Dear toddler parent hanging on by skin of teeth:
Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying.
Let me say that again.
ANYONE WHO SAYS THEIR TWO-YEAR-OLD WASN’T A TINY INSANE TYRANT IS LYING.
Alright, toddler parent, just let me put you on hold while I talk to whoever’s now offended.
Yes, I mean it, and yes I mean you as well, yes, you. Come at me, bro. If you tell me, either in person or from the safe distance of the internet, that your blessed toddler only needed one look from you after one tantrum and they never tried it again, or they never ran off because of your awesome discipline routines, or any variant of ‘when my kids were little’ – sit back down. SIT ALL THE WAY BACK DOWN. Shall I tell you what’s happened here?
- Unless you nurtured a child prodigy (I am willing to allow this variant in rare cases), you had a two-year-old like any other.
- Two-year-olds spend a lot of time wanting what they can’t have, and wrestling with giant emotional reactions they don’t have the bandwidth to process appropriately. This has been studied. It is normal. It is true.
- This leads to: screaming meltdowns in public and private, lots of ‘I don’t WANT to’, long days of struggling over every. little. thing, much exhaustion on all sides. You might have had a toddler who did one of those things more than the other, but all of them will have been present and correct.
- You dealt with this in the best way you could. I’m sure you’re a nice, normal person, so probably this was: you set limits that were often ignored, you wheedled and cajoled and comforted and warned and picked them up like a parcel, legs flailing, and shouted when you really lost your rag, and tried again the next day.
THEN (this is the important part):
- Your two-year-old got older, more able to cope with emotions and respond to parenting strategies. And as the years went on, and because two-year-olds are also delightful and hilarious and wonderful beyond belief,
- You forgot the bad bits.
I wouldn’t mind, but this idea of ‘my toddler was an angel because of how super disciplined I was’ – the sort of thing that comes in well-meaning or less-well-meaning droves when you mention your children online – does serious damage to those of us still in those two-year-old trenches. Do you think it’s easy, trying to cajole your child off the floor of a supermarket because you’ve refused to let them get inside the ice cream freezer, cringing and embarrassed by the volume of their yells and the certain knowledge that someone watching thinks you’re a failure?
The only thing that would be worse is if some random stranger who didn’t know you at all, didn’t know how hard you worked or how much you worried about being a good, kind, fair, decent parent, told you that yes, your worst fear is true: this is your fault. If you were better, your two-year-old wouldn’t act like this. Because mine didn’t. Not ever. I only had to give them a look.
I know how awful this feels, because it’s happened to me, and because I get messages all the time from mothers battered by public judgement and unrealistic expectations. It makes me furious.
Toddler parent, you still there?
Listen. Two-year-olds are gonna two. Sooner or later they’re going to want something you can’t give them in a public place, and all your careful distraction techniques won’t work this time, and they will scream and someone will sniff and you will feel like scraping yourself out of the carpet. It might even happen rather a lot (*hand raised*).
It is not your fault. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You can’t give your children emotional maturity beyond their years by force of will. If you’re trying hard, setting boundaries and struggling for a routine that suits you both, well – everything else will pass. I promise. Enjoy the wonderful bits, buy in chocolate digestives for the terrible bits, and don’t let anyone, ever, tell you that your child would be better if you were.
And one more thing for the internet warriors.
Next time you’re tempted to write a ‘back in my day’ response to a mother struggling with things you’ve let go: maybe just write ‘hang on, it’ll be ok’ instead. Just that.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?