When we were in the throes of potty-training our first child, we had some friends visit from out of town. They were first-time parents with one sweet little baby, cute as a button. The dad, our dear friend, had recently seen a Dr. Phil show about how to potty train your child in one weekend. And bless his heart, he proceeded to tell us, “All you need to do is X, Y, and Z, and she’ll be fully potty-trained by Monday!”
As if we hadn’t tried X, Y, and Z.
As if we hadn’t tried every A, B, C, D, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, and T as well.
As if we hadn’t spent the past year doing the potty-training two-step, with rewards, encouragement, bribery, cajoling, trickery, and everything short of witchcraft to try to get our sweet girl to poo regularly in the toilet.
All parents know how annoying it is to get parenting advice from people with no children. I’m actually amazed that people do that. I hope to God I never gave anyone parenting advice when I was childless. If you ever saw me do it, feel free to slap me retroactively.
Almost as annoying, however, is advice from people who are parents, but who only have one darling angel child under the age of 3. These parents are what I call POOPCUPs:
Parents Of One Perfect Child Under Preschool-age
POOPCUPs are—bless their hearts—full of crap. It’s not their fault. They just don’t know any better. Our dear friend with his sweet baby was a POOPCUP. I’m pretty sure I was a POOPCUP, too. In fact, I probably could have been President of the POOPCUPs. Dang it.
Quite often, first children are somewhat angelic, at least in the eyes of their parents. It’s the brilliant delusion that prompts us to have more children. They’re adorable, they make us gush with overwhelming love, and before the age of three, they trick us into thinking we’re awesome parents. Sure, having a baby or toddler is tough. Sure, sometimes they cry for no explicable reason and get into things they shouldn’t. Sure, you have to watch them constantly. Some (like mine) sleep like crap. But that’s about it. The rest of it is adorable grins and giggles, big sweet eyes, sloppy kisses, and lullabies.
I know those of you with toddlers are going to flog me for saying this, but parenting kids younger than three years old is fairly easy. Having kids under three is hard, but parenting them is easy. Or, rather, it’s simple.
I remember thinking when our first child was a toddler, and I was exhausted from the sheer physical bombardment of chasing her, dealing with her erratic sleep, carrying her, changing her diapers, etc., that I was in the midst of the toughest stage of parenting. I thought for sure I was going to be much more adept at parenting an older child. I thought I was better equipped to handle the psycho-emotional challenges that older children present, as opposed to the physical challenges of toddlerhood. After all, I’d been a teacher. I was good at the talking to older kids thing. And I thought if I could just reach the stage of parenting when I could actually get a full night’s sleep, and maybe a little time to exercise and/or meditate without a tiny person sticking her fingers up my nose, I could handle any emotional challenge my kids could throw at me.
The reason I thought that is because my kid had not yet developed the combination of verbal acuity and deep understanding of her own free will that releases the real Kraken of parenthood. Two-year-olds can talk, and they like to exert their will sometimes, but at that point it’s still sort of cute. They have that will power, but they haven’t learned how to wield it yet. Exerting their will is done sort of haphazardly, like me trying to play a sport. I know how, but I have no real skill, so it’s just sort of entertaining to watch.
But around three, they start to become AWARE of their will and their ability to exert it. Combine that with an exploding vocabulary, and you have the Tyrannical Threes. They’re still cute as can be, but in my experience, three is when the real work of parenting begins. The work I thought was going to be easier for me. The work for which I felt myself better prepared.
Oh, how naive I was. I had no idea that the emotional side of parenting is just as, if not more, exhausting than the physical part. And it’s exhausting emotionally AND physically. I’m not sure how that is, but it is.
Anyway, back to my being POOPCUP President.
Our first child was a delightful baby and toddler. She didn’t sleep all that well until she was about 18 months, but other than that, she was a little bundle of joy. She was bright and precocious and curious and adorable. She listened well, she was agreeable and obedient most of the time, and she had a smile that could melt steel.
If she had stayed our only child and stayed a toddler, I could have been the most self-righteous mother alive. I had a kid who was compliant and cute, and a genius to boot. Oh, and pious as well. Once, when she was three, we were at a prayer meeting and she sang every prayer in her little children’s prayer book. And then she sat through the rest of the prayer meeting quietly and reverently, barely making a peep.
Oh Lord, I was SUCH a POOPCUP.
Our second child, naturally, was an entirely different animal. In fact, she is literally an animal. At age two, she named her baby doll “Horse,” without the least bit of hesitation or rethinking after the fact. She can do a fast gallop on all fours that literally drops people’s jaws. Since toddlerhood, she’s had an almost exclusive focus on wildlife, and has verbally lamented more than once—with tears and everything—that she was born a human and not an animal.
Needless to say, she didn’t sit through prayer meetings at age three. You can really only serve one term as POOPCUP President. Once you have more than one child, you realize that so much of who they are is in their nature, and not a result of your stellar nurturing skills.
I know that saying all of this might make me unpopular with the parents of one little one. I remember being annoyed when moms with more kids would act as if I somehow didn’t have the experience to contribute to the vast pot of mommy wisdom when I only had our first. And I totally acknowledge that even having one child can be insanely difficult at times. But it’s nothing compared to having more than one. That’s not said in judgment, but in fact.
I understand POOPCUPS because I was one. And I’ve known some. You probably know some, too. You may even be or have been a POOPCUP yourself. If you’re past the POOPCUP stage, you may rue the POOPCUP’s smug, misguided, or totally incorrect advice, but be patient with it.
Their time will come. Let them enjoy their perfect child—while they still have one.
Related post: A Letter To My Pregnant, Child-Less Self…