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Mom to Mom: The Difficult Toddler Stage

Posted by Becca on 12/22/2014 to Mom Madness

Making it through difficult ages and stages

My son has reached that magical age where independence surpasses ability. He is infinitely curious and wants to experience everything, but is either not allowed or unable to do so. He opens drawers and empties them, then replaces their contents with his toys or some dirty laundry he pilfered from our bedroom. He leaves a nice trail of socks, cheerios, and his sister’s doll clothes around the house to mark his trail. He generously distributes kitchen dishes into the bathroom and his sister’s bedroom and his blocks down the hall and into the living room. He moves kitchen chairs into the living room and puts my car keys in his toy boxes. He’s a very, busy guy!

He wants to eat all the time. He knows how to say eat and how to sign more, but his preferred method of conversation is pointing and grunting and/or screaming. His language just isn’t coming as quickly as his sister’s did and he seems to feel that his needs are too urgent to take the time for a sign or a word. When eating, he likes to use a fork or a spoon, but gets frustrated when he can’t make it work like Mommy, Daddy, and his sister do. He wants more water or more food and if he doesn’t get it in a timely manner (in other words, more quickly than it takes me to walk across the room and retrieve it) he throws his head back and yells, and then takes the proffered food/drink and tosses it to the ground with a satisfied glare. He has very specific wants, but no words to describe them. He wants the alphabet pretzels for a snack— not the cheese or the cheerios or the crackers. He points at the specific cabinet where he knows they are stored, and grunts with a very fervent stare, eyebrows raised high. If I don’t give him the alphabet pretzels, he will yell some more, throwing the undesired replacement. He wants to nurse, but he’d like to do so while playing and for goodness sake, why on earth does he lose his latch every time he tries to climb down and walk away? This cramps a little dude’s style. Up to nurse, down again, up again because he wants to keep nursing, down once more because he’d really like to do so while investigating the John Deere nearby. Meanwhile, I’m getting cracks and calluses like back in the newborn days and he feels that any attempts to keep him restrained in a position that doesn’t cause me pain are torture. toddler

My poor little guy seems to be at a very difficult stage—both for him and for the rest of us. He has always had such a sweet, happy disposition and these past weeks he’s turned to yelling, throwing, and hitting to express himself. He has spent more time in timeout than he’d ever experienced before, and his poor sister isn’t ever sure if he’s patting her out of love or hitting her because she won’t surrender a toy that she rightfully possesses.

Diaper changes are just an utter betrayal. There’s wriggling, screaming, grabbing, pulling, and throwing. Every time. If I change his diaper before nursing him when he wakes up, he’s angry because I should know that nursing comes first. If I nurse him first and change him, he’s angry because he wants to play. If I wait longer, he’s angry because now his bum is sore. And Mommy, why on earth are you rubbing that cream all over me when it already feels so raw down there!?!? Meanwhile, I still persist in using prefolds and pins because I’d rather the struggle at the changing table then have that many more pockets to stuff. Sometimes I wish I could just let him run around naked because, though he’s never been poked by a pin, it’s bound to happen one day, the way he thrashes around.

Then there are the teeth. He’s onto molars now. One week he got two, top molars and I didn’t even realize it. We must not have put him into daycare that week because he had been wearing his amber teething necklace all week and boy was I glad. But then there was the week we forgot to put his necklace back on after a day in daycare. For a week I forgot and there was that one night where he screamed for 2 or more hours straight. We replaced the necklace straightaway but the damage was already done and he was a grump for at least 24 hours more. The only thing that offered him solace, ironically, was being confined in the Boba Air baby carrier on my back as I went about the day. There was just something very comforting for him about that, being snuggled up close to Mommy’s warmth and smell and hair all day without having to worry about having to navigate the world for himself. The Boba Air is a lifesaver for times like these.

I feel like this new stage is putting a strain on our relationship. It used to be all snuggles, smiles, nursing, and discovery. Now, even the most relaxing things like nursing are tainted by the frustration caused by his newly discovered limitations and his inability to specify what he wants with the words he knows but cannot form for himself. Poor guy. It must be so tough. He understands everything, he just can’t say it or do it for himself.

He’s at a crossroads where things will ultimately change for the better, but it must feel pretty bleak right now. I know it does for me. Besides, he’s never done this before. He doesn’t know that it will all work out in the end. He just thinks his world is falling apart.

There are still the beautiful times where he walks up and gives me a kiss right on the mouth for no reason, or times when his “hitting” is most definitely a love pat. There are the times he removes the soggy miniwheat from his mouth and kindly offers it to me and I eat it and he smiles like, “Oh yeah. I just made Mommy’s day!” and he follows it buy a quick, unsolicited hug. There are times where he isn’t so frustrated about life that he’s throwing the toys and instead he’s playing with them, figuring them out, including his sister in happy play rather than pulling her hair. It’s during those times that I remember that we’ve been through this before. Bunny went through similar struggles and stages.

They passed and we not only survived but we grew as a family because of them. We were all okay then and we will all be okay this time around. My baby doesn’t hate me, or us, or the world, he’s just got growing pains and those are so tough. He’s never felt anything like them before and his response is natural and normal. I’ll just hold my breath and love him through it, waiting until he gets through to the other side. For me, the key is empathy. When he stomps around like a little T­Rex angrily throwing things and hitting his family members while screeching at the top of his lungs, I try to put myself in his position. Is he hungry? Well, I’m pretty grumpy when I’m hungry too. Is he teething? Well, I prefer to curl up in a ball on my bed when I have a toothache. Is he frustrated by not getting what he wants, not being able to do what he is trying to accomplish, or not having the words to express his very specific needs? I have been known to raise my voice to my husband or daughter when what I say to them doesn’t compute and when things don’t go my way. Of course I discipline him— I’ve spent too many years working in the education system and seeing the disastrous results of children who haven’t been given these parameters— but good discipline is only effective when sprinkled with generous amounts of love and affection. He gets a healthy dose of snuggles, love, and affirming words. After a timeout, or the removal of a toy­ turned- weapon, we cuddle and I tell him I’m so sorry he’s feeling this way and that it will get better. He doesn’t understand all the words yet, but he seems to get the sentiment.

Besides, just having his head up against my heart while hearing my soothing voice is enough in those times. He also nurses and draws comfort from the one thing that has sustained him since he first drew breath. I bathe his face in kisses even as he screams and pushes me away so he’ll know that there is nothing he can do that would be so bad that I will ever stop loving him. At the end of each of his struggles, I will be there, still offering what he needs and he will always be safe with me. He will always have my arms to run to even if those are the arms he’s hitting.

We will get through this. This stage will pass. It may be days, weeks, or months, but it will pass. My son is not broken and I’m not failing him as a parent. He’s not going through anything that the rest of humanity has not experienced. These are just the growing pains necessary to form him into the man he is to be one day. They are the growing pains that will form me into a better mother, my husband into a better father, and my daughter into a more amazing big sister.

So go ahead, little guy. Have your fits. Scream, throw, and hit. We’ll get through it together. We’ll learn and grow together. And you will always be loved. No matter what.