My post this week was initially titled “Mommy Masochism,” and was meant to explore all the unspoken hardships of raising a toddler AND a newborn. You see, in my experience, nobody talks about these very real struggles: the tantrums, the demands, the selective hearing and undermining of authority we moms experience when simultaneously trying to meet every basic need of a newborn. Draining and trying could be the understatement of the year.
However, I was experiencing the greatest writer’s block and having trouble finding just the right words and tone. Then suddenly, when I was about to throw in the towel and go in a completely different direction, my son gave me a breakthrough and made the purpose of today’s post completely clear. I realized, during the week of said block, is that the reason nobody talks about these things is because nobody wants to think about their beloved toddler in such “negative” terms.
My son is like most 2 year olds: highly active, very bright, wonderfully sweet and honest, funny, cute, playful, imaginative, smart and curious. But, like most 2 year olds, he is also extremely rambunctious, testy, and defiant. My relationship with him is also, I would assume, like many mother/toddler relationships. One that is, at once, difficult and rewarding; one that makes me feel the deepest frustration and most overwhelming joy. One that is riddled with guilt & struggle to be a perfect mom for him every single day. But what I will never completely know is if these feelings of guilt and struggle are due to his age, or due to my need to care for two babies a once. (btw – the experience of preparing your toddler for another baby is completely different juggle, and is a story worthy of a separate post).
When I was pregnant with my first everyone gave us the most dire “just you wait!” warnings about how much our life was about to change. The second time around, however, we had far fewer cautionary tales. In fact, we experienced much more encouraging words, when everyone said “oh the second is so much easier.” And sure – in many ways this is true: nursing is easier, diaper changing is easier, swaddling is easier, and functioning on little to no sleep is easier because we’ve done it all before. But I’ve realized the real reason people must say this: it’s because a new baby is nothing compared to a toddler.
Having both means constantly navigating two different relationships with people who are 100% dependent on me, who I love unconditionally, but who require different kinds of interactions and attention at any given time. This results in, what can only be described as, a thick layer of mommy guilt. Telling my son “No” when all he wants to do is help and pick-up his baby sister (well-meaning, of course), not being able to play with him because I have to feed the baby, letting my daughter cry a little longer than I’d like because my son and I are reading bedtime stories. For every moment I enjoy spending with one child, means the other is not getting my full attention. And then there’s the one where I don’t enjoy every moment with my son because of his “terrible two” antics. Yep – that’s perhaps the toughest one of all. What hurts the most is that I can’t blame him for any of it. As a growing, developing and healthy kid, he’s doing exactly as expected – and even with the rough edges, he’s still the most adorable and delicious little boy.
I know they will both be fine, and it’s me that needs the extra care and reassurance. I’ve been assured by my husband that our son doesn’t even understand the concept of holding a grudge – we have at least another ten years before he hits the “parent angst” stage. Phew! Yet between this mom guilt and the defiant toddler, I can’t help but feel the greatest juxtapositions in emotion: I admittedly breathe an internal sigh of relief when I drop him at Nana’s house or he spends the day with Daddy, but five minutes later I miss him, and all I want is to smell his hair, hold his hand, kiss his cheeks, and squeeze his little body. As much as he pushes every button I have, it hurts more to be away from him. And this is why no one talks about these struggles. The good simply outweighs the bad in the most amazing ways.
The other encouraging words we heard during my first pregnancy were “it gets better” – that watching your own kids grow up just gets better with time and age (bittersweet as it may be). And as hard as that was for me to believe, I must say that watching my 2 year old develop into the strong, independent and intelligent boy he is makes his first “exciting” yawns and sneezes seem like a snooze fest. (Yes – I say this with an adorable one-month old making the cutest yawns and sneezes right next to me).
These are the moments I live for:
- When he can’t go to sleep until he has all his trains in bed.
- Finding Mama (or Dada) the moment after bath time to show off how he’s wrapped in his ducky towel.
- Calling out for Mama when he’s proud of an accomplishment.
- When he takes my hand because he needs some help.
- When he smiles the biggest smile at me from across the playground.
- When he get’s excited to see his baby sister each morning and each night.
- When he can’t leave the house without giving everybody hugs and kisses, and signing “I love you.”
- When he won’t go to bed without kissing his baby sister on her cheek, her forehead, and each foot (in that exact order) every night.
And then there’s this (the breakthrough moment):
So I’ll end with this – everyone says the days are long but the years are short. I’m not discovering anything new, or having any original revelations in this. But I’m acknowledging that my daily challenges with my toddler have the unique power leave me in a guilt-ridden puddle of tears and frustration by the end of the day. And then it only takes one moment of joy and laughter to remind me why we do this. We need them just as much as they need us. And it’s the moments like these that I hope are the unforgettable ones.