Trying to figure out how to care for a tiny human you just met is no easy feat, and that’s why new parenthood is such a shock to so many of us. You’re holding a crying baby in your arms, unable to shush or calm them, and you’re thinking, “Wait, why did no one tell me about this?” You assume you’re doing something wrong, that you’re missing some innate mothering gene, that you’ve got to be the world’s most terrible mom. But, nothing’s wrong. Babies are always hard, new motherhood is always tricky – it’s just no one has ever told you that.
You’ve also probably been told countless times, just like I had heard so often as a new mother, “Don’t worry. It gets easier.” But, you know what? It doesn’t.
Babies are hard. Toddlers are hard. Tweens are hard. It does not get easier.
There are so many wonderful things about parenthood – the laughs, the wonder, the joy we’re infected with on a daily basis, the unbelievable amount of love we’re filled with constantly. Talking about the realities of living life with our kids doesn’t add or take away from any of that.
But, many times, because of what we’ve been told by others and what we’ve been impressed upon by society, we have this vision of parenthood that doesn’t always align with reality. What we need to do is talk a bit more about what life with little kids is really like – the real, honest truth. Sharing honestly not only gives you a sense of relief, but relating to others over common struggles and joys gives us validation and community.
Check out our Facebook group, The Everymom Tribe, for a warm, supportive, judgment-free community to share honestly and learn openly about life with littles.
And read on for eight things no one told you about having a toddler or young child.
1. They’re loud
Sure, babies are loud criers. But toddlers are just plain loud. They yell. They scream. They stomp. They bang and crash things. They fight with siblings. They play loudly. They talk loudly. It’s endless.
For some reason, I wasn’t expecting this. And, as someone who’s largely quiet (my husband says I sound like a marching elephant when I’m upstairs, but I’m going to go ahead and blame that on old, thin floors), it’s something I struggle with daily. I can’t handle too much excessive noise, and toddlers (and young kids) are both excessive AND noisy.
The catch is that, as a parent, you come to prefer the noise rather than silence. When they’re noisy, at least you can hear what they’re doing. Silence, though? Silence is a whole other kind of scary.
2. They’re messy
With toddlers, you graduate from the spit-up, food mess, poo-explosion kind of mess to, well, actually you just lose the spit-up. And, you add about 100 other kinds of mess – arts and crafts remnants, toys, books, crumbs, things being brought in from outside (leaves, twigs, rocks, etc.), stickers, playdoh. Again, it’s endless. No matter how much you pick up, there’s always more. It’s actually mind-blowing how such tiny, little people can leave such disaster in their wakes.
3. They don’t always sleep through the night
Young parents are always waiting for their kids to sleep through the night, but here’s the thing – as they get older, things change once again. Toddlers and young children are susceptible to sleep disruptions from transitioning out of a crib, potty-training, the introduction of a sibling, night terrors and nightmares, separation anxiety, or internalizing other lifestyle changes. Sometimes these transitions are brief, sometimes (particularly the ones rooted in anxiety or emotion) they are not.
As a parent, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my sleep is likely going to be pretty rocky for a good bit. Even when my boys — now three and five — are sleeping peacefully, I’m sometimes still awake wondering if they’re too hot or too cold or thinking that every little sound I hear is them maybe needing me sometime soon.
4. You still wipe bums
Yes, you heard that right, mama. Your babies will be long out of diapers and you will still be wiping little bums. Here’s what nobody tells you about potty-training – there’s a whole part of potty-training that goes beyond getting your kid to pee and poo in the toilet (which, for most kids, is a pretty extended process in and of itself).
Teaching them how to keep their bodies clean is a much longer process that ultimately relies on their fine-motor strength and dexterity and the maturity and self-awareness to recognize when their little bums are actually clean.
I’m sure some kids pick it up quicker than others, but I can pretty much guarantee that it will take longer than you expect.
5. Emotions are bigger and more complex
Babies cry for pretty clear reasons – to be fed, changed, held, or for sleep – and sometimes, they cry for no reason at all. Toddlers, on the other hand, cry for very specific reasons, most of which you will never know.
Once your little one hits toddlerhood, be ready for big, complicated emotions. As they begin to learn more about the world around them, there is a lot more opportunity for testing boundaries, disappointments, and frustration from, well, not understanding the world around them.
Toddlers feel, but they don’t often know what they’re feeling or why they’re feeling it, which can be a pretty frightening thing for them. Having a toddler requires having a lot of conversation surrounding emotions – what they’re called, what causes them, and how to move through them.
6. They have real preferences
You know the best thing about toddlers? They’re actually just tiny people. They’re awesome and hilarious. They say the funniest things and they point out things about the world you’ve overlooked. They’re sweet and caring and give the best hugs. They take interest in things and develop favorites.
You know the frustrating thing about toddlers? They’re actually just tiny people. They’re nosy and pushy. They want to know what you’re doing every second of the day and follow you into the bathroom always. They want what they want when they want it and it doesn’t really matter to them that you can’t find fresh peaches in Chicago in December.
The thing is that kids may be little, and their emotions may seem unreasonable sometimes, but they are very real. Toddlers don’t yet understand the workings of society – they think things should just make sense in a very straightforward way. And really, don’t you agree?
7. You don’t always understand them
Just wait until they learn to talk, you think, then they’ll be able to express themselves, and I’ll be able to understand what they want. Sorry, wrong.
English is a truly (and unnecessarily) complicated language, and learning to speak it is really hard. Toddlers are notorious for confusing words and sounds and many sounds and many skills that help with processing, articulation and intelligibility don’t develop until kids are nearly 5 years old.
What this means is that there will be plenty of tears (both yours and your child’s) shed over miscommunication and misunderstanding. In fact, just yesterday my 3-year-old had a heart-wrenching meltdown because he had learned a new song in school and wanted to tell me about it but I could not understand one word he was saying. In a panic and feeling like an awful mom, I emailed his teacher in the late evening to ask what the song was called, and though I signed the email, “no rush,” what I really meant was, “please, for the love of all things, answer immediately.” He emailed back saying that said song was German, and that’s likely why I couldn’t understand it.
Insert face-palm emoji here.
8. It doesn’t get easier.
Here’s what it all comes down to. Many folks may tell you, “just wait, it gets easier.” But, it doesn’t. As our little ones grow, things are just going to get more and more complicated. We’ll soon be dealing with screen-time rules, bullying, school difficulties, juggling extracurricular activities, heartbreaks, failed friendships, discrimination, online culture, among so many other things. It doesn’t get easier.
You do get better at it. You learn about your child. You figure out how to simultaneously protect them and let them go. You find your footing as a mother. You begin to empathize. You ask for help. You love them wholeheartedly and hope for the best. You gain confidence in your parenting. You accept your shortcomings and mistakes and move forward. You find your village. You do your best. Then you learn more, and you do better.
You figure it out.
It doesn’t get any easier, but you will figure it out.