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CHRISTIAN MAMA'S GUIDE TO PARENTING A TODDLEREVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO SURVIVE (AND LOVE) YOUR CHILD'S TERRIBLE TWOS
By ERIN MACPHERSON
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Erin MacPherson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGetting into the Toddler Mama Groove
Surviving and Thriving in the Toddler Years
I took my one-and-a-half-year-old niece, Greta, to McDonald's a few days ago. I'm not sure if that makes me a bad auntie (she's asked for McNuggets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day since) or a cool auntie (I let her get fries ... shhhhh!)—but regardless, she loved it. And I did too. Except for one thing: Greta—adorable, sweet and precious Greta—is smack-dab in the middle of the terrible twos.
We walked into the play area, and before I could set my tray on a table, Greta ran up to another kid who was putting on his shoes and shouted, "No! Mine!" Turns out Greta was under the impression that everything in the room belonged to her. The slide? Mine! The giant piano on the wall? Mine! The little baby that another woman was putting in a high chair? You guessed it. Mine! It was hilarious. And aside from having to remind Greta 15,324 times to be sweet, we had a wonderful time.
I told my sister-in-law the story, and she wasn't quite as amused. You see, Greta's plunge from delectable baby to delectable-yet-exasperating toddler happened very quickly and very unexpectedly. One day, Greta was her normal, sweet self—singing sleepily in her crib, eating whatever delicacy her mama put on her plate, and playing nicely with her cousins. The next day, Greta woke up a different kid. She whined. She said no. She threw her veggies on the floor. And she screamed, "Mine!" at anyone and everyone who dared come within fifteen feet of one of her toys.
My sister-in-law is beyond frustrated—and rightfully so. I remember feeling the same way when my kids hit the terrible twos. Suddenly, all my parenting skills were tested. All the rules were changed. And all my lovely walk-in-the-park moments were ruined by massive temper tantrums and whining fits. I realized I had to get my mama groove back because my sweet baby was no longer a sweet baby, and if we were being honest, I was no longer a sweet-baby mama. I was a frustrated mama. And an annoyed mama. And the kind of mama who spent more time saying no to my kid than he spent saying no to everyone else. Which was a lot.
Being the parent of a one-and-a-half-year-old is overwhelming. Remember back in your new-mama days when the mere thought of feeding and bathing and diapering a baby seemed overwhelming? Remember that? Well, now you're an old pro. Being a toddler mama is a lot like that; it feels impossible at first. It seems you'll never be able to go to the mall—or church—again. But you'll figure it out. And before long you'll be able to handle a whiny meltdown while calmly filing your nails and sipping an espresso.
How to Get into the Toddler Mama Groove
1. Give yourself a break.
I'm a perfectionist, so I tend to think of my kids' behavior as a direct reflection on me. And then, when my kid acts obnoxiously, I blame myself for being a terrible mother. But mama mantra #1345 begs to differ: You are not a terrible mother because your kid just smeared Desitin all over your mother-in-law's antique quilt. Or hasn't eaten anything besides peanut butter and Cheerios in nine days. Or just stole a toy from another kid at playgroup.
I'm not saying you shouldn't deal with these issues—you should—but simply that you can't be hard on yourself because your kid is having a bad day. Motherhood is hard, and no mom in the history of the entire world has been a perfect mama—no one. With that in mind, even in your worst mama moments, cut yourself some slack. God has used some of the hardest times I've had as a mom—times when I wasn't sure if I would survive the day, much less eighteen years—to show me how to depend on Him. And in order for God to use these trials to help me learn and grow, I have to let go of them and give them to God. Only He can make our paths—and our children's paths—straight.
2. Give yourself a time-out from your kid.
Sometimes you just need a time-out. I remember a day like that. My son Joey had thrown a huge fit in Target because I hadn't bought him a chocolate milk (mean mommy, right?), and that had escalated to a hysterically whiny car ride and a full-on toy-throwing tantrum when we got home. I called my mom. She told me to bring him over to her house.
I vegged in front of the TV while she took him to play in the sandbox and read him books. He calmed down. I calmed down. And by the time I had to go home to make dinner, I was a different mama—calm, cool, collected, and totally in love with my adorable son. Whoever said that absence makes the heart grow fonder was almost certainly the mom of a one-and-a-half-year-old. I can be at my wit's end, but after just an hour away, be rushing home for a chubby-armed toddler hug.
So, on those can't-get-through-five-minutes-without-an-issue days, don't be afraid to call a friend, call your mother, call someone. No one can do it alone, and chances are that your mother or your sister or your best girlfriend would be happy to take your kid to McDonald's for an hour or two ... and return them full of chicken nuggets and French fries.
3. Plan Your Days to Include Movement.
In the past, you may have been able to get by with lazing around all morning and spending the afternoon reading stories, but most toddlers are active and need a lot of activity. And by "need a lot of activity," I mean that if you don't make sure your kid runs around for at least two hours out of every day, you're pretty much guaranteed a five-star meltdown at nap time and an eight-star fit at dinner.
So, for your sanity (and your kid's), try to work some activity into every day. One of my favorite things to do with my kids is to go into the backyard and play soccer. They love it because it's fun. I love it because it counts as exercise for them and for me—and because a couple of years ago, after a couple of weeks of backyard soccer practice, my husband commented on my "sexy soccer-player calves." Let's just say I became a regular soccer fiend after that. Even a quick walk to the park or around the neighborhood can burn some of that pent-up toddler energy, especially if you let your kid walk at her pace instead of yours. Of course, that means you won't get anywhere quickly, but who cares? At least you'll be able to inspect every single acorn you see along the way.
4. Pray. For Yourself.
I know you're praying for your kid. Like, all the time. But what about for yourself? It's hard to be a good mama—especially when your kid isn't exactly full of sugar and spice and everything nice. So pray for patience. Pray for wisdom. And pray that you'll be able to reflect Christ's love in your life even when you're on your last nerve.
Just to get you started off right on your toddler-mama journey, here's a dictionary of common toddler words.
Bedtime [bed-tahym] 1. The moment when—no matter how exhausted I've been all day—I suddenly feel wide-awake. 2. The moment when—no matter how much milk I left in my sippy cup at dinnertime—I suddenly feel extremely thirsty. 3. The moment when—no matter how independent I've felt all day—I suddenly feel extremely needy.
Binky [bing-k-ee] (also known as: wubby, wubbalove, paci, pacifier) 1. The thing that—no matter how much my mom tries—I will refuse to go to bed without. 2. The thing that—no matter how much mom tries—I will refuse to leave the house without.
Broccoli [brok-uh-lee] A green, treelike substance that should be immediately fed to the dog if placed on your high chair tray.
Chocolate Milk [chaw-kuh-lit milk] The only thing that will keep me from tossing a carton of eggs on the floor at the grocery store.
Crayon [krey-on] 1. The thing mom always puts in my hand when she wants me to be quiet at restaurants. 2. A tool for decorating walls, floors, and mom's super-expensive antique coffee table. 3. A yummy snack.
Dog [dawg] 1. The big thing lying on the floor that wants you to pull its tail. 2. Synonymous with "pony."
Hair [hair] A convenient place to wipe your hands after you've eaten mashed sweet potatoes or anything with maple syrup.
Mine [mahyn] 1. Something that belongs to me. 2. Something that I want to belong to me. 3. Something that once belonged to me. 4. Something that I've seen before.
Park [pahrk] 1. The place where I can run and scream as loud as I want and mom won't tell me to stop. 2. The place where I will find unlimited amounts of gravel, rocks, and dirt to roll in, get in my shoe, eat, and throw at other kids.
The Wiggles [th-uu wig-uhls] 1. The absolutely hilarious guys that mom—against her best judgment—introduced me to on that day she was trying to answer sixty-two e-mails in one afternoon. 2. The fun concert that mom will—against her best judgment—take me to when they come to town. 3. The fun CD that mom will—against her best judgment—buy. 4. The fun CD that mom will—against her best judgment—play in the car CD player if I whine long enough.
Whine [wahyn] 1. The noise you make when you really, really want something. 2. The noise you make when you really, really want something and mom says no. 3. The noise you make when you really, really want something and mom still keeps saying no. 4. The noise you make when you don't remember what you wanted, but you know Mom will probably say no anyway.
Vegetable [vej-tuh-buhl] A fun toy that mom puts on your dinner plate so you have something to throw during dinnertime.
Your Toddler is Fabulous (Even If She's Fabulously Obnoxious at Times)
Even in the middle of the most hysterical, most obnoxious, most terrible one-and-a-half fit, if you look really, really close, your kid will still be pretty darn cute. That's because your kid is a fabulously amazing (and independent) creation of God, and even in the middle of her one-and-a-half-year-old glory, she is still pretty darn amazing.
The thing about the terrible twos is that they really aren't that terrible. Sure, your kid acts terrible from time to time, but it's because she is growing and learning and trying to figure out the world. And sometimes that figuring manifests itself as whining. And sometimes that growing manifests itself as fit-throwing. But in the middle of it all, God is working in your kid's life, and you get the incredible privilege of getting a front-row seat to it all.
It's easy to get frustrated with one-and-a-half-year-olds, but it's also easy to love them for the real, honest, and utterly adorable children of God that they are. And with that in mind, let's get on with our loving—and surviving—of the toddler years.
Chapter TwoHeart, Mind, and Soul
Getting a Handle on Toddler Discipline
Your kid needs Jesus.
Yes, he probably needs a snack and a nap and a good old-fashioned lecture on the importance of manners, but most of all, your kid needs Jesus. And no matter how many tantrums your kid throws or how many toys he flat-out refuses to share, toddler discipline all boils down to one thing: your kid needs Jesus. To grow his heart. To shape his mind. And to soothe his soul.
As a mom, I tend to get caught in the trap of thinking my kids need me. They need a mom who keeps a flowchart of discipline strategies on her fridge and knows exactly when to Love-and-Logic them and when to send them to time-out. A mom who can keep her cool in the midst of the biggest terrible-two meltdown. A mom who is willing to go the distance to make sure her kids behave. And while all those things are important, thank God that He is there behind the scenes, working to capture my kids' hearts, minds, and souls. Because standing on my own strength, I'm an utter failure when it comes to discipline.
Like most things when it comes to parenting toddlers, this was something I learned the hard way when my two-year-old threw himself into an upstairs window during nap time. Yeah, that's right. Joey took a running start and plowed headfirst into the upstairs, low-hanging window because he didn't want to nap. That kind of makes you feel better about your kid's behavior and your parenting, doesn't it?
Fortunately, Joey was just fine. He hit it hard enough to spiderweb the glass, which cost $250 to replace—thankyouverymuch, strong-willed toddler—but he was uninjured. He didn't get cut or bruised or go flying out the window and onto the hard concrete below. I, however, was not just fine. I was mortified. And frustrated. And really upset about the fact that I didn't have the discipline savvy to keep my precious little boy safe and sound on my watch. And after going downstairs and downing an entire bag of Ghirardelli chocolate (I'm exaggerating; a half bag was totally sufficient), I called my mom in tears. And you know what she told me? Not that I had failed as a parent. Or that Joey was a delinquent who needed to be sent to time-out until he was fourteen. She told me that he needed Jesus. That's it. My son needed Jesus.
That afternoon, sitting on the floor in my son's room, I hit my rock-bottom place when it came to discipline and parenting. I felt desperate because nothing I had done on my own strength was working. I had read all the books, all the spank-versus-time-out debates, and all the don't-let-your-kid-win-a-power-struggle strategies. And none of them seemed to be working with my son. Because what my son ultimately needed more than all those strategies is the same thing I need, for Jesus to change my heart.
Now that I've boiled toddler discipline down to simply your kid needing Jesus, I need to tell you that this doesn't mean you should just ignore discipline altogether. Because even though your kid needs Jesus, your kid also needs a parent to lead him to Jesus. And part of leading your toddler to Jesus involves sprinkling every conversation, every tender moment, and every mortifying tantrum or all-out meltdown into an opportunity to show your toddler about Jesus' perfect, holy, and saving love.
I'm Just a Mom
I'm not even going to begin to claim to be qualified to teach you about the psychology behind biblical discipline. I'm not a counselor or a behavior therapist or a teacher or a Dugger. I'm just a mom. A mom who has dealt with approximately 1,234,237 toddler fits, 234,345 whiny tantrums, and 143 I'm-not-sure-I-can-do-this-for-another-minute meltdowns (by me, not my kids). I've read the books. I've listened to the advice. I've tried. I've failed. I've tried again. And while I in no way can call myself a toddler discipline expert, I can tell you that I have been in your shoes.
In this chapter, you're not going to find the ultimate toddler discipline strategy that's guaranteed to turn your tantrum-throwing toddler into an angelic little schnookums overnight or you get your money back. I'm not going to give you a seventeen-step plan to getting your kids to behave or a list of definitive instructions on how to teach your kids about the Ten Commandments. Because those strategies don't exist. And even if they did, I'm not afraid to admit that I don't have all the answers. But I do know one thing: your kid needs Jesus.
Justice, Mercy, and Grace
I'm sure if you've been a mom for more than, say, five minutes, you've heard loads of parenting advice. People love to advise parents. Older women will corner you in the grocery store and regale you with the things they learned when their kids were kids. People on the street will tell you their tips on how to educate your child. Heck, I once had a thirteen-year-old volunteer at vacation Bible school pull me aside and give me her advice on how to help my daughter have a smooth drop-off. But after seven years of parenting and loads of parenting advice from both experts and nonexperts, I can tell you that there is one piece of parenting advice that has resonated with me more than any other. And it is to treat your kids with the same sense of justice, mercy, and grace that Christ shows us.
My mom-savvy and brilliant friend Amy Allert actually gave me this idea. She explained that, so often, we as parents focus on black-and-white discipline with our kids by giving them consequences to (hopefully) teach them to quell some misbehavior. This is important. But Amy pointed out that Jesus doesn't always give us what we deserve. He gives us what we need. And if we're going to teach our kids about Jesus, we need to go beyond simple crime-and-punishment discipline and give our kids the tools they need to turn their hearts toward Christ. This takes some mom smarts—as well as some prayer and biblical insight—but in the end, it's a way to give our kids what they need. And that's—you guessed it—Jesus.
Now, before I go any further, I need to explain what I mean by all this justice, mercy, and grace talk. To put it really simply, if your kid does something wrong, you have the choice to respond to his behavior with justice, mercy, or grace. Each of these responses teaches him something about Jesus and His infinite wisdom and love. I've found that by responding to my kids in a variety of ways, depending on each individual situation, I've opened up the doors to many meaningful conversations with my kids. I've also found that by starting out these conversations when my kids are young—too young to fully grasp Christ's love—it lays the foundation for future understanding.
Anyway, when I respond to my kids' misbehavior with justice, I give them what they deserve by giving them a logical consequence. Jesus responds to all of us with justice sometimes; He teaches us to be obedient through natural consequences. So when your kid is throwing his toys across the room, it makes sense to confiscate those toys. Or when your kid is melting down on the living room floor, it makes sense to remove him from the room to a time-out spot where he can calm down. Justice served.
Excerpted from CHRISTIAN MAMA'S GUIDE TO PARENTING A TODDLER by ERIN MACPHERSON Copyright © 2013 by Erin MacPherson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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