The other day I went on an errand with my 3-year-old. She was well-behaved, for the most part, but frequently wanted to explore the store while I sat with the customer service representative. Or take off her shoes. Or lay all the toys she brought in the middle of the floor. I was a little frazzled, trying to control her and conduct my business, and worried about judgement. Then the manager came up to us, said, "She's so cute," and smiled. "She's being so good." Of all the things every toddler mom needs to hear, a well-timed compliment and understanding in moments like that is high up on the list. Why? Because parenting a toddler is hard, and it's easy to feel defeated, inadequate, overwhelmed, and judged on a regular basis.
Don't get me wrong: I love the toddler years. Toddlers mispronounce words in hilarious and adorable ways. Their confidence, despite overwhelming naïveté and lack of physical coordination, inspires as much awe as it does giggles. And have you ever seen a toddler around bubbles? They lose their damn minds. That kind of joy is contagious. But toddlers, in my experience, tend to operate in extremes. The highs are high but the lows are, well, sometimes it feels like one trap door after another straight down to Hell.
Depending on the attitudes of the people around me, my errand with my daughter could have altered the entire course of my day. Had my efforts to go back and forth between minding her and conducting my business been met with disdain or judgment, it could have thrown me into a funk that my children would have picked up on and, as a result, we'd have all been miserable. Instead, and thankfully, I had a relatively great errand-with-my-toddler experience to now use as an example of what to do right for a toddler mom.
We need encouragement, guys, so here's how you can encourage us:
"Oh, I've Been There"
A little bit of empathy can go a long way. If you're a parent who is or has raised a toddler, go ahead and assure another toddler mom that you have experienced the epic highs and unfathomable lows of life with a toddler, too. Don't try to maintain an illusion of perfection and don't, please, forget that there were some spectacularly awful days the minute your child hits the age of reason. Let them know that this happens to all parents of toddlers, so they're not doing anything wrong and it's not personal.
"No One Can Completely Control A Toddler"
You can't control someone who has no dependable measure of self-control. From a developmental standpoint, toddlers are incapable of controlling themselves in the same way an adult can. Yes, certainly, there are some parenting methods that might work better than others when it comes to getting kids to behave, but a lot of the time it's going to boil down to sheer luck more than anything a parent is or isn't doing.
"Let Me Watch Your Little One While You Go Out For A Bit"
Everyone needs some damn alone time, but I find this is especially true of caregivers. Life is hard enough when you're just managing your own nonsense, let alone someone else's. And when it comes to toddlers, nonsense abounds. The other day my 3-year-old daughter lost her damn mind because she couldn't go swimming in our pool for the completely unacceptable reason that we don't have a pool. These kind of arguments are not uncommon. That is why I am always grateful to my remarkable partner, who shoos me out of the house from time to time so I can have a breather.
"This Is Something That Helped Me & Maybe It Will Help You! Or Maybe It Won't! But It Might Be Worth A Shot?"
Choose your moment when offering advice or even suggestions, but in the proper moment and with the proper tone toddler moms welcome the opportunity to learn something from their fellow parents. Just acknowledge that you're speaking from your experience and you hope that it can help your friend in some way. I owe so many of my best parenting tips to other people cluing me in.
"Eventually, This Behavior Will Be A Good Leadership Skill"
This is one I heard a lot from my son's preschool teacher when he was 3. Bless his heart, he was a challenging kid. Fortunately, his teacher, who was both an amazing teacher and a toddler mom herself, knew what I needed to hear: that even when he was challenging he was showing qualities that, when developed and controlled, would speak to the great person he is.
"They're Still Little & Still Learning"
When you're really in the thick of #toddlerlife, it's difficult to think that there will ever be a time that you will move past whatever it is your child is or is doing at that moment. Like, if they're especially defiant, you may think to yourself, "They're never, ever, ever going to listen to authority. This child is going to prison."
But so much of the most stressful and exasperating toddler behaviors (testing boundaries, emotional outbursts, etc.) are developmentally normal and healthy. This, like every other age, is a stage. About 90 percent of what you know are things they still have to figure out, and that process can be messy.
"My Kid Can Be A Real Jerk Sometimes"
Again, tone and timing are going to be important here. Please don't try to make someone feel better about her child's poor behavior by spontaneously declaring them a jerk. But sometimes I think it can be cathartic to hear someone else admit that, yeah, kids can the worst. Why? Because all toddler parents have thought this at some point. Nevertheless, most toddler parents feel guilty about this fact because most people don't say it out loud, so you feel like you're a monster for even thinking it.
You're not. Kids can be total douches. They can't really help it most of the time, mostly because they're just naturally programmed to be selfish for a while. Still, it's irritating and it's nice to hear that you're not the only person who's noticed.
"You Know What's Best For Your Child"
It's so easy to be insecure as a toddler parent, especially as a first time toddler parent. Everything on your child's life depends on you, and what the hell do you know?! You're no expert! So it's nice to hear someone affirm the special bond you have with your beloved little one that ensures that you are making the best choices for them.
"You're Doing Great"
You love them so much, and wanting everything for them can often mean you feel like you're failing (because there's no way you can do everything). Hearing that not only are you not failing, but doing well, can be the compliment that keeps a frazzled mom afloat during a particularly tantrum-filled, tumultuous day.
Every now and then, a mother will turn to you with a pleading look in her eyes. This can often be when she feeds her child junk or gives in to an outburst or something she knows isn't ideal. That look is one pleading for absolution. One that says, "I know I should give them organic broccoli for a snack, but they love canned cheese spray and this is just not a battle I can have with them right now." A look that begs you not to think any less of her as a mother for this one transgression.
When you see this look, or hear a flustered mom attempt to justify her actions, this is when you earnestly hold up your hands and say, "Hey, no judgement, sister. Your child is happy and healthy and we all have to take this day by day."
"It Gets Better"
If you've come out the other side of toddlerhood in one piece (or at least in several pieces that could eventually be cobbled back together), let another mom know they can make it through, too. Be that inspirational figure that assures them, "If I got through it, so can you."
"Every Kid Grows Differently & At Their Own Pace"
It can be hard not to compare children. We've all done it. We've all seen that one magical toddler, wearing pristine, unstained clothing, playing quietly on the floor while their mother works on her laptop and we turn green with envy. Because in those moments, we think of how we once turned around for three seconds only to find our child taking a bath in the toilet bowl. Or we see our nieces and nephews potty trained at 18 months while our kids need to be out of diapers by September or they can't go to the preschool you've already signed them up for and it's just not looking good.
It's important to be reminded that this is not an indictment of us or our children. The swathe of normal is enormous and there is no shame in being on a different end of that spectrum.
"Your Kid Is Awesome"
Sure we know it, but sometimes it feels like the world only sees our kids at their most rambunctious or unruly. It can be really tough when a toddler parent thinks other people have decided her child is "that kid." So when you notice a toddler being particularly well-behaved, sweet, or funny, say so. It's nice to hear that other people see what we see when we look at our little ones: amazing kids.
"Let's Get Drinks"
Being a toddler mom is tough, but a beverage with a caring and sympathetic friend is a pretty powerful tonic.
"Treasure Every Minute Because, Yes, You'll Miss These Days"
HAHAHAHAHA! JUST KIDDING! Under no circumstances should you ever say this to a toddler mother who is having a particularly difficult moment. Just because, in general, parenthood is wonderful and should be appreciated doesn't mean every moment is magical. Sometimes, in fact, it is impossible to appreciate a given moment because it sucks so hard.
Say, for example, you were on wonderful vacation and then got stung by a jellyfish. How would you feel if, while jellyfish venom pulsed over your skin, someone said to you, "Treasure this moment! You're going to miss this vacation so much when it's over."