I remember very clearly the day a neighbour saw me outside with my then three and one-year-olds and remarked, “Wow, I miss those days so much.” I felt like hitting him! That reaction freaked me out and really told me there was something off in my world. I believe I smiled weakly and replied, “Yeah, the hugs are good but I’m sure you don’t miss feeling exhausted All THE TIME.”
As I sit here writing this, watching the young family across the street from me play happily outside, I’m filled with a sense of heaviness. I honestly wish I could go back and do my kid’s toddler years over again.
If you’ve been following my writing over the past five years, you’ve likely heard my story that I turned my psychotherapy focus into a parenting one when my children were born. It felt like my maternal instinct took a long time to kick in: there were hours of staring at crying little ones in complete exasperation.
The good thing is that my desperate feelings caused me to dig deep into research and my own heart to understand why I was having such a hard time parenting little ones. The result of this digging caused me to learn a great deal and be able to share that with tens of thousands of parents around the world.
Parents of toddlers, please learn from the things I regret, because had I done these eight things differently, I believe I would have had a significantly different parenting experience early on. I like to think that I’m making up for it now that I feel rested and able to connect with my children.
Sleep deprivation and exhaustion can make us feel crazy! It also clutters our decision-making abilities and clouds our good judgment. It is normal and expected that parents of young children won’t get enough sleep or rest (sorry!) so please make changes to your schedule to allow much-needed regrouping time. You don’t get more points for declaring your high level of tiredness each day. I regret not protecting some time each day just to feel like I had my feet under me again. I dragged myself into bed at the end of the day just too many times.
I will collapse into tears if I think too long about the yucky parenting strategies I used with my first-born and how many disagreements my husband and I had about what to do in the many challenging situations that happened with young kids.
I didn’t take the time to learn about positive parenting early on (I invite you over to my Facebook page for more information) and often had no clue what to do with my flailing toddler who wouldn’t get into his pajamas, for example. Now, I know one simple phrase that will encourage my children to follow instructions when that is necessary. I wrote about those phrases in this post that has been shared over a quarter of a million times! I actually put those into an app, too, so I could have them on my phone whenever I needed them.
Once I had strategies I felt comfortable with, I wish I had sat down with my husband more often to hear his take on things and come up with a common plan together. It’s one thing to try to get a little one to brush her teeth, and another when you’re feeling mad at another adult for doing it a way you disagree with. Those conversations are very important and worth taking time for.
I used to think that I had to do everything to feel and look competent as a mother. Now I wish I could change the story I was telling myself about that. I didn’t get more good-mother-points for cutting the grass, making homemade meals everyday, and cleaning my house. My regret here is that I didn’t just cut myself some slack and go pick up dinner or pull money from one part of our house budget out and put that into getting a house cleaner.
I was washing diapers, making organic homemade baby-food and just trying too hard to be a “gold-star” mother. I’m happy I did those things, but wished I had then taken things off my list in other areas.
It’s amazing the stories we tell ourselves about how our children will develop or how they are doing. I remember telling myself that I had to be around them all the time in order for our connection to develop as strongly as it could. I was wrong.
I discovered a little too late that I was able to connect with my young children better after I had some time to myself to hear my thoughts, have a nice shower, or just not keep eating peanut butter sandwiches every day. Time to myself has been really important to me and I am a better mother when I take that time.
This question was an important one for me: What fills my bucket?
I went several years so ultra focused on my children’s needs (and the house’s needs and my husband’s needs) that mine got pushed too far into the background. I remember feeling angry quite a lot over a period of a year, and think now in retrospect that I was experiencing resentment that everyone else was getting taken care of but me. Now I regularly write down what my needs are and take the time to consider how I can fulfill those while still being the mother and partner I want to be. The process of continually checking in on my needs and how to fill those has helped me feel much more content.
This post of mine about staying connected with our partners while parenting little ones has also been shared an extraordinary number of times. I regret not spending more time connecting with my husband and really hearing him.
I recall the confidence I felt being able to stand and speak in front of a huge room with hundreds of people in it but stare at my upset child in distress while insecurity wreaked havoc on my self-talk. When we understand more about how toddlers and preschoolers work, we can accept that this is just who they are. You will repeat yourself, repeat your daily tasks, be physically challenged, and mentally drained. I wish I had accepted that state more rather than being so angry it was happening. I suppose “surrender” is a good word for that situation.
At the end of each day, I suggest laying in bed and giving yourself a hug and reminding yourself that parenting can be really tough: you’re not alone. We all do things we wish we didn’t – please forgive yourself of those moments. Take your regrets and wishes and turn those into goals for the next day. And as my supervisor used to say, “Carry on bravely.”