When I was heavily pregnant with my first baby, back in 2009, I asked a friend who already had two children what advice she would give me as a new mum. Her children were five and one and a half at that point.
“Make the most of the time when they stay still and don’t go anywhere,” she told me. “When they start moving, that’s when things get hard.”
I didn’t quite understand what she meant. Surely having a newborn baby keeping you up all night, feeding constantly, constantly needing to be held and going through several nappies a day is the hard bit? That’s why everyone tells you to sleep when your baby sleeps and not to be afraid to take help when it’s offered.
Yes, the fog of sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn is hard. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, after all.
But personally, I’ve found the toddler stage way more tiring than the baby stage ever was. And, although I’m sure not everyone would agree, a lot of friends tell me the same. As one friend recently said to me, “Newborns are wasted on first-time mums!”
With my first baby, those growth spurts when she would feed all day were physically and mentally shattering. But at least I could sit on my settee and watch what I wanted on the television whilst doing so. Granted, it wasn’t quite the same with babies two and three when I would be feeding while running round soft play or the park, but in hindsight, having one toddler and one newborn who didn’t go anywhere was a lot easier than having two running off in different directions.
And yes, there are loads of nappies with a newborn. But at least for the first six months or so, babies stay still while you change them. As they get older, they crawl or run off mid-change, or wriggle around twisting and contorting, as you desperately try to prevent the contents of their nappy from smearing onto the floor or your clothing.
I remember spending much of the early months of my daughter’s life sat in coffee shops nattering with my mummy mates. Yes, there were difficult moments among our group – reflux, colic, breastfeeding problems, and generally being knackered. But we could have a grown-up conversation and drink a hot drink while it was still hot, our babies in our arms, or lying in their prams right next to us.
And then when our babies got bigger, we progressed to soft play – and it became the standing joke that we never reached the end of a grown-up conversation because someone’s child would always be running off somewhere, or asking for something.
This is my third round of parenting a toddler, with my youngest now 2¼. And as there are 21 months between my first two, and 2.5 years between my second two, I have been in that toddler zone for a long, long time.
I might be getting more sleep at night these days – and this is the first time I’ve had a toddler and not been pregnant or had a newborn to look after – but I find the day times knackering. Yes, I know I have three children, and that’s a lot more full on than having one. But even the times when I just have my toddler, when his sister is at school and brother at pre-school, are tiring.
From the moment Toddler wakes up, until the moment he goes to bed, he is like a fully-charged Duracell bunny, unable to stop.
My big two are now 4 and 6 and pretty independent. They don’t need much help from me. Whereas toddler still does. He currently hates getting changed, and screams and kicks when I try to get him out of his pyjamas and into his day clothes. And then he protests just as much when I try to get him out of those clothes ready for his bath and bed.
He’s refused to go in a high chair for quite a while now, but hasn’t quite mastered the art of sitting down at the table to eat his food. Mealtimes he, and I, are up and down all over the place, as he tries to push the boundaries and I try to reign him in.
Some days he hates going into his car seat or buggy. It’s not really an option when we have to get his big sister to school on time, so I find myself persuading/wrestling with him, amazed that I can be physically overpowered by a two-year-old.
As I’ve mentioned before on Cardiff Mummy Says, he loves to climb. If I’m trying to cook the tea or whatever, he’s on top of the table or the work surfaces in a matter of seconds. He likes to hold onto my legs, making it difficult for me to do anything, so I often find myself cuddling him with one arm, while getting on with the task in hand with the other. And he’s a lot heavier than he used to be. If we’re out and about, he’s constantly running off, me trailing behind him.
We’re not at the constant questions stage yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long before the ‘but why?’ starts. As much as I love helping my children discover more about the world, I know how mentally exhausting it can be trying to find answers for things that don’t necessarily have answers.
He dropped his daily nap a few weeks ago too, so the hour or so of calm I had is no more. But he often gets quite tired towards the end of the day, while he adjusts to not having this sleep, and when he’s overtired, the tantrums get worse.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s so much I adore about this stage too. He’s such fun company at the moment; he’s always making people laugh and being all kinds of cute. Everything is an adventure and his natural curiosity really makes me pause and truly appreciate things.
But I must admit that when he (and his big brother and sister go to bed), I am grateful for a few moment of absolute silence to close my eyes and just breathe. A few moments when no one wants anything from me, when no one is pulling at my clothes or wanting me to help them with something.
Parenting a toddler can be wonderful at times. Rewarding, exciting, full of fun and laughter. But it’s full on too. And I, for one, find it exhausting!
At least until we hit the threenager stage, that is!
For all my posts on parenting, visit the Family Life section of Cardiff Mummy Says.
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