Each stage of motherhood feels tougher than the last, which is odd because, in the moment, you can't imagine handling anything tougher than the experiences you're already having. When a baby is born, all you want is your sleep. When they're older, all you want is not to have to hand them every toy just out of reach. Then they reach the toddler years and you have a whole new set of worries: Are they eating right? Are they sleeping enough? Are they sleeping too much? Are they keeping up with their developmental milestones? What's the best way to discipline them? Here are 5 lessons 90's kids should pass on to their children.
With all these worries rebounding through my head, I tried to be the best mom I could be to my toddler, but there are a few pieces of advice I wish I'd never given him. Here they are; learn from my mistakes.
"Stop playing with your food!"
Sometimes it seemed like my son didn't eat anything at all. I'd find graham crackers in his shorts, juice running down his shirt and peas mashed inexplicably in his eyebrows. I was sure he wasn't getting enough to eat, so I'd load his tray with more food and it would just end up on the floor or in his lap. Knowing he wouldn't listen to me but unable to contain it anymore, I'd occasionally chasten him in exasperation to stop playing with his food.
He didn't stop, of course, and I realize now it's good he didn't. When he was hungry enough, he ate, and he gained weight at an appropriate rate. Mealtime isn't always about stuffing food down a toddler's gullet. Sometimes it's about letting him explore tastes, textures, smells, and consequences. (Toddlers hate being cleaned up, but they learn that's a consequence of playing with their food.) He was also developing his fine motor skills, learning how gravity works, and understanding cause and effect. (How much pressure must I exert to squish this pea?) Stop stressing about the mess, and let him play
"You're fine, stop crying."
My toddler would sometimes cry over the silliest things. A monkey at the zoo stared at him too long. The ladybug flew away. He couldn't fit the remote control inside his Sippy cup. I'd comfort him and care for him when his sadness seemed reasonable, but for these nonsensical things, I hadn't much patience.
However, who was I to know how reasonable these "silly" things were in the eyes of my child? That was a big, scary-looking monkey. My son didn't know the glass would keep the monkey from getting him. The ladybug was pretty, and for all he knew he would never see one again. The remote control wasn't following the laws of nature, was the world about to end? Even when a toddler cries over silly things, it's best to have patience and compassion. Otherwise, he'll feel that his feelings don't matter and put less faith in us in the future. Give him validation, it's what adults want, too, right?
"Let mommy do it for you."
Of course, there are many things toddlers can't do for themselves, like picking out healthy food or washing their own clothes, but that doesn't mean we have to do everything for them. I was often in a hurry, unwilling to wait the extra time it took my son to put on his shoes or walk across the parking lot. But what are we teaching our kids if we never give them a chance to make their own decisions?
Instead of automatically taking matters into your own hands every time there's a decision to be made, allow your toddler the chance to decide. Have her help you pick out healthy foods at the grocery store, then give her a choice of which ones she'd like to eat for lunch. When clothes get dirty, have your toddler help you rub the clothes with water so they know what makes the dirt go away. They won't always appreciate the chance to make the decision, but allowing them to exert their independence will help make them more confident children and adults.
"Quit playing with that toilet paper roll and play with one of these toys mommy and daddy spent money on for you."
This felt like a constant refrain during my son's toddler years. He was far more interested in the Tupperware, the furniture, the spatulas and the doorstops than he ever was in all those toys we bought for him. It seemed like such a waste, and I'd sometimes interrupt his play with the household items trying to interest him in some toy or other.
Looking back, I wish we hadn't bought so many toys. He liked banging on the Tupperware with a big spoon and flicking the doorstop way more than he liked tossing a ball around, and that's just fine. Pediatricians refer to toddlers as "little scientists" because they're constantly trying to figure out how things work. Play is their form of work, and they can learn a lot from doing their own experimentation.
Mothers will always worry about whether they're doing a good job, it's what mothers do. But try to relax once in a while and just observe. Your toddler can learn a lot on his own, and by staying silent and watching him, you may learn something, too.