Somewhere in the fog of those first months after our second baby was born, something happened that I didn’t think was possible: I had days where I flat out did not like my toddler.
It’s a hard thing to admit. But I started admitting it to other moms of two or more children. And you know what I found out? Every mom I talked to went through the same thing. So I figured it was worth writing about, because maybe you’ve been there or maybe you’re going to be there or maybe you’re in it right now. And maybe you just haven’t thought through why it’s happening. So let’s do that together!
When it was just the two of us, my son and me, I never had a day where I didn’t like him. I didn’t think it was possible! I have the coolest kid in the world, I thought! I always adored him and his crazy antics, but something about having two made me frequently frustrated with him. His three thousand questions a day, his inability to do things efficiently, his tornado of mess-making–it was driving me up a wall. I had never yelled before the second baby, but I yelled at my toddler. My temper was as short as it had ever been.
And I got to thinking, am I a terrible mom? Should I even be a mom? I want to have more babies, but if I’m this way with two, maybe I shouldn’t have any more! And, friends, I had a whole day where I legitimately thought “should I give my children up for adoption?” (<—Thank God for husbands who can talk their wives off of their emotional cliffs!)
So after talking this through with friends and my husband, I got to the bottom of it–
I have never been a mother on so little sleep before in my life. Transitioning from one to two puts a mom on a newborn’s sleep schedule (up every two to four hours) and then awake for the day whenever the toddler is up! And naps? (That is, if I’m so fortunate as to have them both nap at the same time.) Goodness, I have so much cleaning to do from when the toddler was being his tornado-self while I was stuck in one place breastfeeding. I have laundry to do from when the baby had a blow out on our bed. I have dinner to prep because I have not figured out how to do that when they’re both awake with all of their needs!
So, yeah, constant exhaustion will make any human extra impatient. Extra irritable. Extra irrational. And then add all of those postpartum hormones having parties and funerals in your body, and your emotions will be all over the place.
I realized that my toddler was the same as he had always been. He was doing the things a toddler tends to do! It wasn’t him, it was me! And for all of the days where I was struggling to even like him, he was struggling with me–a sleep-deprived, hormonal and kind of terrible mom.
So how can we get through it? (I’m so glad you asked!)
1.) Talk about it–talk through your feelings with your husband, your mom, your friends, your sisters–anyone who can hear you, encourage you, and love you through it. (And if you don’t have anyone, please talk to me. Leave me a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I am absolutely here to walk through the hard times with you, sister.)
2.) Ask for help–take all those people up who said “If you need anything, let me know!” Call in your village. If you can’t figure out how to make dinner and still be kind to your children, ask someone to bring a meal. Tell your husband to grab some pizza on the way home. If you’re having a really trying day with your toddler, ask someone to take him to the park or play at their house. If you just need some sleep, call your best friend and see if she’ll bounce your baby and supervise your toddler so you can just rest without worry.
3.) Make it right with your toddler–when you get short-tempered and do or say something you regret, it is an absolutely ideal time to exhibit some new traits for your child to learn from. Take a minute and take a breath. Come back to your child and say something like, “Mommy should not have yelled at you just now. It was wrong. Will you forgive me?” As we model this, they learn how to admit wrong and apologize when they have been short-tempered too. And oh, how our little ones are so quick to forgive! We can learn from the way they hand out unmerited grace. And after all of that, we need to remind them how loved and special they are to us. Maybe it’s just some one-on-one time, going out for ice cream, giving them a little gift–take some time to focus on them in the ways you know they’ll enjoy.
4.) Know that this season will pass–this is a hard season. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s been the hardest season of my life! But you will come out of the newborn fog. Your baby will start sleeping more which means you will start sleeping more. The hormones will regulate (if they don’t, talk to your doctor.) You’ll start to figure out a rhythm in this crazy life with multiple kids. And you’ll really start to enjoy it all. You will!
So hang in there, sister, you’re not a terrible mom. You’re a human mom just like the rest of us. Have grace with yourself. Even if you don’t like your older child at some points, we all know that you still love him or her with your whole being. Ya just need a minute, and that’s okay.