I should call this "the most challenging thing about mothering a toddler" since, I've never mothered a preteen or a teenager or an adult, but that is much too long a title.
I've had the sleepless nights. The one-am wakings. The "I'll eat all my peas" followed by the very next day of refusing to eat peas. I've had tantrums in stores, running away from me when I tell him to stay, playing with his poop, coloring on the walls... but none of those have come close to the most challenging aspect of motherhood, at least not for me.
My most challenging aspect of motherhood is my own emotions. My reaction to what my son does.
They tell you you'll be tired. They tell you to expect crying at all hours of the day, and that you might have to give up showering and sex for awhile, while you figure out how to juggle tiny people who need you all the time. They tell you it takes a village, and that lukewarm takeout might become your best friend. And all these things are true. You do have to figure out how to take care of a tiny human and still find time to be intimate with your spouse. You do need a lot of support when you give birth, and after a long day of spit up and diapers, take out from the Chinese restaurant down the street is heaven. Even if you have to watch your husband eat it while its hot because you are nursing, and listen to your baby cry while daddy holds him while you finally eat. Oh, I don't miss those days.
But no one really told me how angry a tiny little person who won't sleep could make me. Or how short my own fuse would be when I hadn't slept. No one told me, or maybe I wasn't listening hard enough, that when my son Reuben screams and throws himself on the floor I might suddenly want to strangle him. Like really, truly want to strangle him.
A war within myself.
I'm a gentle mama. We don't spank, we don't hit our son. But many times I want to, and I have to check myself. It frightens me how angry I can get towards him. I've never felt this kind of resentment or impatience towards another human being. I thought I didn't have a single violent bone in my body!
One time I was trying to put on my son's pants. Reuben has two arms and two legs until I try to clothe him or change his diaper, and then he has 24 arms and 62 legs. Seriously. Needless to say after what felt like forever, he still wasn't wearing pants and I had given up and burst into tears. He, however, was laughing at me and trying to remove his diaper. I felt like a failure mom who couldn't even calmly put pants on my son without losing her head.
It's been a few months. I'm better at pants now, but I've also noticed a trend. Reuben makes me angry when he refuses to do what I tell him to do. Not all the time. But the 5th time he spills his water, even through he knows how to drink out of a cup, or the 34th time I have to remind him to please leave the plant alone or WE DO NOT LICK THE TRASH CAN, I feel my fury building.
And it isn't his fault. He's eighteen months old. Of course he's going to be curious about the trash can and plants. Of course he is going to need reminders about how to drink water. But it just makes me. So. Angry!
I've learned ways to help me cope with my anger so I don't explode and yell at him. Or bottle it up and yell at my husband later. I take a break. I turn on Daniel Tiger for my son and take 25 minutes to cool off. Or, if I've already used TV time (we try to do low media here) I get myself a bowl of ice cream. Often I'll call my mother in law and invite her over the next day to play with Reuben so I can get a few hours to myself. If my husband is home, I tell him how I am feeling and he watches Reuben so I can relax. It helps. It helps so much, even if I just get five minutes to breathe.
Another thing that helps is not heaping so many expectations on myself. I have this idea of what a good mom is, and when I don't meet that, I get angry at myself, and at my son. Instead of trying to live up to some paradigm of motherhood, I need to just take care of Reuben and myself. The rest will work itself out. I can't forget that I'm a real, breathing human being with needs and wants of my own. And I can't forget that Reuben is also his own person, with ideas and opinions of his own that I need to respect. He isn't my puppet. He's going to rebel, and instead of anger or resentment I want to react with love and kindness and support when he's struggling. I also want to have a positive outlook when I'm struggling, but that is much tougher. Sometimes I feel like I'm a baby too, demanding my way from a little human who is just learning how the world works. Kindness matters.
Reuben has taught me a lot. He keeps me on his toes. And tickles me pink, because he has no clue. He's just being Reuben. And I'm his mom.