How My Toddlers Break My Spirit (And Then Heal It Again)

Before I became a mom, I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be frustrating. But I had no idea how my own children could—without meaning to, and even though they’re just doing what little kids do—legitimately hurt my feelings.

It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to feel drained. It’s okay to feel beaten down. We all do, now and then.

What’s not okay is feeling stuck in that mire. Because, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that motherhood is humbling. And that is not a bad thing—difficult as it may be.

So here are the biggest ways my kids wear me down from day to day—and how that pain becomes so fruitful when examined in the big picture.

1: Screaming “No!” over the simplest thing.

It happens without fail: We’re having a perfectly pleasant morning, and then some invisible stone shatters my children’s patience and all hell breaks loose. Whether it’s that I chose her socks for the day instead of predicting she’d want that privilege, or I had the audacity to wipe his nose in the middle of an important game of “vroom,” the chorus of protests begins and is overwhelmingly difficult to stop.

I take deep breaths. I say a prayer (even if it’s only three words—“Help me out!”). I remind myself they have big feelings with little capacity to manage them. Sometimes these things work. Often, they don’t.

But you know what does help? When the simplest thing stops their meltdowns. When I recognize that I’m one of few people who understands them well enough to pinpoint that solution. And when I realize that they fully trust me to fix all the things that go wrong for them. Even if I can’t figure it out every time, the times I can, make up for the rest—if only until the screams begin again.

2: Fighting with each other.

My kids are three-and-a-half and two years old right now, and for so long, they got along perfectly. But a few months before his second birthday, they began testing each other’s tempers. It kills me to watch them hit, fight over toys, and pitch fits when the other comes too close at the wrong time.

I try to interfere only when things are getting out of hand. I think it’s important for them to work out their own dynamic—and excessive chastising only makes the situation more volatile (and encourages taddling next time). So it helps some to let them take ownership of their relationship, inasmuch as toddlers are capable of doing so.

But you know what helps more? How quickly they go right back to joy after an argument. I love watching my son recognize his sister’s sadness over his hoarding of a toy, changing his mind to share in the hopes of making her feel better. It warms my heart to see my daughter apologize and kiss ouchies after she’s taken their playful wrestling too far and her brother starts crying.

3: Refusing the special activity I had lovingly planned for them.

I am not a Pinterest mom. So when I put a lot of effort into a special activity for my kids—cookie decorating, finger painting, planting a garden—only to be met with boredom or outright rebuff, it really brings me down.

I know, I know—toddlers’ preferences are highly unpredictable and their interests change daily. I remind myself of these facts, and try to remember that it isn’t about my ego. But it’s hard not to feel let down.

It is the sweetest thing, though, when my kids light up at the little chores I do for them. My daughter gushes with thanks when I present her with clean laundry and ask for help putting it away. My son lights up when I take his hand and help him down the step into the garage that is just slightly too big for comfort.

Those moments remind me that motherhood is in the little, day-to-day moments much more than the big, Pinterest-inspired ones. It’s the little moments that inspire confidence and encourage growth.

4: Being unkind to others.

Sibling bickering is one thing, but when my kids level an angry look or refuse to share or say something unkind to others, it cuts deep. This is especially true when they do it to other family—like their dad, who does everything he can to support them; or their cousins, who just want to play.

They’re still learning good manners, and how to control selfish impulses. They’re still learning the world can’t revolve around them. They don’t mean anything by it, and every teaching moment is immensely valuable. But still.

What I absolutely love, though, is how they care about other people in their world—even strangers. My son loves waving and saying “hi” and shaking hands with everyone he encounters. My daughter is so observant, whether it’s spotting (and wanting to comfort) a sad child at the park or recognizing another mother’s loving care of her baby. Clearly these kids are growing up with compassion—it just takes practice to make it a habit (and don’t we all know it?).

5: Acting crazy during Mass.

I want so badly for my kids to grow up full of faith, knowing how much God loves them. Faith has helped me through life—to be true to who I was created to be, even when it wasn’t comfortable or convenient to do so. They will need that, too, in today’s world. I believe the most basic way I can help nurture that possibility is to dutifully bring them to Mass every week.

It is a righteous exercise, but it is also a chore. Almost every Sunday, the kids are noisy, distracted, argumentative, and/or hyperactive during Mass. I try to ask them to point out Jesus around the sanctuary, or listen for God, or say their prayers. But for the most part, my husband and I must simply manage them while trying to absorb what we can.

When we get home, though, where the kids are comfortable and not overstimulated, I can see the fruits of this labor: sweet prayers at bedtime, well-recited blessings before meals, and excited recognition of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and others in art and books. That easy joy brings me hope for their bright, engaged futures in the faith. And that makes it all worthwhile.

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