Having toddlers is like having tiny little thieves sneaking around your house snatching away your most valuable treasures almost as quickly as that empty box of goldfish that you bought just this morning. Most of the time it’s incredibly obvious that your toddler is getting into something and yet, they somehow manage to steal your wallet or your wedding ring and all of your jewelry without even making a sound through the whole process. If you are wondering, I have lost all of those things, never to be found again. In fact, my wallet went missing just a few weeks ago and we have witnesses that can testify that my wallet was indeed sitting in the living room moments before it disappeared. The answer is clear; our one year old has been proven guilty.
The day I lost my wedding ring, I was overwhelmed with grief. To lose something so precious and so valuable was disturbing and left me feeling like a failure. At the time, I only had one child (I now have three) and again it was so obvious that she had stolen it as my husband and I knew exactly where it had been (the same place it always was when I needed to take it off) mere moments before. Needless to say, I rarely invest in expensive jewelry or items these days. It just feels much safer to wait until the littles have grown, but perhaps even then I will still find that my items come up missing.
Being a parent is no small feat. You give up a lot. Toddlers spend so much time throwing everything they can possibly find into either the trashcan or the toilet. They break your most expensive dishes and they regularly try to see how invincible they are by throwing theirselves off of the kitchen counters that they have managed to push a chair against and climb onto. It’s truly a wild experience and it can leave even the most centered parent feeling disgruntled and like they have completely lost control of their children, their homes, and ultimately, their very lives.
The hardest moments of my life have come from chasing toddlers up and down stairs, catching them unexpectedly as they fling towards me from the sofa, navigating public potty accidents, and figuring out how to get a screaming child to just sit for a glorious second in their highchair while waiting for our food to be brought out to our table. The back of my head is still missing hairs from the many times that my kids have individually tried to punish me while riding around in their carrier on my back. There’s a lot of firsts and a lot of self reflection that happens throughout these years, but oh my goodness, I would do it all again (and am currently still chasing around my last toddler as I attempt to write about how exhausting it can be to chase around toddlers). To be a mother is to learn to love someone who sometimes doesn’t want to be loved.
For the first few years of parenting, I truly felt like I was drowning. My life had been turned upside down and everything seemed to be moving so much slower than normal. Days no longer felt like a mere twenty-four hours, but rather they seemed to last for months. If only I could just make it to bedtime…then I would be able to rest for maybe even one moment, until the baby woke up and started trying to climb out of its bed at two in the morning. But then, every time I would look into the eyes of one of my children, even through the grogginess of my exhaustion, the amount of love that I would feel easily erased all of the frustration and questioning of if I was doing this right, because by just looking at them and seeing their goofy little smiles and mischievous eyes, I knew for certain that I was doing this whole parenting thing in the very best kind of way.
Through the years, I have learned to step back and let my kids be kids, listening to them as the people they are and cherishing them for the people they will one day become. Surviving toddlerhood became much less about surviving and much more about serving them through also taking care of myself. Sometimes we think that we have to give all of ourselves to our kids in order to really be the “gold medal” parent, but when we can take that much needed step back, love on ourselves, and then dive headfirst into the chaos again, we become better for it. These little people need so much time and energy and they truly are remarkable at demanding every ounce of your attention, but by taking care of myself first and loving myself first, I am able to keep up and thrive in motherhood, loving them in unimaginable ways.
You don’t have to just get through the hard years. I started challenging this very sentiment as I wrestled through the toddler years with my first born. I didn’t want to just get through; I wanted to savor it and lean into the crazy, because my God, is it short. So, instead of letting myself get depleted and overwhelmed by the thousands of demands and antics of my little ones, I started giving myself permission to take breaks when I needed them; to go out and do the things that I loved rather than only going to mommy and me dates. I let go of the guilt and the fear that I wasn’t enough or doing enough for them, and in doing so, I became more than enough because by just being someone who loves them unconditionally and listens to their little voices I gave them what they needed most from me.
The hardest moments of my life may have come from raising toddlers, but the very best moments have come as well. My heart has expanded in ways I once believed impossible and I am so much better for it. I imagine my tiny thieves will always be misplacing my items and possibly throwing away things that I really would rather keep, but amidst it all, I am so grateful to know that surviving toddlerhood isn’t the only option. There’s also the option to take care of yourself so that, in turn, you can give the best of yourself to them.