Message to Moms of Toddlers
I realize this has little to do with film, but I have been writing a lot about kids in my recent reviews (Desperate Housewives; Yours, Mine and Ours; and Super Nanny). As I've been writing, I've been thinking about all the women out there struggling, like me, with toddlers who push the very limits of everything we once thought admirable about ourselves. And I wanted to encourage you ladies with a few thoughts.
First, don't underestimate this time in your life. It is truly difficult, and anyone who thinks otherwise simply hasn't walked in your shoes. And if they have walked in your shoes, they're idealizing their past experiences. I am frequently told, "Enjoy them while you can, these are the best years! And they grow up so fast!" For a long time, that kind of talk sent me away guilt-ridden and sulking under the condemnation of being a bad parent. How am I really supposed to enjoy these years? I mean, come on! I've got a newborn who relies on me for every basic body function known to mankind, and a toddler who wants to push each rule (regardles of how established it is) to its very limit - just to see if I'll enforce it. Am I supposed to enjoy the screaming, whining, and backtalking of a three year old? Am I supposed to cherish my infant's perpetual crying until I discover whether it's the diaper or the new tooth that's the problem? Not necessarily. I seem to to enjoy MOMENTS of my day, but rarely the whole thing. And now that I realize that, it's okay. I am being a good parent. And so are you. If you can enjoy the few golden moments that this age offers, you are a good parent.
Second, most toddlers' bad behavior is age-appropriate. Although it's extremely frustrating to deal with on a daily basis, the tantrums, button-pushing, and outright defiance are just things that two and three year olds do. Have you ever noticed that shows like Super Nanny never work with kids under 3, and rarely under 4? There's a reason for that! Kids age 2 and 3 just aren't "fixable" in a week. They are able to receive training, and I highly recommend it to improve the 4's and 5's, but there' s no magic technique to get them through this phase earlier. All of my friends had kids about the same time I did, and one thing I repeat as often as I can is, "Whatever you're doing, you're probably doing fine." We all know discipline is a killer - How do I do it? When do I do it? Am I doing it wrong? But it seems to be true that kids only care about the boundaries themselves. Some parents use time out, some spank, some teach through...whatever. The truth is, if you've made some rules and are enforcing them, you're doing a fine job. Just because the kids aren't learning or obeying every time, you're still doing all you can do for this age. It's AGE-APPROPRIATE for us to have to repeat ourselves a thousand times, to discipline for the same offense over and over again, and to wonder at some point if they have any long-term memory at all. It's okay. Let the condemnation go. Just make some rules and enforce them. You can make more later. You're doing fine.
Third, there's light at the end of the tunnel. How many people say, "The five's and six's were a killer! My kids were horrible at those ages!" It's rare. Truth is, the terrible two's and terrible three's are a phase of life. They're named that for a reason. They're kinda like the teenage years. Everyone accepts that teenagers are rebellious, mindful, and seeking their own independence. The same is true of two year olds. And like teenagers, they secretly want the boundaries. On the surface, they'll tell you differently because it's the stage of life they're in. But it's just a stage. It will pass. They will learn and they will stop testing the boundaries...for a while. I hear it comes in waves. But before the next wave comes, we will get a break. And the work we do now will pay off in the long run. It's hard to think long term, but it's worthwhile if it helps us make it another day.
Fourth, give yourself a pat on the back for something every day. There is so much guilt and condemnation that comes with child-rearing today. In truth, very few new parents have been trained on how to raise kids. Some (very few) have been taught first hand through the great example of their parents, but the vast majority of folks learn about child-rearing and child-training through books. How crazy is that? Who has time to read? Most days, it seems like we fly by the seats of our pants. Once we have kids, it's practically too late to do any in-depth study. So, as one of those people who never took time to learn about kids until they were in my house, I want to remind you to cut yourself some slack. Research what you can when you can. Read a magazine article in the doctor's office. Ask a friend who has kids older than yours. But for heaven's sake, give yourself a pat on the back for trying. If today we can believe that we've been good moms for any reason at all, then we'll keep working on it tomorrow. And tomorrow will be better than today.
Fifth, God gave your kids to you for a reason. I hear women comparing themselves all day long. "Well, Susie is good at keeping a clean house," or "Brenda is so creative with her kids--they're always doing something original," or "Anne is such a great cook--her kids know how to bake anything. " Forget it. Just forget it. God gave us our kids for a reason. Our kids are supposed to learn that special thing that we do well. If we have a special talent, that's what our kids are supposed to grow up with. People put too high a value on doing everything well, and no one can measure up. Did you ever think that the world's greatest atheletes probably had atheletic parents? Or perhaps the great business people and industrial leaders had financially responsible parents? We've got to be content with being who we are. We are exactly the people our kids need in their lives.
Last, everything is reparable. If I've learned anything at all, it's that kids respond to us. So I haven't been consistent in my discipline, change it. So I haven't read enough to my kids, do it now. So I accidentally yelled at my daughter at the end of a terrible day, apologize. Kids are the most accepting, loving, unjaded people in the world. If somewhere in your childrearing, you think you've done one thing really wrong, change it. There's still time. It's never too late to love our kids more, teach them something new, or repair broken hearts. All we have to do is make the change. They are responders, and if we make the change permanent, they will rarely remember the ways we did it wrong. And if they do remember, they will be more forgiving than we can ever imagine. Kids want to forgive. They want to love and be loved in return.
Hang in there ladies. Toddler years are not for the weak. And if you have another great piece of encouragement, please post it. I like to hear things too! I've been told these are the roughest years of a woman's life and some days, it certainly feels like it. But I am not alone. And neither are you. We have each other and we have God - the creator of the universe, the designer of our childrens' souls, and the lover of us all.