He makes me doubt myself because he’s so unlike my others. Am I an awful parent? No. Am I absolutely exhausted? Yes. We all know what being tired does to a toddler, and I’ve decided it isn’t much different for moms. I’ve definitely had those days where watching him flail around on the ground leaves me feeling quite jealous. Perhaps a solid flail would make me feel loads better, although flailing while holding my morning coffee could get dangerous.
As I watch him grow and discover his little (or big) personality, I notice my inclination to doubt myself as a parent grows with each passing day. Why, seemingly, all of a sudden did I forget how to control my child? How can I feel so out of control all the time? The truth is, I didn’t forget and I’m doing a fine job raising this crazy little human. He’s just harder.
Not worse. Not bad. Just hard. He’s my little shadow. He has been since the very moment he was born: constantly wanting to nurse, be held, says “Mama” every three seconds, and never wants to be put down. That wears on a parent, physically and mentally. Now that he’s very much a toddler, he still wants to be in physical contact with me at all times, but also wants to be independent and run wherever he wants. He wants to eat all the things, but none of the things I would prefer. He loves to climb everything in sight, but wants me to hold him while he does it. He wants to say “YES!” while adamantly saying, “NO!” What’s a parent to do? Keep going, friend. Keep going.
It’s on those rough days that I have learned to not sweat the small stuff. Let him throw a holy fit (while taking a mama timeout in my closet), because it will end. Let him scream his guts out because I won’t let him walk in the grocery store, because it will end, too. Pick him up when he begs, because he eventually won’t.
This kid you think is so difficult is accidentally testing your limits. He doesn’t mean to, but he does. It’s a game kids don’t know they’re playing (at least at first). How far will your patience be stretched before needing an adjustment? When I’m at my wits’ end, it’s not because I’m an awful parent. It’s because this is new territory and my expectations are probably a bit out of whack. It’s also because this kid of mine is growing and needing to see what the limits are. It’s natural and healthy, but holy moly is it obnoxious.
Being a good parent often makes you feel awful. It’s exhausting to constantly create boundaries and have them pushed up against. I feel like I use the word “no” more than any other word in my vocabulary. It makes me feel lousy, but the truth is, some kids require more noes than others. My first two kids didn’t attempt to climb a folded ladder. They also didn’t sit in my pull-out freezer often ever. Nor did they paint my walls with toilet water. And while saying “no” isn’t always a bad thing, it’s honestly just that I’m tired of toilet water walls.
I also have to remember that big personality means big emotions. This third child of mine is an absolute blast. He’s happy, he’s silly, he’s all the cuteness that a finale kid should be. But, that comes with big feelings. The tantrums are impressive (although he always seems to find a cushy spot to fall on before losing his ability to stand), and the stare-downs would make a criminal confess their sins. But, the truth is it’s a package deal. He is my reminder to up my game as a parent, not to assume I’m no good. And honestly, day to day, that’s a hard one to remember.
As I write this, he’s currently banging his feet through the slats in his crib up again the wall in protest of the nap he very badly needs. I know this; he doesn’t seem to know this. I will win. I will persevere. For his sake and for mine, the “nap” will continue. Whether that means I have to go sit on the front porch so I don’t hear him cry or continue to go in there and console him until he dozes, I think the best thing I can do as his mom is to be consistent. That feels crummy sometimes, but I know it’s right.
So, when he finally lays his head down to sleep, I will sigh with relief and immediately my heart and mind will begin to forget what the last hour looked like. I start counting the minutes until he’s awake and I get to see his face again. Funny how that works, isn’t it? But, for now, I will pray for those eyes to close and make the most of my quiet time without my little buddy. This is the beauty of that exhausting, beautiful, active child. Big feelings are challenging and big challenges are hard, but the love is bigger than both of those combined.
For those of you with this kind of kiddo, you’re amazing, you’re good, you’re enough. Take breaks, let those frustrated tears flow, and know that it’s one day at a time, until it’s not. Use your people and know that you’re not alone. (Unless you want to be, and then I highly suggest the closet.) And just remember that whether it’s the toilets, the rugs, or the freezer, it’s nothing a little Clorox and fresh air can’t fix.