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How I’m surviving the toddler years (tantrums and all)

July 20, 2017

My husband and I have two children, one of which is a 17-month-old little boy. We are right smack in the middle of all of the challenges that come with raising a toddler.

Toddlers are so, well, pick an adjective and it probably fits. They are adorable one minute and challenging the next. They are as cute as a button, then screeching like a banshee. Maybe not all toddlers are like this, but this little guy is my second baby and he is just as wild as his big brother was. Right around the time this little guy turned a year old, we started noticing a few things: increased attempts at independence, increased attempts at communicating, and increased attempts at mobility.  Developmentally, we knew these were all wonderful things. He was desperate to walk, talk, and do what he wanted to do. In the process he became (and still is) very vocal about letting anyone and everyone know when we are doing something he likes or does not like.

It will pass

Tantrum Tantrums and toddlers go hand in hand. Having done this before and having watched many family members and friends raise their own kids, I told myself this was all normal and no big deal. Just like every other phase in parenting, I reminded myself that it will pass, and this phrase became my mantra. Day in and day out, I repeated my mantra. I taught my little guy how to take deep breaths to try to calm himself down, but really those deep breaths were more for me than him. 

I carried on, mantra-izing and deep breathing, gritting my teeth through the screaming fits, until the day when my stoicism cracked and I finally cried. 

It wasn’t long after maybe the longest tantrum in recorded history (a 45-minute scream fest- I actually timed it) when I finally lost my marbles. After the kids were in bed, my husband asked if I was okay, which triggered the start of my own little meltdown. I cried and cried and cried; I could hardly explain why I was upset. 

Finally, I was sort of able to communicate that I was overwhelmed. I was tired. It seemed like every day, I was waking up to race around the house with my husband to get ourselves and two small people ready to go to school, day care, camp, or whatever, only to load up the little guy into my car (we’ve navigated at least one tantrum by now) to take him to day care (oh, and he’s crying while we drive), drop him off (more crying), and race to work. 

Finally, I was sort of able to communicate that I was overwhelmed. I was tired.

After work, I race to pick him up (happy at day care), put him in the car (lots of crying), get home to quickly make dinner. I say quickly because as we all know, the more tired, hungry, or bored a toddler is, the more likely they are to have another- you guessed it- tantrum. Sometimes having dinner prepared quickly saves us from a tantrum. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does, so it’s worth it to try.  After dinner, there’s about an hour or so of playing and family time, then a bath and time to go to bed.  Then we all say a lot of prayers that our little guy will sleep through the night, so we can get up before sunrise the next day and do it all again. 

Tantrums, tears and laughter

Toddler Tantrum Animation

That is what my day looked like every day for about six months before I finally cried about it on the couch. My husband agreed that life at this moment is overwhelming. He agreed that toddlers are tough, and we seem to have especially grumpy toddler babies. He did not offer one piece of advice or a single suggestion. He just listened, gave me a hug, and told me I was a great mom. This was so helpful, and I realized I should have talked to him much sooner.

The next day started at 5:55am. It followed the same routine, but I did better. I felt better. I found myself laughing a little at the ridiculous display of will that my son shows during a diaper change or when being told that he can’t play with dangerous wires. I told myself to empathize with him instead of just trying to get him to stop screaming. He’s little and he’s tired. He’s overwhelmed. His days are incredibly full, and he is with his family at the start and end of it- the times of day when we are all worn out and spent. In fact, he is feeling much of the same feelings I am feeling. 

I thought about how it might be a good idea to listen to the suggestions that I give people every day in my work as a therapist for the Teen Xpress program. Not a day goes by that I don’t encourage someone to share how they feel or to reach out for support from others. I wasn’t doing that, and it was showing. I kept plugging along, mostly because I know I’m not the only one living with a crazy toddler, and my story is no different or any more special than anyone else’s. No one needs to or wants to hear me complain, I thought. However, after that conversation, I felt lighter and relieved, and that led me to have a better attitude and be in a better mood at home. Lesson learned!

Meanwhile back on the home front, we are still wrangling with a tiny dictator who demands that he eat only blueberries, refuses to have his hair washed and screams at any attempt to have someone put shoes on him.  But it’s alright because I finally talked about it and, of course, as we all know, it will pass. 

However, after that conversation, I felt lighter and relieved, and that led me to have a better attitude and be in a better mood at home.