By the time your kid is a toddler, chances are you’ve had so many fun, crazy, and often exhausting experiences with them that you’ve forgotten just what life was like when you were pregnant.
If you’re on your second child (as I currently am), the last time you were pregnant was hugely different for one key reason: you didn’t have to take care of any kids while you were going through your pregnancy.
If you got hit by a sudden bout of ridiculous fatigue or morning sickness, you could take the appropriate measures to rest (As long as you could arrange it around your work schedule).
However, life with a toddler is a very different beast.
There’s no way of guaranteeing that you won’t be crazy tired when your toddler is in the middle of an energetic spurt (read: demonic possession), that they won’t demand smelly food when you’re nauseous, or that they won’t decide to practice singing nonsense words at the top of their lungs while you have a headache.
The art of being pregnant and being a toddler mom at the same time is a hard one to master, for sure.
Here are my top, hard-fought tips on how to manage both roles without going crazy (or falling asleep in the viewing room of your 3-year-old’s gymnastics class).
Tip 1: Start Wrapping Your Head Around Caring for Two Kids (and Listen to Your Body)
If you’re a mom of one toddler, you’re probably used to arranging your life around their needs. This is good. It means you’re a good mom who cares about her kid.
However, now you’re going to have to start switching your mindset to catering to the needs of two little critters.
Most people think this balancing act starts when the new baby is born, or possibly when you go into labor, but it actually starts much sooner.
Every time you have to put your toddler on hold to make yourself a vegemite and honey sandwich (or whatever tiny fetus demands in exchange for not making you nauseous), you aren’t being selfish, you’re learning to balance the needs of two kids.
This sounds silly, but when your body starts demanding that you nap, sit down, or otherwise stop your riveting game of tag, it’s mighty tempting to engage your “gym brain” and try to power through the pain/fatigue/discomfort. This is when you need to start switching your mommy mindset to “mom of two.”
When your body wants rest, it’s actually the baby asking for a higher percentage of your physical resources. You aren’t being lazy, you’re donating your calories to a good cause, which consequently leaves fewer to fuel your day-to-day activities.
As you make this mental adjustment, listen to your body and take its requests as your first parental duties towards your new little one.
Tip 2: Practice Patience
One of the hardest part of being a toddler mom is staying patient.
We all know we’re supposed to keep our cool and be that solid, rational mom all the time, but sometimes it’s way to tempting to throw a little temper tantrum of our own.
This only gets worse when we’re tired, stressed, in physical pain or discomfort, or overmatched (Chances are as a pregnant mom of a toddler, you’re 3 of those 4 things by the time noon rolls around).
I had a really hard time controlling my temper when my toddler acted out when I first got pregnant because I was just so overwhelmed (and exhausted, and nauseous…constantly nauseous) that my hard-fought self-control didn’t seem to cut it anymore.
This is totally normal and (more importantly) totally fixable.
If you think patience is one of your “areas of potential improvement,” check out my master list of how to have more patience as a mom.
Tip 3: Find Sedentary (for You) Activities (for Them)
One of pregnancy’s hottest commodities is time spent not standing up.
Seriously, I’ve started giving myself little breaks where I just sit down on the spot and let my body rest for 5 minutes before I carry on with whatever I was previously attempting to do. I look like a complete nutjob sitting down in my closet halfway through putting on my pants, but you can’t debate its efficacy.
However, whenever a mom sits down a toddler demon gets its horns.
Seriously, the second your bum hits the couch, they see it as an opportunity for mischief. This only gets worse as you become a larger and slower-moving opponent.
Some of the best ways to do let them have fun while you get to sit relatively still involve taking them to play centers, parks, or other places they can run around, but these can get expensive and aren’t always feasible.
The trick to solving this problem is to find activities you can do with your toddler that involve fun (for them) and sitting down (for you).
When I was beginning to grapple with this issue, I took some time and compiled a giant list of all the different activities that can entertain your toddler while you’re sitting down…and indoors to boot!
With a few craft supplies and some pre-planning you can give yourself regular breaks while actually doing something interesting, fun, and developmentally beneficial for your little ball of toddler energy.
Tip 4: Capitalize on Fun When You Can
Despite my previous advice to sit still as much as possible, there will be times when you have bursts of energy or actually feel like doing fun things.
When you get these bursts, don’t always spend them on work, laundry, or other household chores.
Yes, these items are by far the most pressing in the short term, but it’s important to prioritize your time with your current child, especially once a new one is on the horizon.
First, you really want to cement your bond and your existing child(ren)’s security in their connection with you.
This will make them happier, more confident, and less insecure going into their new paradigm as the older sibling.
Second, as a pregnant lady of dwindling mobility, it’s important to do all the stuff you used to do when you felt normal (you know, back before you became host to an energy-sucking, nausea-causing parasite) whenever you get the chance.
I regularly feel the need to apologize to my toddler about how mommy isn’t fun anymore (my words, not hers…thank goodness). It’s totally normal to feel rundown, exhausted, and hungry all the time. You’re pregnant. That’s expected.
However, if you can manage to make the most of it when you do have the energy for a game of tag or a trip to the local park, it can make a huge difference in the happiness levels of your toddler.
Tip 5: Communicate with Your Spouse
Most of these tips involve your relationship with your toddler, but let’s not forget about your relationship with the person who got you into this mess: the hubby.
Whether you have a husband, a same-sex partner, a boyfriend, live-in relatives, a goldfish….living with a pregnant person is no laughing matter (unless they really have a death wish). It’s got to be a little bit scary and a lot bit helpless to see someone else’s body get slowly taken over by an alien being (Or at least it is according to my husband).
One of the nicest, most merciful, and most helpful things you can do is communicate clearly and consistently with the people around you.
By letting people know what you’re body is going through (in non-graphic terms…those non-pregnant, mere mortals can’t usually handle too many specifics) and more importantly what they can do to help and support you, you can increase your quality of life, enhance your relationships, make them feel helpful, and maybe even gain a little support and help along the way.
Tip 6: Practice Toddler Discipline Now
Having one toddler is no laughing matter, but you do still have the added benefit of one-on-one focus time when it’s necessary.
You can bend down to their level and take however much time is necessary to talk them out of that Target tantrum, and if that fails you have the hands to throw them over your shoulder like Shrek and carry them out of said Target.
Pretty soon, neither one of these things will be true.
As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll have to rely more and more on “voice control” to make your toddler behave (Siri, reason with my 3 year old). Take this challenge head on and try to focus as much as you can on discipline, obedience, and active reasoning skills.
Learn how to deal with tantrums, really drill down on setting (and reinforcing) good habits, and make sure you’re consistent as much as possible.
This way, once you hit the “I literally couldn’t catch you if I wanted to” phase of pregnancy and even more so once you have to split your focus between two kids, you’ll be blessed with the solid groundwork you’ve established thus far.
Tip 7: Let The Toddler(s) Help
One of the only good things about toddler-dom is their burgeoning desire to be independent.
Now, this doesn’t sound like a good thing when it’s manifesting itself as an absolute refusal to put on clothes the right way (or at all), but it can (fortunately) be hijacked to serve good instead of evil.
Toddlers come specifically preprogrammed with a crazy desire to be helpful, which can be incredibly useful to you, especially as bending down to pick up things that have fallen on the floor becomes more and more like actual cardio.
There are two ways you can engage your toddler’s innate drive to be helpful: build habits and set up systems.
How to Build Helpful Toddler Habits
The key here is to strategically pick habits (usually one at a time works best) and then take your time to teach your toddler whatever habits you’re trying to instill and then enforce them vigilantly.
If you want to teach your toddler how to keep the house tidy, you have to set logical (even to toddlers) rules about how that is accomplished.
I wrote a blog post documenting how I trained my toddler to help me keep the house clean (with surprising levels of success), but the basics are simple.
- Pick one new rule at a time.
- Explain it to them simply.
- Walk them through it until they get it completely.
- Help them do it right the next few times.
- Enforce it maniacally, 100% of the time until it’s second nature.
- Seriously, 100% of the time. Even when you’re tired.
How to Set Up Systems for a Helpful Toddler
While young toddlers (1 or 2 year olds) might be too young to understand an official chore chart, it’s never too early to start establishing the “good behaviors get you good results, bad behaviors get you bad results” connection in their little heads.
If your toddlernado isn’t ready for an official chore chart yet, think of behaviors and rewards they can understand.
Things like picking up toys by themselves mean they get 10 minutes to play in the yard or going an entire bath without splashing means an extra book before bed are definitely within reach.
And it’s never too early to start thinking about how you will approach household chores.
I’m a huge believer in the long-term benefits of chores, both practically and when it comes to their psychological development.
In fact, I wrote an entire blog post on how to create a chore chart that works, which includes practical modifications that you can make to create a chore chart for your toddler.
Teaching the older kiddos to be helpful around the house will do you an immense service, both while you’re pregnant and once the baby comes.
Tip 8: Be Merciful to Yourself
The most important thing is not to lose sight of the fact that you’re doing something incredible and that you should get credit for that.
I’m not trying to get all ethereal and blather on about the miracle of life, but it’s pretty darn impressive that you’re going about your day to day life like nothing is happening while you’re simultaneously turning grilled cheese into a live human.
Seriously, lady, take a bow. 50% of the human population can’t do that.
So, if in the course of your day you don’t get all the laundry folded, if the toddler gets an extra 20 minutes of iPad time because it’s literally the only way you get to sit down, if your house has a few extra dust bunnies…the world isn’t going to end.
This pregnancy will pass (They don’t stay in there forever, I googled it).
Your life, career, and house will eventually go back to “normal”, whatever that was like anyway.
For now, be gentle on yourself.
You’re doing two very hard things (creating a human and raising one) at the same time. Just surviving until bedtime is a huge achievement for which you should be celebrated.