Melinda Macht-Greenberg, PhD
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Tips for Parents of Toddlers
by Melinda Macht-Greenberg, PhD
Somehow, couples with toddlers have the misguided perception that all of their peers live in romantic, wedded bliss and that they are the only ones who are fighting with their partner. Let me assure you, every couple struggles at times during the early years of parenting. The haze and fog of living with a toddler clogs parents ability to relate to each other. The tensions between toddler couples are universal. Like all other stages, this too shall pass.
It’s no wonder there are struggles between toddler parents. Here are just a few reasons why. First, taking care of toddlers requires an enormous amount of physical and mental energy. If the toddler is awake, he or she is on the move. Toddlers do not stop for a moment. Well, maybe they will sit quietly on the couch for 10 minutes, but only if you are reading them a story.
Second, my husband called the toddler period: the “years of wiping”. Everything needed to be cleaned and wiped constantly-- counters, high chairs, coffee tables, not to mention diapers. And not sweet infant diapers, but toddler diapers, which take much more effort.
Third, every little thing takes enormous planning and effort. Running simple errands takes hours. Before leaving the house, you have to select the perfect moment in the day to go out (when your toddler is rested, fed, and in a good mood), and then pack the diaper bag with enough items for a one week vacation, and buckle your screaming toddler into the car seat. The whole time, you are praying to the guardian angel of parents that your toddler will not have a tantrum in the middle of the store. I used to plan my route very carefully. I would allow only so much time in the grocery store and then figure out how many other places have drive-thru windows. You would be amazed -- banks, pharmacies, even restaurants. I would seek out drive-thru windows that were in another town just so that I did not have to unbuckle and buckle my child and schlepp them through stores. Parenting a toddler takes the logistical aptitude of a three-star general. But, I believe, that the general’s job is easier because their troops don’t need to be carried.
So, it is absurd to think that toddler couples have any energy or interest left to relate to one another. And no matter how much you share parenting responsibilities, it is easy to feel that your co-parent does not understand how hard it is to raise this child and maintain your sanity at the same time. All the little frustrations of the day can build up, and it is natural to need to let off some steam.
Try a few of these tips and see if they offer any solace:
1. Practice patience. You and your partner both work very long and stressful days. No one is to blame and you are both trying your best. Be patient with each other.
2. Do little things for your partner that can help them feel human. For example, surprise your partner with flowers or beer (or both), take a walk with your toddler allowing your partner to shower in peace, or share a playlist with a few grown-up songs.
3. Find a play group or activity for toddlers and parents so that you can vent with others and see that you are just like everyone else.
4. See if there is some way to find a babysitter. If you are too tired at night, ask the sitter to watch your toddler in the afternoon and go to a matinee or out for lunch. Even an hour will help you to reconnect with your partner. And yes, it is absolutely fine to talk about your toddler when you are on your date. Your children are the most important topic. But also try to have a conversation about something that has nothing to do with your family at all.
5. When your little darling is sound asleep for the night, give your partner a hug and remind yourselves that you are good parents and that the toddler years will pass quickly into the next happy and challenging stage. Then take a moment to sit down, put your feet up, and congratulate yourselves on the fact... that you have survived another exhausting day.