Why parenting a toddler is so exhausting
Well, one reason. There are lots, and they all swirl together into a maelstrom of overwhelming fatigue.
But today, I want to talk about something that’s very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t spent day after day taking care of a small child. You get totally worn out because almost every interaction you have with your toddler is a power struggle. It’s amazing how utterly draining it can be simply to tend to life’s necessities, and maybe go to the library or (God forbid) get a sibling to one of their activities. Because every time you want to do anything, you are met with resistance.
Here’s an easy, relaxed morning with your spouse or friend:
Each person grabs their own choice of simple breakfast food. You discuss your plans for the day, and decide to buy some groceries, then swing back home and eat lunch. You spend five minutes cleaning up the breakfast stuff, then hit the store. Everyone hops out of the car and heads in. You cruise through the aisles, each picking up needed items, helping each other remember needed stuff, and check out. Back home, you both help bring bags in, put food away, and get lunch started.
Here’s the same experience with a toddler:
He insists he wants Cheerios for breakfast, but only if he can get them himself. He wants to climb the pantry shelves like a monkey to get them. When told that is unsafe, he throws himself on the floor and screams for five minutes. After helping him get over that, you talk it over and agree he can stand on a chair to reach the cereal. He gets the box, and you put some in a bowl with milk, cut up some fruit for him, and give him a cup of juice to go with it. He looks at the bowl of cereal and says, “NOOOO, I want eggs!” At this point you can tell him to like it or lump it, you can try to remind him that he wanted the Cheerios, or you can make him some eggs. Every choice is bad, and at least two lead to a screaming temper tantrum. Breakfast takes 45 minutes, and ends with you hunched over the counter, eating the kids’ leftovers because you’ve spent so much time and energy on their breakfast, you never made any for yourself. Don’t forget to clean everything up yourself, while the toddler hangs off your ankle complaining he’s bored. You probably have to mop even if he didn’t deliberately throw food this time.
You know what? I’m not even going to do the trip to the grocery store, because typing it is too exhausting to contemplate. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks yourself.
And no matter what discipline style you use, it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get constant blowback and have to deal with it. (Even if people are very harsh with punishments, toddlers just don’t have the mental equipment to control their obnoxious behavior traits – they don’t remember, plan, or regulate their impulses well at all, and neither total unconditional parenting nor brutal spanking, nor anything in between is going to change that.) And the whole point of this post is that, however you deal with opposition, the dealing with it, over and over and over again all day, is what sucks the life out of you.
And that’s why the uninitiated don’t understand. There’s a certain underlying thought of “You’re the adult – just make them do what you want.” And securing compliance from a small child is often quite doable, and one interaction doesn’t drain all your resources and energy. So people who are with their kids for two hours a day, or who babysit, or who witness one interaction between a parent and child at a discount store or park or whatever – to them, it seems relatively easy and they can’t fathom how taking care of small children all day is a hard job.
The good news is a lot of these people will someday take care of small children for long hours, and we will get to laugh at them.