While my children may be more stubborn than many others, temper tantrums are not exactly out-of-character for 2-year-olds. They are horrible and they are inevitable. Such is life. But what if I were telling myself that spending time with kids is supposed to be wonderful and always the most meaningful hours of the day? It would add insult to injury. Not only would I be seeing that some parts of life are just bad, I'd feel like a bad person for noticing this!
This brings me to the topic of this week's Best of Both Worlds podcast. A listener wrote in with a question: She had one "easy" 15-month-old, with many other good things in place (flexible job, short commute, husband who does 50%, etc.) It was time to start thinking about another kid, yet she felt like she was "drowning" with one (her words). She wanted to know: does it ever get better?
The short answer is yes, but there's a lot that goes into that yes.
First, Sarah gave us a short endocrinology lesson on what happens when you wean a baby (which we somewhat read into the question as being a recent occurrence). Let's just say that hormonal shifts are rarely fun. While postpartum depression/anxiety tends to occur earlier (like within the first year), it can certainly be a factor. Mental health issues are not rare, and there is no shame in getting help. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your family, and your kid.
But beyond that, there's also the reality that toddlers (especially in the 12-24 month range) are really tough. They are mobile, but cannot be reasoned with. They must be watched constantly lest they fall down the stairs or stick a fork in their eye. So you get no down time when you are with them. Mornings, evenings, and weekends become exhausting.
Again, so it goes. But when you have one 15-month-old baby, you are only 2 short years removed from your completely unencumbered life. Yes, yes, parenthood is meaningful, but there are objective things to mourn about the new reality too. You need childcare to go to dinner, which means you need to plan ahead. I love planning, but for many people, it takes the fun out of life. They like being spontaneous -- and now that's a lot harder. Going away for a "relaxing" weekend also requires childcare, and unless you have family around, you probably don't have all-weekend coverage. Even easy babies scream and fuss and wake up early, even on weekends. You're likely changing all manner of diapers. Food winds up all over the floor. To fit work into daycare hours, you might become more regimented, and less engaged with your colleagues. You work at night instead of relaxing, because you feel you can't make it up with later work hours or on weekends.
So -- lots to mourn. But I do think it's possible to have fun during the little kid years. A few ideas:
Let go of the idea that you need to be there 24/7. A 15-month old will not remember if you went to the gym on the weekend, or went out with friends one night a week. You, on the other hand, will feel much better if you do those things, which may increase your patience for the other hours.
Prioritize couple time. Going out for regular date nights will not impact your kid. If your marriage falls apart, that probably will impact the child. It sounded from this listener's question like her marriage had gone from doing fun stuff together to basically just doing work, chores, and childcare. Of course that's not fun!
Do stuff just for you. Parents are people too. If you're the guy who goes to the bar with his buddies for 3 hours after work ever night, then yes, your balance is off, but I think that's not the case with many parents of young kids. Make sure to plan at least one regular thing in your life that has nothing to do with being a parent, spouse, or worker. Book club? Woodworking class? Voice lessons?
Know it is not forever. I know older kids have their own drama. But my older two kids in particular entertain themselves on weekends, and do lots of things with their friends. Plus, you can have real conversations. This makes parenting a lot more fun than trying to interact with someone who only babbles!
How have you kept life fun during the little kid years?
In other news: I am writing an article for Verily on things to do now if you know you want to work for yourself in the future. If you transitioned to self-employment, I'd love to hear about what you did prior that turned out to be most helpful. As always, you can email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.