5 Real Life Lessons I Learned From My Toddler

by Bethany Liston
parenting a toddler
Christin Lola / Shutterstock

Toddlers are insane. There’s no two ways about that. They are developmentally incapable of reasoning, impulse control, basic personal hygiene, and high-level thinking (and I mean higher than “Where are my crackers?” and “Why isn’t Mickey on TV?”). So basically, by adult standards, they are actually insane humans. They are just tiny, and generally cute, so they typically get away with it.

All that aside, the more I think about it, my toddler really has taught me a few things. Or maybe I’m just romanticizing him being terrible. Either way, here’s what I’ve learned while parenting a toddler:

1. If I don’t want to wear a particular shirt, I will refuse to allow it to be placed over my head. I will scream and kick and throw myself to the floor dramatically.

When did we get so focused on appearance as a precursor for personality and success? If I don’t have on a fancy outfit at work, I’m slacking off. If I go to the store in my yoga pants and hooded sweatshirt, I’m “that mom” even if I don’t have my kids with me. There are days when I just don’t want to spend my time adjusting skirts or dress pants and tucking in blouses. There are days that blue jeans are just too stiff (and they have a button and a zipper—I mean come on). That is OK. Go to the store in soft pants! Everyone! It doesn’t diminish my intelligence or worth. Now, if I dress like that every day, I may be confused for my former college-self, so best to keep it in check.

2. If I have to poop, I’ll stand in the middle of the room and do so proudly. I’ll then demand you change my diaper immediately.

I’m not encouraging publicizing bodily functions. What this has taught me is to stop being ashamed, worried and quiet. We’re all people. We’re all good at some things, bad at others, unaware of some things, brilliant at others. We can’t live each day being afraid to speak up just because we might be wrong. If something is important, demand that others pay attention. If there is a better solution, or something even more important, be open to hearing it. Nobody learns anything in a silent room.

3. If you laugh when I do something, I’m going to do it again. The fart sound I made with my mouth is now the background music of your life. Enjoy.

Positive reinforcement—it’s important. It’s behavior-changing. It’s freaking hard. It’s hard to remember when someone does something that is often expected of them, to say good job. It’s much easier to notice the wrong thing and criticize. This goes for friends, co-workers, children and spouses. I need to be more aware and recognize the great (even mediocre) things people are doing and say good job, say thank you. Alternatively, I need to lighten up when something is done wrong. Mistakes happen. It’s not just everyone in my life that sometimes makes mistakes—it’s me too. I need to let it go. Thanks, Elsa.

4. If you do something to upset me, I’ll knock you down and walk away. If you have a toy, I’ll take that with me. I may even look back at you with satisfaction.

No, I don’t push strangers down—not regularly. But sometimes I do need to learn to stand up for myself. It’s so easy at work, at home, in social circles, to take the fall or sacrifice my own ideas or wants or needs for the good of the group. Now, I’m not saying everyone should become a self-centered asshole. Nobody will like you, and this lesson will be inapplicable. But sometimes I need to put myself first, like when I go to Target alone or find a way—some way on this earth—to drink coffee while it’s still hot (no microwave involved). We need to give more than we get but not forget about ourselves. Finding a balance is important.

5. If I love you, I will run up to you full-speed and throw my sticky little arms around you. I will hold nothing back.

Why don’t we do this as adults? Life if fleeting. Life is unpredictable. There are times I’ve watched my husband interacting with our children and I am so overcome with love for him that I really ought to run up to him and throw my arms around him—around all of them—but I don’t. I don’t because of something stupid like the fight we had the day before that actually doesn’t matter. In fact, what was it even about? I don’t because I’m busy washing dishes. I don’t because I’m distracted sorting thousands of teeny tiny socks that will be removed by teeny-tiny humans the instant they are applied, so why do they even exist? I need to ignore the peripheral noise and live in the moment. We never know how many more moments we’ll have.

Toddlers may be exhausting, messy, noisy and inattentive (unless you’re Mickey). Luckily for all of us, they’re usually also funny, loving, and may have a few things to share besides snot and half-eaten food.