Podcast: Can life be fun during the toddler years?

My 2-year-old had a giant meltdown this morning. An absolutely epic tantrum. He is not allowed to watch the “pucky-nooter” in the morning (that’s what he calls the computer) because it’s always a disaster. He wants a new YouTube video every 3 minutes and then the other kids get sucked into the computer and don’t get ready for school. But boy, did he want to watch the pucky-nooter. He screamed. He threw himself on the floor. He hit me, and when G came and took over, he raged against her too.

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.

11 thoughts on “Podcast: Can life be fun during the toddler years?

  1. You might already know about this, but if you have an iPhone or iPad (and possibly other touch devices) the YouTube kids app lets kids select their own videos (including switching every three minutes) and you can set it to shut off at a certain number of minutes. It helped with my toddler!

  2. It’s also ok not to have a second kid, or to wait. I realize this is not a popular thing to say, especially among your listeners, but it is true. If you have another baby, it will just be that much longer before you get you body and your life back. For me, having a kid effectively removed every single activity I enjoyed from my life, and replaced them with chores. It’s understandable not wanting to go back to that.

    Personally, I loved 12-24 months, but that was because I was back in med school and saw my daughter exclusively on evenings and weekends, like a typical man sees his children. We hired an au pair and finally had that missing family member to take care of all the childcare crap I hate doing (cooking, cleaning, schlepping) and provide babysitting so I could spend time with my husband. I am, as far as I can tell, the only woman who says she loves that age. So, perhaps your listener would be happier if she worked more and did less toddler care too.

    1. YES valid points!

      Also I am with you that I am happier being a working mom. I don’t necessarily think I’d be going for #3 if I were the one home with them all day. I would probably be quite happy being the SAHM of school age kids (like A&C’s age or older), doing my own thing on the side, but not during the baby/toddler phase. Do I LOVE my kids and am I excited for another one? YES! But would I relish being the on-call parent 24/7 during the baby phase for 2+ years? No. And I’m cool with that 🙂

    2. I appreciate you articulating this! I thought I wanted another baby right away, but now that we’re tiptoeing into toddler years (a 14-month old), we’re waiting for a while (maybe forever?), because I feel like I’m drowning.

  3. Working outside the home. When my husband and I worked different shifts, he got the kids in the morning and I got them in the evening. When they were in daycare, and I had holidays off, I took them to daycare so I could have an entire day to myself. If I had been a SAHM, I’d have gone crazy.

    1. YES – I love those ‘mommy days off’ where my work is off for a random day (like Good Friday) but daycare is still open. (And I have a 2 year old so I’m right there as far as this article goes).

  4. My favorite tip was to pre-schedule a block of time “off” on the weekends with my husband – he’d get a half day to himself and so would I, to do something either in or out of the house while the other person was responsible for kid-wrangling. Having that pre-scheduled made us plan what we were saving our precious alone time for 😉

    My work had ‘backup care’ hours available and it happened to be at the same daycare my child was already attending. Since I worked part-time and had some flexibility in my schedule, I often shuffled around work hours a bit, and then would use the backup hours for an extra day to run errands, do a little work, or catch up on appointments for myself (haircuts, etc) or just SLEEP.

  5. This was a really interesting episode. I got laid off when my daughter was 15 months, so we took her out of daycare to save money and I was home with her while I looked for a new job. It took about four months and it was HARD. That age is just tough, I think…they need supervision every minute and they’re not steady walkers nor good communicators yet, etc. OMG, I was so happy when I finally got a job offer. I also distinctly remember that we too started the “should we have another” conversation when our first was right around that age, but we didn’t actually start trying until she was more than three years old. I’m due with our second next week, and my daughter turns four tomorrow, and that age gap feels fantastic to us. I 1000% could not have done the two-under-two thing (or even two under three) that so many people seem to idealize.

    If I could do that time period over again, I would have started our daughter on monthly overnights at grandma’s as soon as I was doing breastfeeding (we did eventually start, but it came much later). We too often did the weekend morning blocks “off” (Saturdays for me, Sundays for my husband) where the other person would take the kiddo out of the house. And I think Laura was exactly correct in identifying that you need to just…schedule something fun in instead of waiting for the time to open up, because it won’t. In my experience, it doesn’t even need to be that often…I have a lot of stuff that happens roughly monthly (and often less frequently than that), like dinner with a certain friend, movie night with another, date night with husband, etc. Just having that stuff on the calendar to look forward to helps my mindset a ton.

  6. Hello! I think this is the episode where you discussed sleep training too. I want to plug hiring a night nanny to actually help the child learn to sleep. It’s the number 1 parenting advice I give. I could talk for hours singing night nanny praise! Yes it’s pricey. Yes it’s sanity. I work full time/ own my business/ adopted my daughter as a solo parent household – and I tell every family – no matter what the make up – night nanny for the win!

  7. As a working mom of a 15-month-old, this podcast really spoke to me! In addition to finding some time for fun, one strategy I have found hugely helpful in navigating this new stage of life is in building my village. Whether I’m reading your books, listening to podcasts like yours, texting with new mom friends and family, going to mom groups and playdates, or chatting with friends in the office who are in a similar life stage, it has been helpful to gain strategies for making this stage of life work- and to know I’m far from alone.

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