Originally posted on Huffington Post UK
Having 4 children in 6 years means that my experience of looking after toddlers has always also involved being fairly sleep deprived, and with a newborn in tow.
So I operate on a sliding scale, from run of the mill tired, I-have-a-newborn-and-look-a-bit-haggard, to the teething days when you are so shattered that you can’t quite finish a sentence.
Toddlers are unbelievably fun. They are so inquisitive! But they are also absolutely relentless negotiators, unrelenting in their energy levels and that is quite the challenging combination when you have only slept in 20minute blocks for the past week(s).
Let’s roll up our sleeves. This is how you’re going to get through the day.
Caffeine; food; outside.
This is a cycle you will want to repeat during the day. I’m no nutritionist but I’m sure there are some excellent tips out there about energy boosting slow release carbs, protein, maybe some oily fish. You have a toddler and a newborn, so you’ll want to lower your standards: I’ve found that a mars bar with a can of Diet Coke is the perfect pre-8am kick off to the day. Just something to bear in mind.
But really, just sate whatever food cravings you need in order to make your poor aching body feel a little less like an empty shell of exhaustion. (Now it is an exhausted shell full of sugar and caffeine, definite improvement.)
Caffeine; novel activity
A bit more caffeine never hurt anyone. (Did it?)
In any case, something novel, because novelty goes a long way in entertaining your toddler long enough to give you a small break while you feed your baby, and also in making you feel like you’ve given your toddler a good day.
We’re talking novel on a small scale. (We’re definitely not talking novel on an ambitious daytrip hours from home scale – I have attempted this and can report back: nothing good will come of it.)
We’re talking: painting, but on a novel material – on foil, or on a stick found on a ‘nature walk’, or paper plates, or on egg cartons.
I’m thinking: playing with playmobil, or Duplo, or the brio train track – but in a novel environment, in a room you wouldn’t normally play, or outside in the garden (bundle up and put the newborn in a sling).
For snack, if the weather is accommodating, take it outside for a picnic. If the weather is awful, try an indoor floor picnic – just roll out the rug and bring a few teddies to the party.
This will be an important part of your day for all involved. Do whatever needs to be done to make sure this time is enshrined.
If both the toddler and the newborn can nap simultaneously, excellent. If not, at least this gives you some time to focus on them individually. So both options work out well.
Feel pretty sorry for yourself if your newly 2 year old decides to stop napping altogether. That option doesn’t work out so well at all (said with weary experience).
Remember it won’t last forever
We’ve all heard that “this too shall pass” enough times to make our ears bleed.
But what is true, is that the baby/toddler combination hits a peak of difficulty and tiredness and then gets easier very quickly. Don’t feel bad about being a little grumpy every now and then (always). Suddenly you’ll find you are feeling like the days are not impossible. Maybe even pleasant.
Let’s go Outside
Be outside as often as you can on tired days.
Sometimes getting out feels impossible when you are trying to get your toddlers shoes on and then your baby needs a nappy/outfit change/feeding and while you are changing the nappy your toddler takes their shoes off again and you feel like you will never again leave the house.
You definitely don’t want to be out for hours on end with a toddler and a newborn, but a good quick outing to some local green space (or even a local supermarket) is surprisingly easier than sitting in your living room all morning and gently reminding your toddler not to pull the books off the shelf for the hundredth time and/or trying to read a story whilst also nursing the baby.
With my first toddler/newborn combination I was limiting my toddler to one 7 minute CBeebies show, then battling a meltdown for half an hour after switching the TV off. Not a particularly successful effort-outcome ratio.
What I didn’t realise then was that 2 or 3 CBeebies shows in a row – 20 or 30 minutes (or more on an exhausted day) would not be the disaster I feared. In fact my subsequent toddlers have been far less motivated to watch the TV because it is slightly less contraband; and I can get a lot more laundry done / supper made in 20 minutes than I can in 7 minutes.
So what I mean is, either decide that a bit of TV is okay for your toddler (my current school of thought) and abandon the guilt; OR, just ignore screens all together. The middle ground where you feel too guilty to actually use the TV to carve out some time to get something done is probably not worth it.
Remember how nice it is for them to have siblings
Really, this bit is so important and my husband does a great job of reminding me this if I ever feel sad that I am too tired to whisk my toddlers off on some kind of hugely exciting daytrip.
The less exciting days that my children have had as a result of a tired and grumpy mother don’t even come close to the number of great days they’ve had spending time with their siblings.
We picked a bit of an inconvenient time to move internationally to a location with no support network. If you haven’t made this kind of ludicrously-timed decision then you should let people help when they offer. With the toddler or with the newborn or just for a bit of company along the way.
When all else fails, get in the bath. Ideally, hit the novelty button too and throw some kitchen ladles / measuring jugs in, for real excitement. Newborns like being in a bath also, so feel free to make this a family affair. Let’s just say the octonauts figurines have seen some serious action in this household: the ultimate bath companions.
Newborns and toddlers are a busy combination. There are moments when you might feel stretched too thin. There will be a lot of moments when you feel pretty exhausted. It won’t be like your first experience of a new baby, when you could happily while away an afternoon watching your baby sleep. You might feel a bit of trepidation around adding a baby to your toddler routines. But the moments of watching your toddler and newborn together – however brief the moment and however many difficult interactions it follows – those moments are pretty profound. Definitely worth losing your ability to string a sentence together for, anyway. I think. What was I saying?