Bringing up toddlers is ten percent fabulous and 90 percent slog. Take it easy if you can. Accept help, let go of judgment, good taste, and stain-free clothing.
No one can deny the cuteness overload that comes from watching ankle-biters stomp around in their father’s shoes or cover themselves in spaghetti at dinner. But it does wear off after lengthy exposure – and the stress of 53 loads of washing a week.
Yep, toddlers are cute; they have to be, or they wouldn’t survive long enough to inflict their own offspring on their parents.
The toddler years
My kids were quite sweet as toddlers. My daughter used to hook her arm around my neck when I’d lie next to her in her little white bed, murmuring, ‘Mummy, my mummy’ in contented tones. She used to think the sight of my naked body was particularly hilarious and had an obsession with watching me in the toilet, providing a running commentary on the action. ‘
Mummy did poos,’ she would solemnly announce to shop assistants. ‘Not just wees today, poos as well. Good mummy,’ she’d say.
As I’ve detailed in other pieces, I am a half-arsed mum, not a helicopter mum. Half-arsed parents survive by working out how far their standards can drop while keeping toddlers safe long enough so they can fund their old age.
So if you’re the mum of a toddler, ask yourself: how low can you go?
A few years ago, one UK mother took to popular website mumsnet to ask advice from others on this issue. It prompted a vigorous debate about where to draw the line when it comes to pre- schoolers’ behaviour.
A dad called Saucy Jack offered his assessment:
‘No biting the cat. No putting things up your bottom. No throwing things at the telly.’
Brilliant. I’ve had three kids, and not one of them has ever put foreign objects up their bottom (as far as I know).
But my three-year-old daughter did lie on the floor of a fancy shoe shop waving her legs in the air, and showing off her bottom while yelling, ‘botterm, botterm’. She’s now a teenager and I hope she doesn’t draw inspiration from that moment once she starts dating.
Another mumsnet mum revealed she draws the line at ‘bare bums or fighting. That’s it.’
If only adults would stick to the same rules. Parents on the site thought it was adorable when toddlers would tell smokers they’re going to die, tell family members they are fat and advise strangers that ‘drinking makes mummy happy’.
One talked about the ‘cute’ things her daughter did, such as drinking from the dogs’ water bowl and blowing bubbles in their potty with a straw. Clearly, some parents have very strange ideas about where to draw the line.
Line? What line?
When my older son was a toddler, I never knew if I was too hard on him or not hard enough. My policy of choosing to pick the battles I fought meant I made a big deal about him holding my hand when crossing roads, but I let him make a mess and wear what he wanted.
I didn’t ever feel like I got that balance right, which is why he was often at the shops in mismatching gumboots, Batman cape and a tutu covered in jam stains.
Same thing for my younger son. When he was a toddler, he loved to pick weeds for me from other people’s gardens, took forever to get in and out of a car seat, and always left the house with a little collection of irreplaceable Lego, which was usually lost.
Half-arsed parents work out for themselves where to draw the line without taking advice from nosy in-laws, opinionated friends or Instagram influencers. In the end, I indulged the Lego because it was cute, but I did start backing out of the driveway in a bid to get him to buckle up faster.
Pick your battles
And although I enjoyed the flower picking, I didn’t always have time for him to choose the perfect yellow flower from a field of 500 other identical weeds on every nature strip on the way to school. Yes, I did tell him to hurry and pretend to walk off and leave him behind. Half-arsed parents work out whatever works and keeps them sane and go with it.
It’s not easy. Oh Lordy, no. As a toddler, my older son was so contrary that he instinctively craved whatever he knew I didn’t want him to have.
‘No whining,’ I told him one day. ‘Me want whining, me want whining,’ he screamed immediately, not even knowing what whining was. He’s now a teenager and sounds like a man when he speaks – usually to ask for money.
When I ask him to get off his phone when I am driving him places, he looks at me sadly. ‘That’s right Mum, you’re not a millennial, you’re no good at multitasking,’ he says.
Clearly, I still don’t know where to draw the line.
Discover the secret of half-arse parenting
Dr. Susie O’Brien’s book The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting is out now. You can get it at Booktopia, Dymocks, Good Reads or Big W.
Check it out on Insta and stay tuned because we’ve got more arse-halfed parenting pearls of wisdom to share every week!