Moving Past Survival in the Toddler Years

Alexandra Kuykendall}>
Alexandra Kuykendall

If vigilant was my word for the toddler years, you can imagine I was not a ball of relaxed fun during that parenting phase. You can read, How a Toddler is Like a Gerbil, to get my full perspective on what this mothering season was like.

My days often started with the sound of toys being thrown out of the crib and ended with me in a coma-like state sitting in front of the television grateful to not be responsible for anyone’s immediate safety. The hours in between were a countdown to the next nap or bedtime, never able to fully relax unless my toddler was asleep.

My girls are out of toddlerhood, my youngest turned four last month, so I’m doing a bit of looking back in amazement at how I survived that phase in our lives. To date, the toddler years have been my most difficult season to parent. They depleted me and tried my patience; everything seemed out of my control. My house, my time, my body, my thoughts were all hijacked by a tiny person who could communicate with few words and lots of screams.

But these years with the toddler crew in tow aren’t meant to be endured, where survival is the end goal and thriving only happens once they’re over. It is possible, I promise, to enjoy this difficult parenting season too. At least in part. It would be a lie to say that having a toddler brought the best out of me. But I can say I did learn some trickshelping  me do more than simply survive.

For me the key was creating and maximizing breaks. If I found time in each day where I wasn’t solely on duty as my toddler’s protector and supervisor, I could better approach my time with her as a refreshed mom. Here are a few things that helped:

I used naptime for “me time.”

It’s easy to save the chores and the emails for naptime when you know you’ll be more efficient as you work uninterrupted, but I chose to savor every quiet minute alone. So I used this time to do things I loved (for you that might be cleaning or emails, for me it wasn’t.) It usually fell to some type of reading or writing because those were things I found relaxing and were difficult to do during toddler awake hours.

I kept having kids.

OK this may seem like a joke, and not a very helpful solution right now, but the truth is with each child I had the confidence of more years of mothering experience and the added perspective that toddlers do grow up to be inquisitive, speaking preschoolers who don’t use diaper cream as finger paint or lunch as an accessory (at least not with the same determination as their toddler counterparts.) I found I was more relaxed with each toddler I parented.

I went places with trusted childcare.

During the toddler years I had a difficult time trusting other people to watch my child (especially my first, remember it gets easier) with the same vigilance I did. But if I went somewhere where the childcare was designed with busy toddlers in mind, I felt like there was less of a safety risk. MOPS, Bible studies, even the gym with its large room and attentive staff were my places where I could get a break because I’d assessed my toddling girl was in good hands.

I made adult conversation a priority.

How many times can you say “no” in a single hour? Redirecting a toddler hardly counts as conversation. Talking on the phone, getting together with other moms during the day, going to an office with meetings, and setting aside half an hour before, during or after dinner when I could have real talk-time with my husband, reminded me I was more than a macaroni-and-cheese-making, hot-dog-cutting-machine. I was a woman with ideas and insights.

If, like me, the toddler years exhaust you, take heart. These hurricanes in children’s bodies are worth the fatigue they bring with them. Their undying affection and quick to forgive attitudes remind us of bigger truths in our world. And though they get into all kinds of mischief, and try our patience like no one else, we are better women for mothering them.

alex-2Alexandra Kuykendall
As a mom to four girls, ages 3 to 12, Alexandra Kuykendall’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. She writes to capture the places where motherhood meets everyday life to remember the small, yet significant moments in the midst of the blur. She is the author of The Artist’s Daughter, A Memoir , a contributor to this year’s Be you, Bravely, An Experiment in Courage and acts as the Specialty Content Editor for MOPS International. A city girl at heart, she makes her home in the shadow of downtown Denver. You can read more of Alex’s everyday thoughts and connect with her at