Life with a toddler can be tough. From Goldfish crackers in your shoes to permanent marker on your piano, here’s how to survive the toddler years with grace and gratitude.

Doing a double-take to be sure I was seeing it right, I squinted at the view outside my kitchen window.

Sure enough, there she was. A distant flash of pink, my youngest daughter in her pastel footie pajamas was clear across our acreage, running the distant fence line with our hound dog.

Nearly dropping my phone into a sink full of soapy water, I blurted, “I gotta go” to my mom on the other end.

I jammed my toes into my shoes and shuffle-scurried out the back door and down the three steps to rescue my tiny toddler from—

I stopped short. What did I think I was going to rescue her from?

Our back yard is entirely fenced in. Sure, she had no shoes or jacket, so besides saving her from the slight nip in the air, she really was quite safe. She was just running after all, laughing hysterically when our dog’s long tail whipped her curly head when together they about-faced at each end of the long fence.

It’s one of those times in motherhood when the growing up catches you off guard. Seemingly without warning, they’re in another stage—capable of more independence.

Up until this day, my littlest had stayed within the confines of the back porch, toddling around with her toy workbench and playing in the dog bowl—safely contained by her own undeveloped gross motor skills.

Until she wasn’t. And with lightning-quick legs and a vigilantes cheer, she opened the back door, toddled down the back three steps, and bee-lined it—leaving me with mouth agape, wondering when she had learned to descend steps without holding my hand.

WISDOM FROM ‘THEM’ ON LIFE WITH A TODDLER

“The days are long, but the years are short,” ‘they’ say.

I’m slowly finding this to be true.

It feels like just yesterday that my older two children were toddlers in their own footie pajamas. The hand-me-down clothes that suddenly fit my littlest are proof that once they were small too.

Then I blinked. Or maybe I blacked out, I’m not entirely certain.

These are the years of goldfish crackers everywhere. They’re in the pockets of your fancy jacket. They’re peculiarly lined up in a neat row on a window sill. They’re at the bottom of your boots just waiting for your foot to smash them to crumbs.

Parenting a toddler is hard.

I spend an insane amount of time scrutinizing my daughter’s daily bowel movement and trying to time it to happen directly before nap time—if there even is a nap time. Lately, it seems ‘nap time’ has turned into a few brief minutes with my pillow over my ears to drown out the screaming before giving up and giving in.

We try really hard, us toddler moms. Sometimes we even put effort and energy into home-cooked meals with green things and everything—just to have it spit directly into our outstretched hand.

But still, we hold out our hands because that’s what we do. Time and time again, we come back for more—more messes, more tantrums, more diapers, more accidents.

We are well aware that these days are fleeting because they keep telling us to, “Enjoy it! It goes fast!”

We smile and nod—even while trying to decipher whether the wetness seeping through our shirt is from a leaking diaper propped on our hip, or from that the “spill-proof” cup chucked into our purse, which is now mingling with half-eaten granola bars and of course—goldfish crackers.

“Enjoy it.”

You know, sometimes I think it’s okay not to enjoy cleaning out the sludgy mess from the bottom of our purse.

“You will miss it.”

That very well may be, but forgive my skepticism because I’m not so sure I will miss the permanent marker scribbles on my piano, or the potty training accidents in which the entire contents of my Target shopping cart get coated in urine.

Perhaps it’s okay not to enjoy living as if we are jet-lagged despite having gone no further than the mailbox.

Life with a toddler is hard. And saying so doesn’t make us ungrateful, it makes us human.

ARMS OUTSTRETCHED

Yet, even in these trenches made up of laundry and snot trails, we somehow keep putting two feet on the floor in the dark of the early morning hours. Day after day, we put out our hands and lift their bed-headed, soggy bottoms from their crib and into the start of a new, long day.

My exhausted threadbare prayer in the middle of this is that I don’t miss it before I am destined to miss it.

Sometimes my littlest will stand at my feet and stretch her arms tall, demanding to be picked up. In her own adorably mixed up words, she says,

“I hold you!”

Yes my darling, you hold me.

You hold me wrapped tight around each of your little fingers. You hold me, even though I am the one doing the holding; the carrying; the propping on my hip while stirring the spaghetti sauce.

On especially long days, we too may throw our hands up. We reach as tall as we can toward the sky, and to the only perfect Parent in the universe, we plead,

“I hold You!”

And we will hold on to Him. We will hold tight to His promises. We will grasp a fistful of the hem of His robe and beg for His power to help us through one more tantrum. One more juice spill. One more dumped-out toy box.

Yet, even as we cling with white knuckles, it is really us who are being held. Propped on a Holy hip and carried forward. His Spirit will whisper into the hamster wheel of our life if we let Him,

“Enjoy it.”

And we will try—to enjoy it. Because even in our exhaustion, we know. The reminders are everywhere we turn: a pair of shoes suddenly too short, a fully articulated sentence in a child’s tone, a gummy smile replaced with a full line of hard-earned baby teeth.

We stick our nose into the top of their head and inhale, locking the scent away in our memory. Because we know it’s coming when time will slap us in the face with the stinging side of the temporary.

And with a blink, little legs whose first steps are fresh in our memory will bolt out the back door. They will chase the distant horizon, away from the long days and into the short years.

We will call after them hem in hand,

“Enjoy it! It goes fast.”

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8 comments
  1. Beautifully written but can I just say this? Parenting is HARD no matter what age or stage your child is in. It doesn’t get easier because they grow it just gets different – in many ways it gets harder. Saying so doesn’t make those who have walked the path ungrateful or unkind it just makes it true.

    And yes you will miss it …

    1. I already do miss it! You’re absolutely right. It’s all hard! With two older kids in addition to my littlest, I have yet to encounter a stage that hasn’t stretched me with its unique challenges. Keep an eye out for posts from the many Joyful Life blog contributors for every age and stage of parenthood. But I was asked to write specifically to moms of toddlers.

  2. Loved how you drew the scene with your words I felt like I was there with you. This is so true. Thanks for sharing your heart.
    Little people have so much to give and teach us!

  3. Thank you. Loved this. Just this morning my toddler asked for a bit of granola and when I gave it to her she promptly spit it right back into my bowl. Typical toddler morning.

  4. Annnnd now I’m crying! So good, Laura. So good. The details brought me back to those days when my kids were toddlers and goldfish were everywhere but my sanity was nowhere to be found. Thank you for bringing a fresh perspective to being held as we try to balance the shortness of the years with the long, long days of parenthood.

    1. Thank you Andrea! I appreciate the encouragement so much. Yes, these days are long but the years are flying by. My littlest turns 3 in two weeks so the toddler days are nearly behind me and I can’t hardly believe/ stand it. ❤️

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