This post has been brewing for awhile, but one hilariously judgmental comment from a reader yesterday inspired me to finish it up and hit Publish. I know all parents with a child or two over 2 years old will thank me for this.
A few years ago, I purchased Dr. Harvey Karp’s “Happiest Toddler on the Block” to read about toddler behavior when my first baby was about 15 months old. The book tries to teach parents a language called “Toddlerese,” which is designed to get on the level with the child and help them feel understood so that tantrums can be diffused with as little destruction as possible.
(For the record, I personally found the whole notion of Toddlerese too ridiculous to implement, but Karp’s insight into what makes toddlers tick really did help me understand my changing child a little better.)
Karp opens the book by explaining that, around the age of 18-24 months, children go from being Mommy’s Little Angel, to someone truly unrecognizable. He insists that all parents think this won’t happen to them, but eventually, it will.
I refused to believe it. Not MY Jonas. No way! I was a GOOD mother. Sorry Mr. Karp, but I intend on being an ENGAGED parent who doesn’t let their child run wild. No child of mine will ever yell at me or throw a sippy cup at my head!
It only took a few months before my mouth became stretched to about the size of my foot.
As my sweet little baby hit a year and a half old, the hostile takeover began. He stopped agreeing to eat any type of food we put in front of him, and I’d regularly find him leaning over his high chair studying the way juice poured out of his sippy cup and landed on my clean floor. Haaa haa! Look ma! Gravity!!! We’d try to put shoes on him, and he’d arch his back and scream bloody murder. We’d ask him to stop hitting the dog and he’d yell “No!” And at just 22 months old, with his newborn brother nursing at mommy’s breast, Jonas walked over, looked down at the new creature, and then smacked him directly in the face with a Matchbox car.
Mommy’s. Little. Angel.
Had my parenting changed? Had I abruptly started sucking as a parent? Was that what caused such a sudden shift in my toddler’s behavior? Nope! I was still the same Awesome Mom I prided myself on being. But my kid changed… boy, did he change. And so, at that point, yes, my parenting had to change with him. I had to adapt to his new personality. I also had to learn to love the taste of Humble Pie.
And this is oh-so-common. Just look around and you see moms of babies, or moms of one very easy child, who act like none of this will ever – could ever – happen to them.
They naturally assume that if their child doesn’t act like “THAT,” then anyone else’s child is just “not normal.” But usually all it takes is their child developing a sense of independence to make them realize how little control we have over a tiny person’s behavior. Or, these people eventually give their kids a sibling and see first-hand how two children raised by the SAME EXACT PERSON can develop such drastically different personalities, which forces the High Horse Parent to realize that kids are different. This is about the time that they discover that their first child is NOT the litmus test of normality. Oh NOES! You mean, my first child has NOT set the bar by which all other children can be judged!?! Oh, the humanity!
My friend tells this story of how she was walking through Wicker Park one day when her son was about 2, and the kid was having a total meltdown. She was struggling to get him to the car, her face was hot with embarrassment, when she looked up to find the New Mommy playgroup (e.g. moms with babies under 1) sitting on their little blankets, staring at her with disgust as though she was some sort of unfit mother to “allow” her child to lose his shit like that.
She looked straight at them and said under her breath, “Oh, you bitches just WAIT.”
That story always cracks me up. I’m sure those mothers are now thinking the same thing every time their now-toddler throws a fork at some stranger’s head in a restaurant. A few months ago, while having breakfast with my one of my BFFs, my 2 yr old tossed his fluffy baseball right into a strangers’ plate full of eggs and hashbrowns, and I swiftly and thoroughly died of humiliation. Thankfully, the stranger was incredibly gracious about it, which I will be forever grateful for. I didn’t need anybody making me feel worse than I already did.
But I know someone will undoubtedly come here and claim they have 15 children and none of them have ever acted this way. And if you are the person who claims to have 15 children, none of which who have EVER kicked, hit, spit, pissed, yelled, or humiliated you to the point of outrage in the middle of the bookstore, then I say you either:
- Are a fucking liar
- Have 15 mute, immobile children
- Keep them locked in an attic somewhere
- Are the LUCKIEST PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM and should stock up on lottery tickets IMMEDIATELY.
But under NO circumstances are you a “better mother” than anyone else here whose children HAVE tested their patience endlessly and mercilessly. And the higher you are on your “Better Mother” horse, the harder Karma will smack you right off it one day.
It is a kid’s JOB to explore the world, and test boundaries. They are programmed to push the limits, make mistakes, and learn how to navigate this life in ways that are NOT polite OR convenient to us adults. Ask any child psychologist and they’ll agree 100% with me that toddler tantrums are 100% normal. It’s our job to offer whatever guidance we can so that they become civilized members of society, but completely preventing a toddler from throwing the occasional fork is not something most parents will ever master.
But don’t worry – it’s not all bad. Sure, these Toddler Tyrants can cause you more stress than you can currently imagine, but they’ll also bring you more joy than you ever thought possible. When your 2 yr old tells you out of the clear blue sky, “Mommy, you are the best Mommy I ever saw today!” your heart will melt into a puddle on the floor. And when your 4 yr. old tells any stranger who will listen to him that he’s madly “in love” with the baby sister growing in his Mommy’s belly, you’ll (almost) forget that he hit his last newborn sibling in the face with a fistful of toy metal car.
The point is that this is all a crazy, unpredictable ride. So fasten your seatbelts, check your ego at the door, and try to enjoy all the highs and lows — even if that sometimes means laughing with your adult friends about what little douchebags we’re all raising. Don’t worry, someday your kids are going to be saying the same exact things about their kids, and the beat goes on.
Tell me, at what point did you discover how little control you had over the tiny humans in your house? When did you start learning to eat giant slices of Humble Pie?