Coping with the Terrible Twos Part 1: On the parent side

I am blogging after what seems like a million years, and the reason is exhaustion. I wake up in the mornings after a good nine hour sleep, only to find myself bleary eyed and ready to hit the sack again. And I don’t need a doctor to prescribe haemograms and ultra TSH tests to detect the problem, I already know the answer in my heart – a little curly-haired, high-pitched imp saying “Mamma” every second, every minute and every hour of the day.

I don’t know if all parents feel like this or if Rumi is particularly high-energy but, for me, the awareness that one day has 24 hours and that an hour has 60 long minutes, has never been so acute. Even if I think of some wonderful activities in my mind such as finger painting, the process of getting ready for it takes about half an hour as opposed to the few short minutes Rumi spends on it. “What next?” The question looms large in my mind as I frantically try to think of the best way to pass five long hours in the morning. (I literally dread the days she wakes up even half an hour earlier than usual). I find myself almost sympathizing with mums I had severely judged earlier, who say they keep their kids up for a while so that they don’t wake up too early in the mornings. Nap times provide a welcome respite but even those are rapidly getting shorter and shorter and I don’t even want to think of the day they disappear altogether!

And sigh, those magical witching hours in the evening! When there’s dinner to be made, and a husband home to be attended to, and a frumpy food-covered gown to be changed out of. Agreed, the husband is as easy-going as one could wish for and not the type to sulk or feel ignored. He makes his own tea, helps himself to meals and even serves me dinner! Oh, thank God, for these good, good men in our lives! Even then, we barely get started on “how was your day?” before Rumi shoots into one of our laps with a book to be read or a song that she wants to hear just then. She is tired out by evening time but not tired enough for bedtime – enter temper tantrums galore! Some evenings are so stressful that I fall asleep even before she does, while the husband is waiting patiently outside for the magical elusive moment his wife will emerge in a satin gown with a glass of wine in hand.

A lot of children that are about Rumi’s age go to daycare or summer camps or preschool sessions, but Rumi is a Stay-At-Home-Toddler . Here, I’m listing a few things that are helping me cope with the madness:

  1. Structuring the day:

With Rumi, our approach has been more or less child-led. We usually follow her cues and let her do what she likes; food when she’s hungry, sleep when she feels like it. But now that she’s two, she gets frustrated quickly and I can see that she needs more meaningful inputs. So, I’ve made a rough plan for the day and that seems to be working well for us – fewer tantrums and a sense of anticipation because she sort of knows what’s coming next. Our day looks like this: outdoor time in the morning, breakfast, mid-morning for sensory play (getting messy), bath, lunch, nap, quiet time (reading stories, working with word cards), outdoor play, dinner and bedtime (click here for details on our day as well as play activities to do with your toddler)

  1. Making time for myself

I realized that I now need it more than ever – time to read a few pages of that novel without interruption, or a relaxing bath without Rumi watching me every second or just plonking down in front of the TV with a drink. Since it is impossible for me to find some time for myself on a daily basis, I try to fix up one day of the week with my husband, mother, in-laws or anybody that can help and just take off. It is very tempting for me to just doze off at home while Abhi and Rumi are in the other room, coz I’m exhausted all the time, but getting out of the house really helps. Since I’m not working, I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to get out of “home clothes” and the process of getting ready puts me into “break mode” and gets me excited. So just set out of the house and get a quick manicure (at the salon, not at home), lunch with the girls, a coffee, whatever floats your boat and keeps it afloat for the week to come!

  1. Toning down the DIY

When I became a mom, I got bitten by the do-it-yourself bug. I wanted to bake cookies and cakes for my child. I wanted to stitch her frocks and make her a quilt. I wanted to make homemade paint and homemade playdough and achieve all this with the house looking tidy and spotless (oh, I even looked up recipes for homemade cleaners and soaps on the Net). I wanted to be a Martha Stewart Mom overnight, forgetting that I had never used an oven in my life and that all my school needlework had only ever been done by my mommy. I was terrible at Art and Craft in school, always getting the failing grade but none of that mattered; with Rumi, I was sure I could manage it all. And sure I did, but a day full of boiling and straining and mixing and whisking was always followed by a day of maniacal cleaning, which was followed by a day of exhaustion to the degree where I didn’t even want to leave the bed, let alone play with my child or use what I had just created.

When I finally realized that the time I spent making things for my daughter far exceeded the time I spent with her, I stopped insisting on making it all myself and all of a sudden I found many pockets of time I could just sit on the floor with Rumi and be really involved in whatever she was playing. If DIY is really important for you, pick one or two things that you really enjoy doing and absolutely will not buy from the store for whatever reasons. Rest, just buy, outsource and relax.

 

  1. Identifying my values (and to hell with the rest):

As mentioned in the previous point, we Mommies tend to believe that nothing is impossible as far as our kids are concerned. We do everything we can for them and still feel we’re falling short, when we hear another Mom doing something for their toddler that we aren’t. “Oh, M’s taking a violin class already and he loves it! Are you doing music with Rumi?” “There’s this great phonetics class happening for toddlers” and so on and so forth. Foreign language, gymnastics, chess, piano; all these are just the tip of the baby and toddler development iceberg. When anybody asks me what classes Rumi goes for, I get invariably tense. Then I google the aforementioned class, read about its benefits and feel depressed and guilty about not having known of it earlier. And Rumi’s only two!

Every time I lose my rationality like this, my husband gently (and on rare occasions, sternly) reminds me that Rumi is a little child who is growing up at the speed of lightning. She does not need the stress caused by tightly scheduled back-to-back structured learning sessions, unstructured playtime is invaluable for her right now and she is learning all that she needs to learn.

It’s true though. The benefits of unstructured play though well-documented are often overlooked. It is very important to find a good balance between unstructured play and structured guided activities that your child can enjoy with or without your participation. So just like the DIY, pick top three values / skills that are very important to you and let go of the rest. For instance, Rumi’s unobstructed creative growth and free-spiritedness is of paramount importance to us so we tend to focus a lot on unstructured art and sensory activities that we can do together. Which means, I have to relax more than a little on the clean, spotless house part. If you love music and want your child to learn an instrument, go ahead but maybe you could drop baby gym or phonetics. A maximum of three different activities is more than enough to keep your toddler stimulated. Don’t cram his time-table from morning to night, he has his whole life ahead of him to get into the rat-race.