It took exchanging more text messages than usual to find a window of time to connect for our monthly phone chat. Juggling schedules and kids is always a bit of a dance, but the back and forth of this text feed went a few extra rounds. Just as I was scratching my head about it all, a text buzzed through that brought it all into focus: “I’m officially losing my mind! I have NO alone time during the day. I feel like a crazy, angry person and I need a vacation-alone.”
And then it all made sense. My friend is mothering two toddlers, ages three and under, with not a minute to herself. Somehow, I had blocked out my own memories of living in “survival mode” while being at home with four young children (five-year-old twins, a toddler, and a baby). But, just like that, reading her text brought the memories flooding back. And, along with it, my heart flooded with empathy for the brave hearts slugging out mothering toddlers in the trenches. There is a tension that lives in the middle place, where a woman loses her identity in motherhood only to find it once more.
The long list of tasks that loop on repeat have a purpose. Mundane cycles of bathing, cleaning, and feeding are hidden, refining agents that produce something beautiful in the most unlikely place. I lacked perspective when I was down in the trench, but now that I am standing on the other side, it is clear to me that the pesky piece of sand that was so darn irritating actually produced a beautiful pearl. So mommas, I have three exhortations to offer as you trudge through the trenches of mothering toddlers:
1. Don’t Despise Small Beginnings
The word “multi-tasker” should be a synonym for “mother,” even if Merriam Webster doesn’t say so. Juggling responsibilities, not to mention raising little humans, requires that efforts are divided. Do you feel stretched too thin and pulled in too many directions? It is because you are. The learning curve of motherhood is steep, but I’ve yet to meet a mom who isn’t a quick study. What initially feels like division soon transforms into multiplication because women are resourceful creatures. The skill set that you are honing in the early mornings, late evenings and all that lies in-between, is equipping you with leadership acumen that no institution can offer.
2. You are Becoming a Better Version of Yourself
When I was in the daily throws of physically caring for more children than I had arms, I felt overwhelmed and often, defeated. I thought it was the end of my own personal accomplishments and dreams. And it needed to be for awhile. The dreams I had held on to did not include the capacity or understanding of how to do them in light of my new role as mother. I needed to refine my expectations. In my 7 year span of being a SAHM, the dreams I had for my career were refined and recalibrated. They now work in tandem with the requirements of family life. The lie I believed for far too long was that this season of obscurity made me less. It actually added more to me than I could have imagined.
3. Live Presently
Sandwiched between the lingerings of yesterday’s mistakes and tomorrow’s hopes, living presently today is challenging. Just this morning as I was drinking my coffee before school drops-offs, my youngest climbed into my lap and we pulled up old videos of her as a toddler, waddling around in a diaper. We giggled while watching her lopsided gymnastics routine. It was not lost on me that the video was recorded at 11:30 at night. She should have been asleep. There were many times I lost my temper on my kids when they wouldn’t stay in bed; when their wakefulness infringed on “my” time. This one evening, almost four years ago, I chose to live in the present and laugh with my girl all the way to midnight. I’m glad I did. Give yourself permission to break routine once in awhile. Laugh and connect with the powerful world changers you are raising. Before long, your toddlers will be all grown up.