I don't know about you, but before I had children of my own, I definitely had a beatific vision in mind of family life. My children would not scream or throw tantrums, they would be spirited yet yield to parental instructions, they would eat what I put in front of them and we would all go on our merry way. We would be a vision of the Holy Family for the world to behold.
Enter reality. Last time I checked, I am not the Virgin Mary. My child is not Jesus. Besides which, even Jesus gave his parents a bit of gray hair now and then. Remember when they had to go back to the temple for him?
As much as I hate to admit it, the stress of having a full fledged toddler in my home has sent me overboard on more than one occasion. They don't call it the terrible twos, or threes...or teenage years...for nothing. I'm sticking to the twos for now of course (though I'm pretty sure she is 2 going on 13). It's only recently that I have begun to find things to help talk me down from the ledge when I have had enough...or to prevent me from climbing up in the first place. Sadly, I still go down a spiral to crazytown more often than I would like, but these few things do help me to keep perspective and sanity in tact. I hope you will find them useful as well unless you do have a modern day replica of the Holy Family...and if you do, please leave me contact information so I can come visit and learn your tricks!
1) Always have a go-to prayer. When I start to feel my blood pressure rise or the steam start collecting in my ears, I rely on a couple of standard prayers (if I remember). A quick Hail Mary or ten to ask the Blessed Mother's intercession and a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel are standard weapons in my arsenal. I am getting better about letting my first instinct be prayer instead of sighs or anger, but I am a work in progress. Nevertheless, find a few prayers that calm you and bring perspective and tattoo them on your lips, figuratively speaking of course. Please do not actually tattoo prayers on your lips.
2) Remember that timing is everything. Know what works for your toddler and stick to it. We get a lot of flack for showing up late to things if they happen to start at or during naptime. It's ok. I'd rather deal with some flack than a meltdown because someone is over tired. Also, remember that toddlers take their sweet time and give yourself an extra half hour or so when you need to get somewhere at a specific time. If you really need to leave at ten, just tell yourself you need to leave at 9:30. Inevitably someone will need a diaper change or potty break or lose a shoe or have a meltdown because they wanted the blue shirt and not the green one. Give yourself time. If there is not a firm time for you to get somewhere, let go of your timetable. Just be flexible and learn to go at toddler speed no matter how much you just want get going or get done with whatever you are doing. It's tough for a control freak like me, but it makes life easier. Besides, God is the author of all time and He's got it under control.
3) Admit defeat - know yourself and ask for help. There are going to be times where it just feels like too much. You're not a failure. You are human. Don't be afraid to ask for help, especially from your spouse. As mothers, we naturally take on the role of nurturer and child rearer to a greater extent in most families. This doesn't mean fathers don't need or want to play a role. Be sure you make your needs known and allow them to help. It's a lesson I am still learning, and one my husband forces upon me when he sees the nerves starting to fray. If not your spouse for whatever reason, find a friend, a family member, someone from church - find support so you are not in it alone. Parenting was never meant to be a solo act.
4) Along those lines, allow yourself to take a breather. There have been days where the constant noise simply gets to be too much and the attempted bartering or high emotion threatens to overwhelm me. I have been known to make sure the kids are in a safe spot and just walk out onto the front porch for two minutes to breathe. Get fresh air, silence your mind, bring in those prayers. It is okay to step away from the madness to reassess your situation.
5) Be flexible. Choose your battles - they will change daily based on what the needs of the day are. Some days she will just not be able to wear the clothes she wants to, and other days she can dress herself in the bathing suit top and pajama bottoms to her heart's content. Safety always comes first, then manners, of course. There are non-negotiables, but beyond them, be flexible. Is what you are beginning to stress about really all that important or can you let it go and move on? If it is just your preference and would have no lasting impact, maybe it is time to surrender.
6) Plan one fun thing a day. Whether it is a project, game, outing or other activity, plan on having fun, and when possible, let your toddler help decide what that fun might be. Present some options and then see their face light up. That's always great at reducing stress! Some days it may be someone else's charge to go have fun because you are truly too busy (or sick), but join in when you can.
7) Pick just ONE thing you want to accomplish for your day. I know there are days where it seems like there are at least one thousand and one things to do before the sun sets, but I assure you, most of those things can wait. If you work from home, designate a specific time you will do that. If you have important tasks to take care of, make it into a fun game or outing with the kids if you can. Otherwise, just pick one thing. I have a beautiful chore chart hanging on the kitchen wall gathering dust. I picked one room per day that I would focus on with chores. I need to get back to that so I don't go into automatic shutdown mode when I look at all that needs to be done in the house. Pick one thing.
8) Mass... Say this ten times fast: "Mass is not designed for kids. Mass is not designed for kids. Mass is not..." You get the picture. Again, I had beatific visions of angels in white garments sitting quietly and piously in church. Stop laughing. Our Li'l G loves to talk. Little dude loves to move. Mass is not designed for young children. Still take them. Hopefully you have a pastor and community that supports the beautiful example you are setting by bringing your children faithfully, no matter how disruptive they are. If you don't, perhaps send them a little note asking for more support and reminding them that Jesus asks the children to come to Him? Too much? Honestly it is a pet peeve of mine to know that there are pastors out there who belittle families with children that misbehave. Yes, I was an eye roller before kids, but I knew they needed to be there. After kids, I am more sympathetic, though I still think your child should not spit on mine without you intervening. That is the other point with Mass. Let go of the notion that church is a quiet time for you to pray. Unless you split Masses (which I recommend on occasion), it is a time for you to be introducing your children to Jesus, to the church and helping them learn. Sometimes it means stepping out into the gathering space or cry room, but not isolating them from the community. It is their community. It is the community that baptized them. Bring them and do not be afraid. Just lower your expectations of silence.
9) Throw away your measuring stick. I've said it before, I will say it again, and I will glare at you if you use my own words against me. The devil is in the details of comparison. Jesus even asks Simon Peter, what is it to you what I have asked of him? Worry instead about what I ask of you! (Paraphrased, of course.) Take this and run with it. Know your child and work with that. Don't worry about family X down the road or mommy Y whose blog you read. Be prayerful and know what the Lord is asking of you in raising your child. Johnny isn't potty trained yet but Sam is? Oh well...is he in college yet? You didn't breast feed, but Susie down the way says it is the only way to go? Is your child healthy and thriving? Then don't worry about it. You stay at home, but Gretchen can't imagine not working? Good for her! Jenny uses cloth diapers and frowns at your garbage pail of disposables? Just smile and walk away...and don't frown at someone else. There are going to be a gazillion and one choices you will have to make. As long as you are discerning your course prayerfully and responsibly and giving of yourself to your child, c'est la vie!
10) Take fun photos. Maybe this is just the photographer in me, but I find that if I take photos throughout the week, when things get really dicey I can look back on the real blessing that is in my life through the presence of my children, even at the end of every day. By taking photos, I very literally capture their image, which reminds me whose image they truly reflect. Created in His image and likeness, temples of the Holy Spirit, they have been entrusted to me for this moment in time. They try my patience, but they are meant to stretch me. They are needy, but they are meant to be. They are my path to heaven, and we know that the road is going to be marked with challenges as we strip away the worldliness we acquire in life. Why not let those challenges come with an entertaining photo strip!
So there you have it. I shall henceforth be a cool as a cucumber with our toddler(s). Stop laughing! Ok, ok, here's hoping life with a toddler becomes more joyful and less stressful as I learn to let go.