I never liked the “terrible two” phrase. It always sounds like such a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. I would bristle at its unfairness – pronouncing judgment on an entire age group, without giving the toddler a fair shot, a blank slate. If the expectation is that the child will be “terrible”, what chance do they have at being anything else?
In any case, I adore the toddler stage. The blossoming language skills, the expressiveness coupled with endless excitement and curiosity about everything and anything – it is utterly breathtaking and achingly endearing. Compared to the newborn stage, or even the entire first year, I enjoy the toddler stage so much more. Maybe it’s because we are finally emerging from the global pandemic, maybe it’s our daughter’s growing independence, or maybe I’m just more tolerant of tantrums than the physical demands of caring for a baby.
Like many other endeavors, parenting has a way of exposing our greatest strengths and weaknesses. What I discovered, to no one’s surprise, was sleep deprivation was not my thing (is it anyone’s?). Ultimately, I found caring for a baby to be the most physically demanding and exhausting thing I had ever done. My body ached constantly from the lack of sleep, around the clock breastfeeding and pumping, and hours spent spoon feeding a baby that would not put *anything* in her mouth. And it sucked even more that I couldn’t go to (or hire) a masseuse (or any other kind of help for that matter), because of the pandemic.
Fast forward a year, I love the rhythm we have found with our toddler and her recently retired grandparents. Navigating the family dynamic across multiple generations can definitely be challenging, but the special bond our daughter has with her grandparents is priceless, and I am grateful to deepen my own relationship with my mom as well. When I get asked about toddler tantrums, I like to speculate that I find it easy to empathize with them because of my own proclivity for tantrums. I’m only half-joking, because there is a grain of truth there as well.
I have spent the better part of the last decade exploring the questions of “who I am” and “who I want to be”. A large part of that process involved digging up the not so pretty parts of myself, my past, and my childhood. It meant recognizing past traumas, understanding how they still affect me today, and finding ways to heal and ultimately coming to peace and letting go.
Having faced my own demons repeatedly, toddler tantrums seem like a piece of cake. Research has shown that toddler brains are far from fully developed. They have full-size feelings, but no tools to manage them. Their feelings are too big (and often too scary) for their little bodies to handle. In those emotionally charged moments, often inconvenient and even stressful for us parents, I like to remind myself, They are not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time.
Like many parents, my approach to parenting is influenced by my own experiences. I focus a great deal on understanding and connecting with my daughter, though I am far from perfect. There are definitely moments when I am disappointed with my own behavior, and that is also when I strive to demonstrate how to apologize and make amends. After all, repair is critical in any relationship.
Parenting is a very, very hard thing, and we all need (and deserve) so much grace. It has been incredible to witness how my best and worst parts have guided me on this journey of raising a human being. I cherish every moment of this magical phase, which I know is only possible because of the love and support from my family. You are my everything.