Courtesy of Christie Drozdowski

Bonding With My Toddler Is Really Hard For Me

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“The toddlers are coming! Run!” the little girl shouted. I watched her climb down from the play equipment in the Chick-fil-A playground, presuming she was about 5 years old. She bustled toward the door while two fumbling toddlers followed behind her giggling. My 10-month-old daughter stood shakily as I knelt behind her and played with the toys on the playground wall, not fully aware of the commotion of child’s play around her. “Soon,” I half-whispered to her, “that’ll be you, won’t it?” As I think back to that instance months ago, I admittedly feel like now I’m the one running from the petulant toddler who has suddenly inhabited my 18 month old, and “the toddler is coming, run” basically feels like my current life motto. (That Chick-fil-A kid was so accurate.) I’m not joking when I say that on several occasions recently, I’ve thought to myself, Yep, this mom thing isn’t doing it for me anymore. Of course, my truest and deepest feelings are far from that statement because the beautiful, wonderful moments of motherhood outshine the total crap ones. But that doesn’t mean that the total crap ones are easy to overlook. Those bits often weigh heavy on my mind.

It doesn’t feel good to admit that I love my child deeply yet sometimes I just want her out of my way so I can freaking do anything without it being interrupted. I wake up, and there she is. I go to pee, and there she is throwing her bath toys in the tub, screaming for me to get them back for her before I can even get off the toilet. I feed her breakfast, and half the time it isn’t prepared quickly enough before she’s shouting from her high chair. And then of course, eating my own breakfast (on the rare occasion that happens, because why try?) can’t happen without “mama” accompanied by pointing at my food incessantly as if she’ll starve if I don’t share.

All in just the first 20 minutes of the day.

Courtesy of Christie Drozdowski

Completing daily chores requires the immense effort to include her in the job somehow, like letting her put her clean clothes in her drawer (also known as, her dumping them everywhere) while I fold my own, or having her hand me the silverware out of the dishwasher basket (but snatching the spoons before she can lick each of them) so I can put them in the drawer. Inevitably, this slows down the process of getting anything done. And yes, on the other hand, her being a part of everything also often adds sweet moments to my day I wouldn’t otherwise have.

I’m aware this is all a small phase of her life — a crucial one, nonetheless — and that it will soon pass, but it doesn’t do me any good in the moment to hear the phrase, “you’ll miss this age when she’s older.” That’s great, but what do I actually do with these negative feelings right now? My daughter is in a major transition of her young life, but I’m transitioning too.

But because doing anything productive is so difficult, my days become a series of reading the same books over and over, spotting my brave little climber on the make-shift laundry basket/coffee table/couch obstacle course, repetitively making animal noises, pointing and naming colors, foods, etc., going to the playground, and singing the theme songs to her favorite cartoons. Sweet, but not my preferred personal choice of activities. These are the things that do, in fact, build my bond with my toddler, help her grow and learn, and make her feel connected to me. But they aren’t things that make me feel connected to her. I’m “speaking her language,” but she can’t quite speak mine yet.

The nurturing, selfless mother part of me says, “She’s so little. Be gracious, patient, and cherish these moments.” The never-liked-being-around-small-children and slightly introverted part of me says, “Can somebody please get this crazy tot out of here and bring her back when she’s older?” So far, my experience as a mom of a toddler is often all the conflicting parts of myself battling it out to see who will prevail in any given circumstance, which is really just me beating myself up and often feeling like I’m not truly winning.

The thing is: I want to be me and not just “mama” in my relationship with her. I’m loving getting to know her, but I’m also eager for her to get to know me.

I’m aware this is all a small phase of her life — a crucial one, nonetheless — and that it will soon pass, but it doesn’t do me any good in the moment to hear the phrase, “you’ll miss this age when she’s older.” That’s great, but what do I actually do with these negative feelings right now? My daughter is in a major transition of her young life, but I’m transitioning too, and, after a year and a half of my life being turned upside down, the desire to just be able to be me and do the things that bring me joy is currently at its peak.

The thing is: I want to be me and not just “mama” in my relationship with her. I’m loving getting to know her, but I’m also eager for her to get to know me. I want her to know who I am, the things I like. It seems the toddler stage is so difficult for that, because for the most part, things really are about her right now. Her presence demands my attention and a lot of energy. When she was a baby, I was more OK with the full dependence on me and the sacrifice that meant for myself. Actually, because she was less aware of the world around her and didn’t know how to demand my attention, I had more freedom to think, to be, to do without her constantly wanting my companionship. I know I’m not there yet, but it seems this particular struggle will all be easier when she’s a school-aged kid (and can actually hold a conversation with me) who will probably want more of her own space and independence. Right now, many of her wants and needs are still guesswork for me, and though her communication with me is improving everyday, it still very much feels like a one-sided conversation.  

Motherhood is all about perspective, and for me, it’s also about an exchange my daughter and I will give to each other. I know we’ll get better at it as time goes on. For now, even though most things toddler-related aren’t fulfilling me so far, I can rest in the knowledge that feeling this way doesn’t make me a bad mom, because learning how to deal with my frustrations is certainly making me a better person.