In many ways, having a toddler is an exercise in humility. They'll routinely and mercilessly (and sometimes on purpose) embarrass you. Whether you’re out in public, at a friend’s house, or simply enjoying a coffee with friends in your kitchen, they will decide to put their most toddler-y foot forward… and usually into something expensive and breakable. When your toddler decides to invoke the ancient rite of being a child, that’s when you need to take a deep breath and remember that there are things parents of toddlers should never feel guilty about. As I tell myself pretty much daily, “I can parent them, but I cannot control them.”
They’re toddlers. They’re going to act like toddlers, which includes, but isn't limited to: inappropriate commentary (“That lady farted!”), screaming tantrums, dropping to the floor and kicking (not always tantrum related— kids are just weird as hell sometimes), loud, unsettling noises, smelly diapers, and, as was the case with my daughter last weekend, shoplifting (I brought back the item she snagged). They will do these things in places where acting like a toddler is frowned upon, such as a grocery store, restaurant, house of worship, or shopping mall. Certainly handle the situation as best you can, but don’t feel guilty about the fact that it happened. Because it’s going to happen again… and again… and again.
These fascinating creatures — straightforward and simple, but deeply complex — often make me wonder if the things they say and do make sense to them, or if they are just as baffled by their own behavior as we are. We may never know. In the meantime, here are some incredibly toddler behaviors that you shouldn’t feel guilty about.
So for one thing, I am very much of the mind that kids can learn stuff from TV or video games. Granted, there is nothing they can’t learn from TV or an app that they couldn’t learn by some other means, but my kids are much more likely to sit in front of Sesame Street for an hour and learn the alphabet with Elmo than they are sitting still with flashcards for the same amount of time.
Additionally, it’s not like there’s a plug you stick into their skulls when they’re watching a screen that saps their brains out, dooming them to a life of intellectual apathy and dullness. Furthermore, sometimes we all need to just chill out on the couch for a bit, and TV/tablets/whatever are fantastic for that. Don’t feel guilty for utilizing tools that enable your children to stop moving around and demanding things of you for a brief period.
I don’t know how, but it seems like my children exist in a constant state of "gross" until age 4. My 6-year-old son is finally at the point where he stays pretty tidy. My 3-year-old daughter is on the tail-end of it, but still manages to be inexplicably... ick. She bathes every single day (by choice), and I dutifully wipe her down after every meal, but somehow, 75 percent of the time, her cheeks feel like the floor of a dive bar. A particularly dive-y dive bar. I don’t know what's up with that, but I know for a fact it’s not on me. Jesus can take the wheel on this one.
If I devoted the amount of time watching/playing with/reading to my toddler that she verbally requests, I would literally never be able to do anything ever again because she desires my constant attention. (My oldest was even worse.) I would legit starve to death, because I would not be able to find 45 seconds to find and open a bag of Goldfish crackers. And if I did, she would notice, her eyes would widen, and she would say, “Oooh. Fishes. Yum. Taste?” At that point I would either give it to her (because it’s not worth the screaming fit that would follow), or I would pass out from hunger and she would literally pry them out of my cold dead hands.
So, I love you, my darling, but there are times when I must say no.
It doesn’t matter that he’s a child (OK, a cartoon child), because that voice. That whiny, annoying voice. Even when he’s absurdly happy and giggly (what are you on Caillou?) it’s like a mosquito bite inside your brain. When he pitches a fit (and he does so, frequently), that voice is even worse. His overall personality is beyond egocentric: it’s egomaniacal.
Here’s how awful Caillou is: I’ve only ever seen, collectively, about 15 minutes of this show, and I want to murder him. It is absolutely forbidden in our house. It accidentally came on the TV once and I rushed quickly to change it, convincing my daughter it was “a scary show.” For the parents who have to deal with Caillou, you should not feel even a little guilty about dreaming of different ways to make him die. (This also goes for Thomas the Tank Engine, whom, I am convinced is an allegorical character created by Ayn Rand.)
Lying to your child is absolutely necessary. All the angels in Heaven and devils of Hell can not make me feel guilty about that. For starters, sometimes lies are a fun part of childhood (hello Santa). Most importantly, though, kids don’t get nuance. It's not a question of, “Well, if I explain X to them Y way they will understand.” Developmentally, there are some things they will not get no matter how many calm and scientific ways you spin it. So… just lie. It’s so much easier.
Because they are not obligated to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to. Frankly, if someone feels entitled to a toddler’s affection that’s embarrassing, not your kid not making with the smooches. In fact, more than just not feeling guilty about this one, you should back up your kid’s decisions about their bodies.
“I am never going to make my child a separate dinner. They eat what the family eats or they don’t eat.” LOLZ! Yeah, how many of us said that? I certainly did, and I look back on that version of myself with a melancholy mix of condescension, embarrassment, and admiration for her idealism.
Things started off great with both kids: they ate curry, seafood, hummus, vegetables, and even spicy stuff. But then something happened when they hit 18 months: they developed preferences… almost as if they were human! Now? Well, now we’ve all found a rotation of foods that have kept them alive and growing for six and three years respectively, so meh. I comfort myself in knowing that the pickiest eater I’ve ever known, my younger brother, now eats quite adventurously, so I live in hope.
We have been reading stories from this one super heroes book every night since April. So far, its saving grace has been that our kids choose from about six different stories in the book. But it’s getting to the point that we’ve read all of them so frequently that that book is going to get “lost” pretty soon. It will go the way of the toy steering wheel that makes really annoying driving noises, all of a particular brand of toy cars that sing songs about the type of car they are (“Do you need a tooooooow truck? Call me, I’m on the way!”), and a number of other books that I still have memorized. Toys, books, and DVDs are supposed to make a parent’s life easier, not more annoying. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty "forgetting where you put them" because they failed to live up to their end of the social contract.
Unlike Anne Shirley (above), you shouldn't break a slate over your kids' heads. But shouting or losing your cool? We all do it. Toddlers are basically designed to find out how far they can push us before we break or explode or break in an explosion. We don’t have to be proud of it, and we should strive to do better, obviously, but it’s important to remember that no one is perfect and we shouldn’t take it too much to heart.
Don’t fall for their tricks. Last week I wouldn’t let my children eat brownies at 10:00 a.m. "for lunch." I’ve decided to dub the events that ensued “Sobfest ‘17.” About five minutes into it, I went upstairs to put away laundry, figuring I may as well take advantage of the fact that their sorrow was distracting them from getting into hijinks. Amid all the weeping and gnashing of teeth, my daughter curled up on our bottom step and sniffled, “I'm sad. I'm so, so sad.” She knew damn well I could hear her and was relying on me to feel bad for her and give her the brownie. Instead I rolled my eyes and chuckled at her manipulative melodrama, shouted down, “I'm sorry your sad, darling. Mommy loves you,” and put away the rest of the laundry.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.