Surviving toddlerhood: sleep training, meal negotiating, and discovering How It Really Is

Guest post by Chicago Jill
Ye old battle axe
By: Juhan SoninCC BY 2.0

I’ve been having a tough time inside my head lately. Kiddo is now a year-and-a-half old and in full-blown toddler mode. It seems that nothing I do is right. She doesn’t want to eat what I give her when I give it to her. She doesn’t want to sleep when it’s time to sleep. When I come home from work, she breaks out into a big smile and yells, “Mama!” and leaps into my arms. She gives me a big hug and then a switch suddenly flips in her tiny brain. She pulls away with an angry look and hits me in the face. I don’t mean some little baby slap — this kid can hit. She then attempts to backflip out of my arms and thrashes around for a while, throwing an epic fit. Her head slowly rotates 180 degrees upon her neck to face backwards and a pea soup substance violently shoots from her mouth, coating the walls and floor. An unknown man’s voice erupts from deep inside of her, “THERE IS NO KIDDO, ONLY ZUUL.”

Ok, a few of those things don’t actually happen, but they might as well.

I’ve been struggling with balancing what my head tells me to do and what my heart tells me to do as a parent. Or I suppose, what my instinct tells me.

So getting back to inside my head. I’ve been struggling with balancing what my head tells me to do and what my heart tells me to do as a parent. Or I suppose, what my instinct tells me. As a working single mom, I worry if she’s getting enough of my time. I have guilt. I was very lucky that I got to spend the first 13 months of her life with her full-time, and I’m sure that her new temper tantrums when I come home from work is a direct result of that not being the case anymore.

She used to go to bed at 7 PM every night and wake up at 7 AM every morning, but that has been getting stretched out later and later as her protests become more and more explosive. I’ve given in, letting her lay in bed with me and watch yet another episode of a kid’s show on my computer before bed… which stretches in to two and sometimes three. I don’t want her to think that after spending the majority of the day away from her that I’m eager to put her in bed and be away from her even more. And when I do put her in her crib, her desperate screams of “Mama! Mama!” really hurt my heart.

I’ve relented and gone in to reassure her that I’m here, that I love her, but it’s bedtime now, and perhaps we can have a rational conversation about it? 18-month old to 34-year old? She listens, fingers folded and pressed to her lips, clutching her pink bunny. “Thank you for that succinct presentation, Mother. I want you to know that Bunny and I have carefully considered your presentation, but we are going to demand that you take us back downstairs so that we can run around aimlessly, chase the cat and bash our toy shopping cart into the walls. We are now going to work ourselves up into such a hysterical frenzy that we eventually gag ourselves over and over. Thank you for your time.”

Before I had a kid, I thought I knew how to parent. Of course I’d only be feeding her healthy, balanced food. Lots of fruits and vegetables, organic if possible. Cow’s milk would be replaced by almond milk or free-range mermaid tears, whichever one was in season. I would only speak Spanish with her so she would grow up completely bilingual. Discipline would be swift and fair but otherwise wouldn’t be too much of an issue since it would only take a couple of times for my child to learn and forevermore behave.

This child licks her lips and spits on the ground, never breaking eye contact. “Hello, Mother,” she quietly growls through her binky. “Welcome to Hell.”

HA HA HA HA HAHA HA HAH AH HAA!!! What an asshole I was. Am.

This child is not that child. This child is a warrior. This child narrows her eyes, pulls down her mask affixed to her Medieval spiked helmet and unsheathes her sword. This child licks her lips and spits on the ground, never breaking eye contact. “Hello, Mother,” she quietly growls through her binky. “Welcome to Hell.”

I recently was talking on the phone with a good friend of mine who also has a toddler and we discussed How We Thought It Would Be vs. How It Is. “I totally thought I’d only buy delightful, lead-free, hand-painted wooden toys from local businesses for him,” she said, “but, for instance, like right now as we speak, I’m watching him chew on an empty tomato can and I’m like, ‘Ugghh, I should stop him from doing that… but he seems happy and I’d really like to continue this rare phone conversation with my friend… meh, I’m sure the label glue isn’t poisonous.'”

Toddlerdom is definitely a fork in the road. There are many paths you can go from here, and there seems to be endless advice (often unsolicited) as to which path to take. Everyone ultimately needs to take the path that works best for them. And what works best for me is believing that no matter what I choose to do, it will be ok. People have been raising kids for zillions of years.

So I stop over-analyzing and questioning myself. I turn off my brain. I will go with my instinct on this one. This child needs lots of love and lots of structure.

She will be fine. She will know that she is loved and taken care of even when she’s not always happy about it. One of my favorite parenting quotes is from Jim Henson. He said, “The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

So I stop over-analyzing and questioning myself. I turn off my brain. I will go with my instinct on this one. This child needs lots of love and lots of structure.

I pull on my chainmail and slide on my chest plate. I raise my shield and lower my center of gravity, slowly advancing toward the child. “It’s time to go to bed, Kiddo,” I say softly. The lion roars. She strikes a clawed paw out toward my head; I duck. I carry her upstairs to her room; she thrashes and claws. I kiss her on the check; her eyes speak of murder.

“Good night, sweetie. I love you. See you tomorrow.”

“Mama! Mama!” she yells. “You may have won this time, Woman, but I promise this won’t be our last encounter upon the battle field!”

I know she is right.

In an hour, I’ll check on her to find her peacefully asleep, one arm thrown over Bunny. Tomorrow, we will play and tickle wrestle and laugh and read books. Come dusk, we will suit up again for battle. But for now, the beast has been slain.

Mama is victorious. And on the right path.

Comments on Surviving toddlerhood: sleep training, meal negotiating, and discovering How It Really Is

  1. Beautiful, and so true. A fabulous descriptor of the challenges of parenting a toddler, thank you 🙂 It reminds me that its all worth it, all those battles.

  2. This is so amazing and brilliant and beautiful. I don’t have a toddler yet, but I worked with two year olds for a few years. Amazing. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the reminder that sometimes we do need to take our head out of parenting.

  3. Ha! This is my favorite piece I’ve read on here for a while. I don’t have any kids as yet, but your description of dealing with a toddler might be the most hilarious/truthful account I’ve ever read. Amazing. May you go on to fight another day.

  4. So so true!! My daughter is 2, and she’s SO MUCH fun, but also like THIS a lot of the time.

    Also: free-range mermaid tears! Awesome. Sending to all my friends right now.

  5. *THIS* This is our life! I say our child is like the Sour Patch Kid in the commercials. We get hit, then immediately hugged. She’s only 1 1/2. How will we survive 2? Humorous column, but so rings true.

  6. Oh man I needed this today! I don’t have any other mom friends and sometimes you just need to hear that it’s not just your kid that acts like this!

    • It’s nice to know I’m not alone either! Having Mom friends are SO important. I joined a mom playdate group on meetup dot com to meet other moms with kids that were my daughter’s age and it has been by far the best thing I’ve done for the both of us. You should look into it!

  7. Sometimes people tell me how good my 18-month old is. In response, I usually give an awkward laugh, tell them I’m a pretty laid-back parent that I’m lucky. From now on, I’m going to tell them it’s because I give her free range, in season mermaid tears (probably less expensive than the goat milk I actually have to give her).
    Seriously though, great article. You should feel accomplished every day that you’re doing a great job as evidenced by the fact that you give a damn about all of the things you talk about.

  8. Oh. My. God. We should be BFFs. You are me. Or I am you, whichever way that works out. I have a 16-month-old and relate to this on every level. Thank you for literally making me laugh out loud. And hang in there, you are doing an awesome job.

  9. Ummmm…Yes. This. 100%
    Pre-baby me was all like “Oh, I’ll teach him sign language and we will speak to him in Spanish and Japanese and he will eat food from the farmer’s market and never have candy.”
    Fast forward 21 months and this is so not the case. No foreign languages unless complete jibberish counts. He loves candy and fruit? That’s the stuff that comes in a can, right?
    *sigh* We do our best and that’s all anyone can ask of us.

  10. Fabulous piece! I, too, knew how to parent before I actually had a kid. Now I have no clue. Toddlerhood is terrifying and wonderful – this piece captures it oh so perfectly! Cheers.

  11. Did I write this while blacked out?!? My 13 month old is right on the verge of this, and I can see all of toddler-hood looming on the horizon. The “Meh, it’s probably not poisonous” conversation is especially accurate.

  12. Reading this reminded me – again – of how similar toddlers and teenagers are.
    My daughter at (nearly) seventeen years old isn’t all that different, on reflection, than she was at seventeen months old. Just larger.
    (And, I should add, mostly delightful at both ages.)

    • I have been saying that toddlers are just a preview for the teen years. High drama. Sleeping for long, long stretches. Mood swings. Food comas. Flailing limbs. I will savor ages 4-11 as long as I can. Please don’t anyone tell me that ages 4-11 are difficult in their own ways because I want to live in ignorant bliss for awhile longer.

  13. This is exactly how it is with my current two year old, but imagine his Hulk, Iron Man, Barbie and Buzz fighting (and flying) through all this with him

  14. Excellent. Thank you for sharing. I have a 22 month old and so much of this resonates with what our life is like right now. Thank you for letting us know that we are not alone.

  15. This is such fantastic writing that I don’t even know how to gush properly about it! I know I will be re-reading this on a regular basis until both my toddler warriors move on to their next phases. They will grow out of this…right?! 😉

  16. Yep. I’m (commenter) Megan’s husband, and I loved this article too. Dads can read this deliciousness too, right? I’m pretty sure she might’ve cried a little after reading this from relief.

  17. So true, I have 4yo warrior. And I’m British but live in Israel so I can vouch for this on two other continents. I love the quote about them remembering who we are rather than what we say.

  18. I appreciate this so much. Mine is 14 months and has recently learned the fine art of the flop-and-wail. I watch her do it, over and over, on the monitor until finally one flop becomes the final one and she falls asleep. It makes me feel so much better to know I’m not the only one.

  19. Oh this was great – exactly what I needed after an evening dinner skirmish with my nearly 24 month old resulted in her consuming about 2 bits of an actual meal, 2 popsicles, and a marshmallow. She did sleep a full 10.5 hours after though so – I consider us even…for now

    • Don’t even get me started on food. Forget exposing them to international foods and developing their palate. I am at the point where I feel it’s my duty to simply keep her alive until age 18.

  20. In an effort to give my toddler a taste of everything I eat, I gave him some of the bitter dark chocolate I was eating while I cooked dinner. Rookie mistake! Cue the epic head-throwing tantrum. My God woman, why would you think I would want to eat anything but chocolate for dinner?? Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  21. “Before I had a kid, I thought I knew how to parent. Of course I’d only be feeding her healthy, balanced food. Lots of fruits and vegetables, organic if possible. Cow’s milk would be replaced by almond milk or free-range mermaid tears, whichever one was in season.”

    ^ um, hello, I love you. I laughed so hard.

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