I have always been afraid of toddlers; afraid of their screaming, their throwing, their hitting, their blatant disregard for your feelings. Babysitting since the age of 12 and nannying through my young adult years confirmed this over and over again. I loved the babies but dreaded the two year olds. Fussy newborn? No problem. Tantruming toddler? Throw me the car keys because I’m out of here.
I knew it would be different when it was my own, but would it be that different? Even in the days of pregnancy bliss I worried about toddlers. I pictured Austin leaving me every day in the middle of a giant, sticky mess with a noisy little boy ripping my house apart. I pictured crying and screaming and juice all over the floor. I pictured myself covered in crumbs.
Now that I’m here, it’s almost surreal. A parent of a toddler? Is this really me? I look in the mirror and find my hair disheveled and shirt stained with Popsicle. Is this who I’ve become? Am I in the trenches?
In this TED talk, Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman talk about the taboos inside the parenting bubble. In short, the things that parents are afraid to say out loud. Ranking in at #4 is that new parents are generally embarrassed to admit that their average happiness has declined since the birth of their first child, even though science and studies clearly shows that it does.
Here is a typical person’s average happiness over his/her lifespan:
According to the chart, I will not be happy again until I’m 50, wearing high-waisted jeans, and saying things like, “You go, girl!”
Luckily this graph only shows average happiness, which does not account for moment-to-moment experiences. According to Grisom and Volkman, this is what the chart would look like if you overlay these moment-to-moment experiences:
As you can see, there is a constant surge of emotions when raising a child, leveling off when the kids leave the nest. As Griscom puts it, “it’s almost as if age is a form of lithium.”
After our children are grown, our average happiness goes up, but we lose those transcendent moments.
I’ve heard that entering the toddler years is like entering the trenches; it’s the beginning of a long road, a battle between your sanity and the most irrational relationships you’ll ever be in. The highs are high, but the lows are low.
I guess I just didn’t expect it would be so soon.
It is widely disputed where toddlerhood begins and where infancy ends. Some say it’s when a child starts walking, others say it’s not until the ripe old age of two. I think it’s partly up to the child, but mostly about the parent’s level of denial. When Waylon threw his first tantrum he was barely walking and I knew it was the beginning of the end. At first I tried to ignore it, but the truth is he crawled early, walked early, and is entering the toddler years early.
It may sound like I’m bragging, but really I’m just asking for your sympathetic nods, your advice, and your resounding IT WILL GET BETTERs. Because even though I know that splashing in the toilet, throwing food, ripping pages out of books, and whining at my feet are not the behaviors of a sociopath, but the behaviors of normal child development, it’s still hard.
Entering the trenches of toddlerhood is a rite of passage in parenthood.
It’s when you realize that being a parent is a lot more like a frat party than a tea party. It’s loud, sticky, and there’s always a chance you might have to clean up vomit.
Good luck, self. Good luck.