I've heard a lot of you talk about how difficult the toddler years are. I heard you in my post asking what you find hard about the toddler years, I heard you in my video, I heard you in e-mails, on twitter, and in comments on other blog posts. But I've also heard you say how much fun the toddler years are, to learn to let them lead, to enjoy them and to connect with them. I heard you, on both fronts, and I nodded. You see, I don't think it is one or the other. I think it is both.
There are hard days and there are amazing days. There are days when your toddler is fun, and loving, and cute. But there are also days when your toddler is frustrating, and stubborn and difficult. There are days when you are an amazing parent. But there are also days where you feel like the worst parent in the world (I know because you've told me and because people Google "I'm a bad mother" every day and end up on my blog).
When everything is great, no one reaches out for advice. They wait until they just can't take it anymore and then, in desperation, they reach out to blogs, to books, to online advice forums, to their mom groups, and more. And nothing works.
But why not?
On those hard days, those really hard days, I think we are all looking for that silver bullet.
Crisp. Shiny. Simple.
The problem, however, is that our relationship with our toddlers is complicated. Just as our relationship with any human being that we are in a loving and interdependent relationship with, is complicated.
We sit there and we ask ourselves, "if we are going to try things, what would we try?" ... and there are so many different answers, so many different paths, none of them guaranteed to make an iota of difference in that moment on that difficult day.
And when they don't make any difference at all, or when things seem to get even worse, you are left feeling defeated. I know, because I've been there too. Many times. But I've realized, as I wrote in Ready to Snap, that when I am there, I don't need advice.
In the moments where I feel like I’m going to snap, as much as I feel like I need help, I don’t really need advice. I do not need someone telling me how great time outs are. I do not need someone telling me that I was disrespectful to my child and that if I just focused better on connecting with her that these problems would not arise. I do not need someone saying that I expect too much of myself or that I expect too much of my children. I do not need someone telling me that we need strict consequences for misbehaviour. I need a hug. I need empathy. I need help. I need a break. I need space. I need time to think. Once I’ve had that, I need one-on-one time with the kids to reconnect with them and I need a few days of calm for us to get back to normal and leave our stresses behind.
In the comments on that post, Amber from Strocel.com wrote:
I have gone to my room and sobbed. I have yelled, and known it wouldn’t help. And I have playfully de-escalated situations. Sometimes, I really pull through. Sometimes I don’t. Always, I try to do better.
That, for me, is what it is all about. It is about doing better. So on the good days, I try to do better, hoping it will serve me well on the bad days and hoping that the bad days will be fewer and further apart.
In general, "doing better" means working on my connection with my children. I don't need books to remind me to do that, but there are some books that I have found helpful along the way. I tend to read these books and then re-read them every once in a while, not looking for a solution for that day, but to remind myself of some of the things I can do to solidify our relationship. Two of the books I come back to over and over again are Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen and Connected Parenting by Jennifer Kolari. I find it interesting that both books, on the covers, focus on solving behaviour problems (a marketing tactic, for sure), whereas inside they are very much about creating a strong bond and developing your child's self esteem.
The bad days, when they do come up, are about survival. I try to remain calm and patient and channel those strategies that I've practiced during the good times. But I also try to forgive myself if things don't work out the way that I would like and I end up resorting to making it through the moment instead of always doing better in the moment. Things like rewards and punishments are desperate survival mechanisms for me. Things like locking myself in a room and crying are survival mechanisms for me. Sometimes going to the grocery store alone even if I don't really need anything is a survival mechanism for me. They are survival mechanisms because they help me get through a situation from which I see no other escape without hurting anyone. But they are not, in my mind, good long-term child rearing strategies.
As much as we may like them to be, good strategies for parenting toddlers aren't silver bullets. They probably won't fix the problem that you are facing today. But they will help you to connect in new ways and relate to each other in new ways on the days when things are going well and that will fix a lot for the long-term. If there is a silver bullet, I think our toddlers were probably smart enough to hide it from us, realizing that it wouldn't serve them well developmentally or in terms of their relationship with us. Sometimes toddlers are smarter than we give them credit for.
Image credits: Silver Bullet by eschipul on flickr and Stream of Consciousness by jurvetson on flickr. Post contains affiliate links.
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