Read an Excerpt
The Mother of All Toddler Books
By Ann Douglas
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-4417-9
Chapter OneThe Truth about Toddlers
"People always warn you about the terrible twos. I prefer to call them the terrific twos." - Julie, 30, mother of one
"I think the term 'terrible twos' is dreadful because it puts a negative twist on a beautiful experience. Why not call them 'the wonder years' instead? My son is in a daily state of wonder." - Kimberlee, 28, mother of two
Welcome to the toddler years - that exciting tightrope walk that bridges the gap between babyhood and the preschool years. As any veteran parent can tell you, the toddler years are the best of times and the worst of times in one exciting yet exhausting package. There will be days when you're so head-over-heels in love with that wide-eyed, chubby-cheeked toddler that the mere thought of him ever growing up and moving away will bring tears to your eyes. There also will be days when it's all you can do stop yourself from strapping all your toddler's worldly goods to the back of his tricycle and listing him for sale on eBay.
In this chapter, we talk about how you may be feeling as your baby celebrates that milestone first birthday - whether you're more inclined to fumble for a tissue box or pour yourself a glass of champagne. Then we look at how parenting a toddler is different from parenting a baby. (I know, I know: just when you had the baby thing down pat, Mother Nature had to go and throw you acurveball!) Finally, we wrap up the chapter by getting down to the real nitty-gritty: the joys and challenges of raising a toddler.
From Baby to Toddler
There's no doubt about it: Your child's first birthday is a major milestone for him and for you. How you feel about reaching this milestone will largely be determined by your parenting experiences during your baby's momentous first year of life. If you have fond memories of pushing a happy, gurgling baby around in a carriage, you may be reluctant to say goodbye to those baby days; if, however, you keep having flashbacks to all those endless nights spent pacing the floor with a colicky infant, you may be positively overjoyed to leave the baby stage behind.
"I was happy to have the first year over with," confesses Christy, a 38-year-old mother of two. "For me, it was one of the toughest years I had ever been through. I find having a baby a lot of work with very little reward."
"I personally found it a struggle when my daughter was a baby," adds Suzette, a 29-year-old mother of two. "She didn't sleep well; I was exhausted; and I felt very guilty because I didn't think I was living up to what society expected me to be as this baby's mother. Once she became more mobile and more communicative, I found her much easier to interact with. Not all mothers do well with the baby stage, and I was one of them."
Parents of higher-order multiples - triplets, quadruplets, and more - may be particularly eager to watch their babies celebrate that momentous first birthday. Yvonne - a 36-year-old mother of six - remembers feeling a tremendous sense of relief when her quintuplets reached that stage: "It was a huge milestone for us to know we'd made it through that first year. I'd been told by other mothers of higher-order multiples that nothing is as hard as the first year."
Of course, not every parent feels totally euphoric about having their baby's first birthday roll around. Many experience a mix of emotions: excitement about watching their child move on to the toddler stage, but sadness at leaving those special baby days behind. "I felt an incredible sense of joy and awe watching my daughter gazing at her birthday candles," recalls Laura, a 33-year-old mother of one. "I was very excited about her moving into her toddler years. She was already walking and speaking, and I couldn't wait for her to start telling me how she felt about her day. And yet, at the same time, I was feeling a little sad. Over the course of a year, she had grown up so much."
Watching your child blow out the candle on his birthday cake can be particularly poignant if you feel fairly certain that you aren't going to be having any more babies. Catherine, a 32-year-old mother of four, explains: "When the twins' first birthday came up, I remember watching them making a mess in their high chairs, thinking to myself, 'We made it!' I was so proud at that moment to know that they were healthy and well. But I also had a nice long cry that night when all our guests had left, knowing that these were the last babies I would ever have. I would never again have a baby, nurse a baby, and do all those things that mommies do with their newborns. That was difficult - and yet, at the same time, I knew we were entering a whole new stage of life. Our youngest children were now entering the toddler years, and things would get easier (or at least we hoped they would!), and our lives would now revolve around all the fun things you can do with older kids. And so I wrote a little goodbye note in each of my twins' diaries that night, saying goodbye to their babyhood and welcome to the big kid years. I was proud to have known them as babies and would be even prouder to help them grow into strong, good-hearted boys and men."
Although you may find yourself feeling a little wistful as your child's babyhood comes to an end, it's important to remind yourself that equally magic moments await you and your child in the months - and years - to come. "Sometimes I think to myself, 'This is incredible. I wish I could freeze time right here,'" says Kimberlee, a 28-year-old mother of two. "And, of course, time rolls on, and once again it seems perfect."
Helena, a 32-year-old mother of one, agrees that it's important to focus on what lies ahead: "I think that if you always look back then you don't enjoy what you have - and toddlerhood has its wonderful moments, too."
Getting Psyched for Year Two
There's no denying it: The rules of the game have just changed forever. You're no longer responsible for caring for a baby; you've just become the parent of a toddler. Here's the scoop on how your role as a parent is likely to change during the exciting and sometimes exhausting months ahead:
You'll spend less time taking care of your child's physical needs and more time attending to his other needs. Although you won't have to attend to your child's physical needs to quite the same degree as you did when he was a baby (he'll become more skilled at feeding himself during the months ahead, and - if the potty training gods are with you - he may even show some interest in toilet training), you'll spend a lot of time and energy trying to satisfy his almost insatiable hunger for new experiences. Although many parents find this to be the most enjoyable aspect of raising a toddler, others find the pace to be a little overwhelming. "I'm at a constant loss as to how to keep my two-and-a-half-year-old son stimulated," confesses Elizabeth, a 27-year-old mother of three. "Some days, it's tempting to just leave him in front of the TV, especially when there are things around the house that need to be done and other children to tend to. I think we've done every activity ever invented a hundred times."
The way you relate to your child will change. "Parenting a baby is so much about keeping them safe and dry and fed and happy," says Lisa, a 36-year-old mother of two. "Parenting a toddler is about that and so much more. It's about helping them take those steps away from you - both literally and figuratively. It's about watching to see what interests them most and then helping them to explore that more." Karen, a 33-year-old mother of three, agrees that there are many new challenges associated with parenting a toddler: "Parenting a baby is about giving time, giving love, giving energy, giving of self. Parenting a toddler is harder because you're giving space. Space for that toddler to attempt and fail and attempt again. Space to learn. Space to explore. Space to grow."
You'll get a clearer sense of your child's personality. Your child's had a personality of his own right from day one, of course, but it's during the toddler years that you start to get a strong sense of who he is as a person - whether he's happy and easygoing or the ultimate control freak. As Heather, a 23-year-old mother of two, notes: "I prefer toddlerhood because I love watching my son's little personality blossom. Toddlers truly become 'little people.'" And, once you have an idea about what makes your child tick, you can start figuring out which types of parenting strategies will work best with him. After all, there's no such thing as "one size fits all" in the often weird but generally wonderful world of parenting.
You'll be able to download some of your childrearing responsibilities to other people, including your partner. Although babies tend to view anyone other than the keeper of the breasts (a.k.a. Mom) as second-rate, toddlers are ready to open their hearts to a growing number of people. At the top of their list? Why, Daddy, of course! Whether he realizes it or not, your baby's father is about to become your toddler's favorite toy - something that will mean a little more freedom for you. Jo-Anne, a 43-year-old mother of seven, explains: "Toddlers turn to their fathers more often than babies do. They can go off in the car together without worrying about being nursed in an hour. They can run around in the park and enjoy more physical games. In this sense, it's less intense for me, the mother, than the baby stage." And, it's not just moms who are relieved to share the star billing in their toddlers' hearts: dads seem to appreciate their new role at center stage, too. As Kelly, a 31-year-old mother of two, explains: "Now that my twins are toddlers, my husband feels more like a parent and less like 'Mommy's assistant.'"
You may feel more confident in your parenting abilities. It's not just your partner who is likely to be feeling more confident about this parenting thing; chances are you are, too. After all, you've survived a whole year of baby boot camp. Your confidence can also be boosted by the simple fact that your child suddenly seems a whole lot less breakable. As Helena, a 32-year-old mother of one, puts it: "Toddlers seem sturdier - not as fragile as babies."
You may feel increased pressure to do a good job as a parent. Being a parent is hard work - the most difficult job in the world, in fact. What makes it even tougher is knowing that you're under constant scrutiny from others around you - scrutiny that tends to intensify during the toddler years. "If your baby starts crying at the mall, most people smile sympathetically and say, 'Someone needs a nap,'" explains Terri, a 34-year-old mother of three. "But if that same child is a little older, people give you a look that says, 'What a brat!' Dealing with a toddler's emotional outbursts is difficult enough without the glares and stares of strangers."
You'll get a taste of your "old life" again. After a year of stumbling around in a sleep-deprived fog, you'll finally get a taste of some of the perks that come along with parenting a slightly older child - small but sanity-preserving things like sleeping for more than two to three hours at a stretch and eating your dinner while it's still warm. If you've got a particularly vivid imagination and/or are into self-delusion, you may even be able to convince yourself that you've got your old life back. (But, frankly, for most of us, that's a bit of a stretch.)
As you can see, there will be plenty of noteworthy changes during the months ahead as your baby makes the transition from baby to toddler - proof positive that becoming a parent is the ultimate personal growth experience! Now let's talk about how some of those changes are likely to play out in the months to come.
The Challenges and Joys of Raising a Toddler
You've no doubt heard plenty about the challenges of raising a toddler: after all, that's the stuff of which parenting magazines and really bad sitcoms are made. What you might not have heard as much about are the joys of parenting a toddler - something that should go a long way toward explaining one of the greatest mysteries of our time: why some parents sign up for more than one tour of duty through toddlerhood! Just so that we can hold onto that mystery a little longer, we're going to tackle this thing in reverse order, starting out with the challenges and then working our way back to the joys. (What can I say? I've always been a sucker for happy endings.)
As promised, here's a whole laundry list of reasons why parenting a toddler is not for the weak of heart - to say nothing of the weak of stomach!
Excerpted from The Mother of All Toddler Books by Ann Douglas Excerpted by permission.
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