I can never answer particularly well when people ask me what the "hardest stage" is for parenting. On the one hand, the postpartum period (the first few months after giving birth) is brutal. You're exhausted, you're healing, and you're learning absolutely everything all while working 24/7 to keep your little one fed, warm, and happy. On the other hand, f*cking toddlers, man! At that age they are extremely good at getting themselves into sticky situations and just awful at getting themselves out of them. But there are, fortunately, times the postpartum struggle prepares you for toddlerhood, because parenthood is all about building upon experiences so that, slowly, over time, you get better and better at it.
And thank goodness, because parenting a toddler is not for the faint of heart! They're adorable, constantly evolving, sticky balls of pure love and righteous fury seemingly hellbent on melting your heart and pushing your buttons simultaneously. They contain multitudes, and you'll be well served to discover each and every facet of their gem-like personalities because if you don't, well... let's not get into the fallout.
Fortunately, the postpartum period (also not for the faint of heart) provides fertile training ground and learning opportunities for your future as a parent to an unruly, incredible, exhausting, loving toddler. For example:
Constant Mood Swings
The postpartum period is marked, in part, by an incredible and uncontrollable surge of hormones flooding through your body. This has the not-always-so-great effect of making your feel everything extra big. That's sort of nice when things are going well, but it's not so nice when you're overwhelmed and exhausted and the baby won't stop crying. And the difference between nice and not-so-nice can change in the blink of an eye because, again, hormones.
Mercifully, in most cases, the hormones tend to level out after a few weeks and have the added bonus of helping you down the road... because those mood swings and enormous emotions? That's how your toddler feels 24/7 for, like, three years. So it gives you a little insight into their tiny tantrum-throwing brains.
There's Pee & Poop Everywhere
Infants are always having massive poop-filled blowouts or peeing in your face as soon as the diaper comes off (it's worse with boys but do not for an instance think that if you have a daughter you get out of getting peed on constantly). Then it gets better, both as your child releases their bowels and bladder less and you get better at diapering them.
Then you get to the potty training stage where, once again, everything you love will be absolutely covered in filth. Fortunately, the infant stage has sort of prepared you for what this will be like.
You're Always Tired
Generally speaking, you will be getting more shut-eye once your child leaves the infant stage, as they probably won't be waking up every few hours to eat (or cry for no good reason). That said, the exhaustion you experienced when you were sleeping in two hour increments will be replaced by the exhaustion of chasing after a toddler. I don't know where they pull their energy from but that well is fathomless, my friends.
There's also (I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this) a chance that your toddler won't sleep all that much better than your infant.
I'm so, so sorry.
Stupid Things Are Super Important
When it comes to newborns, blame the hormones, blame the inexperience, blame the delicate and precarious balance one must maintain for things to run smoothly, but tiny things take on massive emotional significance. Like, yes, all the bottles look exactly the same, but my baby needs this bottle or her entire routine is going to go down the toilet, and with it, all my hopes and dreams.
And, honestly, I'm really not blaming anyone for this or saying it's stupid or wrong, because we cling to whatever flotsam we can in this postpartum maelstrom.
Toddlers? I don't know what their excuse is but they're the same way. Like, did you know, for example, that if my son didn't get milk out of his My Little Pony cup when he was 2 the world was going to end? I bet you didn't know that, but based on the way he screamed about it I have to believe it's true.
Your Child Eats The Same Thing For Every Meal
Infants: breast milk or formula.
Toddlers: it could be anything, but they get into hardcore food ruts. My daughter ate yogurt for probably about 67 percent of all her meals between the ages of 18 months and... like, now. She's 4. My son is, at this point, more or less a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that gained sentience and wears clothes.
They're Still Basically Attached To You
They don't realize they've gained, like, 20 pounds, nor do they care. No, your child will still want to be carried around as though they're newborns. They DGAF about your aching back or desire to use your hands for the first time since they slithered out of you.
Google Remains Your BFF
Because even after knowing them for over a year, these little creatures remain a baffling mystery. In my experience, the furiously typed searches tend to slow around the time they're close to 4 and you can talk to them about what's going on in their weird little brains. But before that it's all about Google and online mom groups giving you the answers you need to make it through another day.
When my breastfed babies were infants, I told my husband that I often felt like an all-you-can-eat buffet. If they felt there was a boob nearby they wanted some of it. It's like having a bowl of M&Ms at your desk at work: you didn't think you were hungry, but within a day they're gone. You just can't help yourself. And a breast is the M&M bowl that constantly refills the more you deplete it, so there's no signal that you can stop. And it's OK: infants do need to eat very frequently, what so their brains and bodies can develop appropriately.
Toddlers take this mentality with them, even after they no longer have to nosh every couple hours. My life as a toddler mom was basically just thinking of things I had to do in-between getting someone a snack.
Multiple Costume Changes A Day
For infants, these frequent changes are usually because they have managed to soak whatever they're wearing with [insert body fluid here]. For toddlers, it's because "This shirt is itchy!" "These are not my favorite pants!" "This sock has a line on it!"
The list goes on and on and never, ever makes a lick of sense.
Development Of Superhuman Mom Hearing
This is a superpower that appears to stay with you for a long time, and it's developed in the newborn phase, when you're constantly worried that the baby is either crying or in some form of danger or distress. You. Hear. Everything.
This absolutely comes in handy when you have a toddler and you're like "It's quiet. Too quiet."
Your Infant & Your Toddler Are The Same Person
This isn't to say that their personalities are written in stone from day one (thank goodness in the case of collicky babies), but you will absolutely be seeing some running themes from your child's infancy onward. The little tics and quirks you notice when their infants will, in many cases, continue to make appearances as they age.
Getting to know them in that initial postpartum period will often let you know what you're in for during the toddler years.