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What do I wish I knew as a mom of two children under 15 months?
I received this question on Instagram and it meant so much to me that anyone would trust me to ask my thoughts on this big, huge, gigantic subject. I started to type a fast response on my phone, but then realized I really needed to give it a good 24 hours because I felt such a responsibility to really think this one through and say the right thing.
So here I am, writing out the long version of all my thoughts on this subject. Because I think it matters that people still struggle with the big, basic, not basic, challenging life stuff of having two kids. Even one kid! Or five (which I most definitely cannot speak to). I’m still challenged by this fundamental life shift and I’m currently in the process of decluttering at warp speed because I am on a mission to once and for all slow it all down and be surrounded by only the things that we need, want, or that bring us joy. A girl can dream.
So here you go. My big, long list of things I wish I had known.
1. I Would Have Read This Book About Parenting a Toddler Sooner
I have been told by well-meaning friends not to read parenting books, because the messages are so conflicting it’s crazy and it’s just better to do nothing, or read no books I mean, than to try to go down the rabbit hole of hopping onboard with this or that parenting philosophy.
I have been a long-time book lover, so I was probably not the audience for this type of advice. I would have loved to have read parenting books, however, the right ones for me. And I guess I should put it out there that the books I suggest that were game changing for me won’t work for everyone. Because I had other well-meaning friends send and suggest parenting books that were just totally wrong for me and I couldn’t get into them, and then I defaulted to the advice to ignore all the books.
THEN I found a string of books geared towards the aspiring Montessori parent (hand-raised), which I either read partially, not at all, or almost all the way through. I had a love-hate relationship with these books, because while I completely agreed with their idealism of positive parenting and doing things purely the Montessori way, sometimes it made me just cringe and want to never finish reading the book.
Because of course I want to do activities with my two toddlers and have everything go perfectly according to plan. Of course I want to just give them a lesson on window washing and let them have at it and be so inclined to properly spray the water bottle at the window and not on their or their sister’s head. Of course.
Oh Crap! I Have a Toddler was the book that saved me as a toddler mom. As soon as the last line was read to me on my headphones, I went to my personal book collection, and extracted any and all parenting books and sent them on their way. I had no use for any other toddler parenting book. I didn’t need the idealistic energy in my space any longer.
Again, I realize this book won’t resonate with everyone, and I will admit that towards the end of the book I felt like i was hearing things I had already heard in my other books. But this book is hands down THE book for toddler parents who used to be self-improvement book junkies. Like myself. You know, back when we had time to indulge in reading self-help books just for fun.
I am honestly still processing some of the advice in this book and coming up with new ideas of how I can be better based on the ideas that were planted from this book. Notably, I am constantly working on getting in 20 minutes of focused time with the girls (which I learned from the book) and continually finding ways to cut things out of my life to create more time (another huge, invaluable chunk of the book). This book gets the credit for saving this drowning toddler mom. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing (I get it), read my blog post where I highlight the chapters that were the most life-changing for me personally.
2. I Would Have Read This Book on Potty Training Sooner
The initial short version of my response to this big important question was that, as weird as this may sound, if I had to pick just one thing, I would have read Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki sooner.
Then I realized that might be a bit premature for a mom of a 15 month old, which moves this book to position 2 on my list of things I wish I had known. However, I would have ideally read it at 18-20 months of age for our first baby. So I guess it’s not totally off base to recommend this book sooner rather than later.
It kind of wrapped up a ton of parenting advice that I happened to agree with under the guise of potty training, which was a huge insecure sore spot for me as a mom. And I feel like, if I had just read that book (I mean listened to it on audio of course — no full-time working mom with two babies/toddlers 15 months apart has time to sit down and read a book, obv) sooner, like maybe a good few months before the ideal time to potty train is, maybe it would have helped.
But I also know that if I had read it sooner, I was a totally different person, in a totally different life situation, and at one point in a completely different house. And also, did I really have the inclination or time to read it sooner?
I have already written a few blog posts about my experience potty training and how this book was a game changer so I will refrain from being too wordy about it here. But the reason that book comes to mind isn’t probably for the reason you would think. It’s not that I feel like I should have started potty training with our oldest sooner (although I do). But the real reason is because this book was about so much more than just potty training.
Maybe I read it at just the right time for me, at the time when I needed it most. Because I reached the point of DESPERATE TO POTTY TRAIN. And all I could do was search on Amazon “best potty training book” and give the one with the most and highest ratings a shot. So I wasn’t the only one who was desperate, apparently.
Desperation aside, this is my best, number one (now two) what I would have done different declaration. And it’s not that slowing down and enjoying the moment aren’t on my list, but I feel like this question is “what would you have done that you feel is a practical, useful tip”. I think just saying things like “they grow up so fast – enjoy every moment!” Aren’t exactly useful, because of course we all want to try to enjoy the moments we can, but practically speaking, I guess what I’m trying to say is I (almost) missed the boat on potty training and if I could do it again, I would have been there HOURS before the boat was supposed to depart, listening to my audiobook, and gearing up for what was the inevitable milestone staring at me from the future.
3. I Would Have Been Stronger in My Decluttering Effort Sooner
This one is tricky. Because decluttering is incredibly time consuming and somewhat emotional. Who has time to declutter after they have kids anyway?
I have been on a decluttering, simplifying kick since before even learning I was pregnant the first time. And look at me now: still decluttering, with a 3 and 2 year old in tow. But I am absolutely DETERMINED to live my dream of being surrounded by only the things we use, need, or bring us joy. And recently, I can see much more clearly how that directly impacts my life as a mom of any number of children any ages apart. But ya, if you would have told me 5 years ago that I’d better get it together now because it’s only going to get more complicated, I would have ignored that sage advice I guess. Because I did.
But I’m getting better. And this question originated from a pregnant mom of a 10 month old. But maybe it doesn’t really matter. Maybe we can all stand to declutter and maybe the motivation to do so doesn’t quite hit us until we have a real need for it, if ever. But if I had had more characters to type on my Instagram message, I would have elaborated on decluttering more sooner. Like being more ruthless in the decluttering. Because as I said, there are some complicated emotions that accompany clutter and we all have a personal responsibility to manage that if only for our own sanity, I mean if you are like me and have a low tolerance for clutter. If you don’t have this affliction, you are probably better off anyway. Next.
4. Let Go of Things When They Break or Lose Pieces
Ok I lied. I am still on my decluttering kick. I learned this little nugget from an episode of The Home Edit. When a kid’s toy breaks, get rid of it. I can only hope that there is someone craftier than me out there who can make things whole again. But I have learned to accept that I am not the crafty mom. I do not possess this skill. So I let things go.
In my recent decluttering efforts, I have been bringing out BABY toys to see if the girls are still interested. To my surprise and delight, they generally are. These toys have gotten buried beneath the clutter, sadly. But for example, I brought out this sweet wooden shape sorter that I got when Claire was a baby. We haven’t really used it much, because it was too advanced I think when I originally got it, then she went through a throwing anything wooden phase, and now here we are over 3 years later. She is actually engaged in using it. But wouldn’t you know: she noticed the exact shapes that were missing. And she was MAD. Where’s the little butterfly and the little flower, she asked?
I’m no carpenter. I’m not about to attempt to recreate the missing pieces. So off to the donation bin this puzzle goes. But it has been taking up space and part of the general clutter problem that makes it impossible to get to the things they actually could use. So I’m letting it go to make space for the things we actually can use.
5. Don’t Worry About Teaching Them Everything, But Don’t Feel Bad if You Want to Teach Something
The Montessori influence is creeping in here. Now that our girls are 2 and 3, I am finally starting to click with the concept of sensitive periods. Briefly, this is a time when they are naturally inclined to learn something specific. If you are able to recognize it, you can harness it, and it makes it so much easier for them to learn that thing because they are already super interested and it seems fun to them during that period.
For example, over the past few weeks I have noticed that our 3 year old is counting everything. Like everything she sees. It just clicked in my brain that she is having a sensitive period for numbers and counting. This is the time to introduce books, games, puzzles etc. that have to do with numbers and counting. Because she is super inclined to be engaged with them and it feels fun to her right now.
So I got this numbers peg board activity I had seen on a Montessori YouTube channel I have been following for years. And I was right! This was exactly the right time for her to be most engaged in this activity. She loved it.
But earlier in life, I was so confused on this whole education thing. I was trying to do numbers, letters, colors, shapes, etc. everyday because I thought I had to. I knew nothing. Now I get that it’s a natural progression that you really don’t have to force.
I gave a few of the numbers peg boards to our 2 year old so she wouldn’t feel left out. She was perfectly content just to stack the boards. And now that I get it, I was perfectly fine with it! That is so her! She LOVES stacking things and moving things from one place to another. That’s where she is with her learning and development. And it’s great. And she also loves to copy and count alongside big sister.
But also, if you want to introduce something, go for it! You never know! You are their mom and you are going to hear endless comments about it but ultimately you get to decide what is the best flow for your family’s life.
6. You Don’t Have to Buy Everything All At Once
This kind of stems from the previous one. When I first saw that numbers peg board on the Montessori YouTube channel I followed, I felt like I should buy it. But I can see now that it didn’t really make sense for us until now.
There are so many things I felt like I should buy that I bought too soon. And then they ultimately got ruined before the girls could even use them properly and I just ended up getting rid of them because they had too many missing pieces or were beyond repair (like the Montessori dressing boards I bought when Claire was a baby — insert eye roll at myself).
7. And For the Montessori Inclined…
I wanted to be a Montessori Mom. I had a hard time wrapping my head around exactly what that meant. And having to work full-time, even though from home, I felt so distracted from being able to focus on figuring out just exactly what the heck Montessori even actually meant. I knew I wanted to do it, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how to do it.
This course on doing Montessori at home was really the first Montessori resource that I felt was approachable enough for someone like me who just needed the basics spelled out and didn’t really have time to read five books on the theory and then practicality of Montessori. If you are into the Montessori philosophy, this was an affordable resource that I wish had been available to me sooner. I got it as soon as it was launched and it really helped me see how to manage life with two toddlers much more clearly.
The clichés will always be there. Just the other day, a friend sent a sweet, very well done painting-looking black and white photo of a mom laying in bed, kissing her toddler girl on the mouth, with the other baby girl cuddling up next to her, sleeping sweetly on the other side.
She SWORE it was me and toddler Claire and baby Emma. I knew intellectually that I had never had a picture like that done of us, but honestly, I could have sworn it was us too, if I hadn’t known better. It truly did look like us, if I had been “with it” enough to have coordinated such a beautifully staged photo of us during that time, when one was a toddler and one was a baby.
I read the post accompanying the photo, which was supposed to make me cry. I knew it would, and it did. And my first instinct when I got this question was to say something like “get a great photo of the three of you snuggling in bed because before you know it they won’t be that size anymore and the chance will have passed.”
There’s just a tad bit of pressure on us to get things just right. But no matter what, we will all have the “what I wish I knew” reflection in any given life situation.
What’s more important is that we continually move forward, because that’s the only choice we have. To move into the space the future makes for us, and make new memories and experiences. The way I know to do that is through reading books and courses to make myself better and decluttering and simplifying so I have more time to just be, freely.
So there you have it. My manifesto on parenting two kids 15 months apart as babies and toddlers. I hope it was helpful in some way. These are the ways I am teaching myself to handle the gigantic task of parenting that I didn’t quite know how to do before it all started.