Raise Your Hand If You've Been Personally Victimized by Your Toddler
When my son turned one I was already using the term toddler to describe him. I would call his small outbursts as tantrums, and commiserated with my mom friends about how hard our new toddlers were. Today, as the mother of a three-and-a-half-year-old, I know just how naive and silly I was. I hear these moms chatting at the park or museum, about their ‘difficult toddlers’ who are barely walking and talking. I was one of them just a few short years ago! But now, now that I know what a true tantrum is, oh what I would give for that ‘difficult toddler’ I had back then. Little did I know I had no idea what 'difficult' was. If I could have only seen into my future then I would have appreciated his calm demeanor.
My son has always been hard headed, particular, and very loud when expressing his needs and desires. I’ve always been grateful for his ability to communicate with me-allowing me to fill his needs most of the time. But then he turned three. Now I don’t live under a rock, I know three is a notoriously rough age-but nothing could have prepared me for this. It’s not like I wasn’t warned, my friends with older kids told me, the internet shoves articles down my throat all day about how to handle a headstrong toddler yet this hit me like a train from behind. It felt like my sweet, cuddly, somewhat docile little boy turned into a raging, emotional tornado that wanted to use me as his physical and emotional punching bag. I can almost pinpoint the true tantrums back to his third birthday. I went from being the one person he was attached to at all times to the one person he just couldn’t stand. To my 'newly-three', little boy; nothing I did was right. If I planned a playdate, he wanted to stay home-if I needed a day out he cried nonstop for his friends. Forget him eating anything I put in front of him, and the EPIC meltdowns in the grocery store when I refuse to buy every crappy plastic toy we walk by.
I started to feel like I was the worst mother in the world. I felt like I was trying my best and nothing made things easier. In fact, the thing that was most effective in correcting his behaviors was ‘mean mom’. My whole life, and before my son turning three, I practiced gentle parenting. Always using distraction or positive encouragement in place of punishment or negative consequences. My husband had to force me to do a version of cry it out finally at 8 months when I was beyond exhaustion. I was a positive parent, a gentle parent-that was one thing I knew. Then we hit three. I tried to stay gentle and get down to his level-he began headbutting me and hitting. I tried being calm and quiet when talking to him-he would yell loudly so I could not be heard. I felt like I was failing my son, I was failing myself and I was failing my husband. I was frustrated and felt like I was being personally attacked by my toddler daily. I didn’t want to go out because I had no idea when his next burst of defiance would hit, I was embarrassed and defeated by my inability to parent him.
In this low place I turned to Pinterest, and Barnes and Noble, and Google; I researched all the possible ways to parent a toddler. I started reading everything I could get my hands on and talking to as many other mothers as I could. And then I started to do things, things that didn’t come to me naturally. I became stern, I laid out clear boundaries and stuck to my guns. We began timeouts and repercussions for naughty behavior. This wasn’t the type of parenting that came naturally to me, I wanted to snuggle and talk our troubles away but that’s not what my son needed from me-and that’s when I made a realization which I think all toddler moms need to hear.
Sometimes the mother your child needs is not the mother you always dreamt you would be.
My son needs boundaries and consequences. He is smart, stubborn, and headstrong which means he will always be pushing his boundaries-and mine! And that doesn’t make me a bad mother. Yes, my toddler hurts my feelings all the time. Yes, I doubt if I’m doing what’s best for him every single day. AND THAT’S NORMAL. So, if you too have been personally victimized by your toddler, you are not alone-and you are still a great mom.