From my faded C-section scar to my newly found first grey hair to the ridiculous number of unmatched children’s socks scattered around my house, it is fairly obvious that I am not new at the mom-game. Parenting is full of stages – all different and all difficult! With every birthday our children celebrate it is like we, as parents, advance on to the next level. I felt like we ‘levelled up’ big time with the start of Kindergarten and the school routine (I hear it happens again around puberty so that is something to look forward to). But before school came the toddler stage. I have managed to get through it twice relatively unscathed. But I just have to say that parenting a toddler from a wheelchair belongs to an entirely different realm of childrearing than anything else I’ve experienced.
Now I understand that all children are different and that we can’t parent each of our children the same way. However there are certain abilities that are universally helpful when dealing with toddlers. I would think that most people who have raised children would agree that being able to pick up your toddler comes in incredibly handy. This is an ability I had when my boys were two and three but lost before my daughter reached her terrible-twos and threenager status. Now, instead of being able to scoop her up if she isn’t cooperating, we negotiate.
Yes, my life has become a giant string of negotiations. Do you have any idea how time consuming it is to negotiate with a toddler about absolutely everything you want to do? I’m talking everything: getting dressed, brushing teeth, doing hair, putting on shoes, putting on jackets, going to the car, getting buckled, going into a store she decides isn’t on her to-do list, leaving a store she isn’t ready to leave yet, going to the bathroom, getting ready for bed and pretty much anything else that she could decide doesn’t work for her in that particular moment. We even ended up in negotiations over her moving out of a doorway so I could get inside.
The issue isn’t me picking her up and putting her onto my lap – I can get her onto my lap. The issue is that she knows what to do so that I can’t get her onto my lap. She will lay on the floor or run into the few spaces of the house she knows I cannot reach her. With my boys, I would have hoisted them onto my hip and put them where I needed them to be. Without that luxury, I spend a lot of time convincing my three-year-old daughter that the task at hand is going to be really important and fun. This new way of corralling my daughter takes a lot more time and patience but the most frustrating time for negotiating with her is mid-tantrum.
Tantrums are a time when the small amount of reasoning you can achieve with a toddler has vanished. That is when I find myself up against my miniature drama queen (miniature in size but not in dramatics) trying to convince her to go to time-out until she calms down. As you can probably imagine, it is hard to convince her that it will be really important and fun. When my boys were her age I was able to simply remove them from the situation and put them into a quiet space. Since my injury, if I can’t get my little miss to a quiet space, I put myself in one. The worst thing you can do during a toddler tantrum is lose your own patience/temper. Some days I have the patience of a saint and I can ignore the tantrum – some days I have the patience of a tick and I cannot. If I feel like I’m about to lose my patience, I put myself in time-out with her on the other side of the door (I’ve convinced myself that she still thinks she’s the one in quiet time because the door is still separating us). However we end up dealing with it, the tantrum always comes to an end and we start again just like before.
But these tantrum moments are some of the times when I feel the limitations of my parenting the most; when the way I parent feels so fundamentally changed and unmanageable. The day-to-day negotiations don’t hit me as hard as they used to because we are getting better at it. But those moments where I feel like I’m out of options because the way I know how to do this parenting thing isn’t always the way I can do it anymore – those are the moments that really bring a mama down. Those are the moments I wish for nothing more than my old life.
But it’s been made very clear to me that my old life is no longer an option. It’s this life, with this body and my little threenager who I personally like to describe as a firecracker. And, for the most part, we do pretty well! I have a few tips for other chair users (or anyone who would like to perfect the very difficult technique of toddler negotiations).
Lay It out Step-By-Step
I find that life is easier if my daughter knows what to expect of our immediate future. When we are getting organized in the morning I will tell her the list of what we have to accomplish (she has even started to ask what the list is most days). When she knows she has to get dressed, brush her teeth and do her hair before reading books, it can make the negotiations quicker. Now, she is still three and completely capable of going off the rails at any particular moment but, for the most part, when she knows what is coming her way we only have to negotiate briefly between each task for her to be agreeable.
Leave Extra Time (A Lot of Extra Time)
In general, children are not fast creatures when it comes to getting out the door. But now I have to convince our toddler to make the decisions to get ready; I can’t force her to sit and put her shoes on like I used to with my boys (among other key factors in preparing to leave the house). To make matters even more difficult, she talks A LOT and while it’s entertaining, it adds a lot of time in between “let’s go to the bathroom”, “please sit down so I can put on your shoe”, “please sit down so I can put on your other shoe” and “let’s put on your jacket” – all of which are repeated numerous times. I also cannot pick her up and put her in her car seat if she has decided she doesn’t want to. Trust me when I say that you should always leave more time than you think you will need (and then even, leave a little bit more). However, if I’m being honest, I am actually still learning this lesson myself. I’m almost always late. For everything.
Demand Too Much and Your Bargaining Window Will Close
This one I’ve learned the hard way. As soon as my daughter starts to push-back when I’m requiring her to cooperate, I back off a little bit. The more obstinate I become about wanting her to do something, the more likely she is to completely stop listening to me and, possibly, head down tantrum road. That’s when I start to negotiate and (leading me into my final tip) bribe her.
Ok I know you aren’t supposed to bribe your children (even though I have yet to meet another mother who has actually headed that advice) but sometimes, you just have to. When time is of the essence and I need her to cooperate I bribe her with some smarties or movie time. It’s that simple.
There is no denying that I have had to change some of the ways that I parent my children. Even so, there are a lot of aspects to dealing with my boys that aren’t very different from when I was able-bodied. They are older, more independent and slightly more capable of reasoning than the littlest one in our family. But there is no doubt in my mind that the toddler stage is harder from a seated position than it was from a standing one; absolutely no doubt. But we’re doing it! And even with the added difficulty, I know I will miss this stage with her. She is a feisty little thing and she makes me laugh. She is my last baby and I can’t believe how quickly she is growing up. So I know in a few years I will long for the days of her terrible-twos and wish for her to be a threenager yet again (just like I do with her brothers). But in the midst of those toddler negotiations and dramatic meltdowns, I feel like I’m ready to ‘level-up’. Even though I know what is coming next and those f*cking-fours sure aren’t anything to get overly excited about.