If I could go back in time to when I first had a toddler, and give myself some solid parenting advice now, I would sit my old self down and say, “Don’t freak out about this. It is just a phase.“I remember when my first was about twenty months old. Every morning I had to get him dressed first thing and drag him outside, stuff him in the stroller and take our dogs out for a walk. Every. Single. Day.
We are all about routines and rhythms in this house so one would think he would just get the fact that we wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed every day, but somewhere along the way he decided he did NOT want to participate in this routine and would cry and scream that everything was tight. Loose sweatpants? Too tight. Coat made for a 3 year old? Tight. Shoes two sizes too big? TOO TIGHT!!!!
Those shoes, by the way WERE actually 2 sizes too big because we had his feet measured at the shoe store and I got him a pair one up from his size (they grow fast), and he screamed TOO TIGHT! with such conviction that the salesperson practically refused to allow me to buy the already slightly big size and gave me the death stare til I went another size up. Actual conversation:
Overly Helpful Salesperson: “He’s telling you they’re too tight. I don’t think they fit.”
Me: “Yeah, but he says that about everything so it’s hard to know when he’s serious.”
Overly Helpful Salesperson: “I think he’s pretty serious. I’ll grab the next size.”
So we left the store with shoes that were most definitely too big. Not that it mattered anyway, since when we got him home, after one brief moment where he seemed excited about his new shoes, the narrative went right back to the regular ‘ol complaints of them being too tight. Just screaming and crying and begging not to wear them.
The first couple of times I figured whatever, he’s grumpy, he’s tired, he’s getting sick… but it just never stopped. Every day was a fight. I tried various approaches from sympathizing, understanding, even accommodating to some degree, to a no-nonsense tough-love “get those shoes on young man” approach, but no matter what there was screaming. Choosing his own clothes? Nope. Didn’t want to wear anything. Having a race to see who could get dressed faster? Mommy, you win. It was exhausting. I already hated lugging everybody up that stupid hill* with my seriously decreased “I’m pregnant” lung capacity, but this would make me dread morning walks even more. I hated them.
I hated this period of time for many reasons, most obviously just the effort it takes not to scream in your child’s face to JUST PUT YOUR FREAKIN’ CLOTHES ON, and the mental exhaustion that comes from fighting the same battle day in and day out. But one of the hardest things about it, truly, was that it Just. Kept. Going.
It was hard to see anything other than his complete refusal to ever get dressed and though I can’t say I consciously thought about it, it is like I believed this would be the way it was for the rest of my life, every day losing my mind over clothing. And maybe I wouldn’t have believed it at the time, but if someone had come up to me and said, “Don’t worry. It’s just a phase.”, I think I might have been a little more light-hearted about the whole thing. If I could have said to myself, “This is awful, but in two weeks, we will not be having this same fight, so just take a breath and love him.”, maybe it wouldn’t have been so draining.
Because it really was a phase. One day, he got dressed without complaint. He just let me put socks and shoes on him, like that was the way we had always done it. Though occasionally he refuses jeans and requests “comfy pants” instead, it has been almost two years without another complaint.
Oh how I wish I could go to myself back when it all began and whisper, “It is just a phase.”
When you are in the trenches with a toddler, it can truly feel like their refusal to eat anything green, wear pants, pee on the potty, willingly climb into their car seat – whatever – is all there is. But barring any actual illness or behavioral disorder, pretty much everything is a phase. And in hindsight, knowing those 5 words, “It is just a phase” – especially when I was in some of the worst of them – would have helped.
And sure, you can’t just let your child go without shoes until the ‘phase’ is over. We still have to parent through it, help to lead and guide and not allow destructive behaviors, but to know they are just going to essentially grow out of it and you just have to ride it out? That knowledge is sweet freedom to us mommies in the thick or it. This too shall pass.
*I include this portion only for sympathy: At that point in time we were in a rental and there were 20 cement stairs, a very steep driveway, and then a block to walk (allll up hill) before I could retrieve the stroller from the back of our van where it had to be stored. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had two dogs to manage and the stairs had no railing so M couldn’t get up alone. Oh, and I was pregnant. So yeah, this phase of life SUCKED.