As of today, my three-year-old toddler and I have been staying at home for a little over four months. As a working mama, finding a balance between work and being a temporary stay-at-home mom was a struggle at first. I definitely went through the motions with a wide range of thoughts and emotions. The first few weeks began with me juggling my hectic job on a computer that wasn’t completely up to par with my work station and making sure that my toddler was learning and developing as much as he would if he were still in daycare.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect us to be home for so long. In my mind, I had imagined we’d be like other countries, being shut down for maybe 3 – 4 weeks and then resuming life as normal – or at least as normal as normal can be amidst a global pandemic. As the weeks continued, and there was no news of returning to work or school, the cabin fever set in as well as a swell of other emotions. My biggest emotional struggle was feeling guilty about having to work especially when my toddler would want to play during work hours. The situation would go one of two ways; either I would reply with a soft, “Mommy’s working right now but we’ll play later”, which resulted in a disappointed toddler walking away, or I’d stop to play with him for an hour to two, only to return to my work to find seventy to eighty unopened emails. Most days, I’d find myself working until 1 or 2 AM to catch up after everyone else went to bed.
I’m sure parents everywhere can relate to the stress that this pandemic has incurred. Stress is something that can eat away at your mind and spirit, leaving many of us feeling drained, fatigued, and hopeless. It’s also reasonable to assume that our children are undergoing a great deal of stress during this time as well. Things are constantly changing, play dates are a thing of the past, and routines are constantly changing. While I noticed that my toddler was adjusting to his “new normal”, I also noticed that every day, he woke up with a happy attitude and disposition that usually continued during the day (with the exception of a few tantrums).
Was I shocked that my toddler was handling all these changes with a cheery outlook? Yes and no. Granted, in the grand scheme of things, toddler problems and adult problems are vastly different. However, looking through my son’s eyes, I could see how the stress of routine changes, not being able to see his friends, and not being able to leave the house to go to the park or store, could affect mental wellness. But that wasn’t the case with my toddler. Yes, he’d have his moments of frustration, but overall remained his normal positive self.
That’s when I realized that maybe instead of this being a teachable moment for my toddler, this experience was a teachable moment for me. Below, you’ll find a list of ten important life lessons that I learned from – yes – my three-year-old toddler.
- Take Things One Day at a Time
At the beginning of quarantine, myself, my husband, and millions of working Americans had one question on our minds, “how will we pay our bills?” Thankfully, my company was able to resume operations from home, but my husband, like countless others, was indefinitely furloughed from his job. Between the hassle of getting through to unemployment and readjusting our budget to prepare for a “worst-case scenario”, anxiety began to set in.
Watching my toddler as the days passed wake up every morning with a fresh start and a can-do attitude gave us the needed encouragement to take things one day at a time. This doesn’t mean that we threw all caution to the wind in regards to our finances, but it reminded us that we didn’t know what the future held, and being overly anxious wasn’t helping anything. Instead, we approached things with a “best-case scenario” outlook and took the time to properly prepare ourselves for any bumps in the road.
- Enjoy the Moment
One thing I’ve noticed about my toddler is that he’s amazing at enjoying a moment he’s in. Whether he’s enjoying a favorite snack or sees a bird outside, he always finds a way to find the joy in the moment. Often, I find my mind racing with thoughts about the past or future. I had to learn over time, to take a moment to be present, and to find joy in the present. Watching the world through a toddler’s lense can really alter your perspective; taking in the moment and finding joy in the little things helps encourage a spirit of gratitude and contributes towards mental wellness.
- It’s Not THAT Serious
More times than I can count, I’ve watched my toddler trip or bump into something, cry for two seconds, and then move on with whatever adventure he’s on. Obviously, by adulthood, most are able to move on after bumping their toe or tripping up the stairs (I hope), but this lesson taught by my three-year-old represents something more symbolic. Often, I allow myself to get tripped up on small inconveniences and may hold onto them for parts of my day, but my toddler shows me that you can brush yourself off and keep it pushing.
- Spontaneity is Sometimes a Good Thing
For parents, quarantine has definitely sparked creativity in trying to keep our little ones – especially toddlers, entertained and mentally stimulated. After running through my Pinterest boards, I simply decided to start asking my toddler what he wants to do. This question sparked the most interesting dialogue, with ideas ranging from going to space to making cookies. In my toddler’s eyes, the world is limitless and full of adventure. Taking a note from him, I decided to incorporate spontaneous activities into our daily routine. The second I sense we have some downtime, which could be easily spent on the tablet, I pop up with a surprise activity. We’ve baked together, gone on indoor and outdoor treasure hunts, or taken a random walk around the neighborhood while playing a game of “I Spy”. The break in our routine isn’t only great for our mental wellness but is great for bonding time.
- Memories are Priceless
I don’t know about the rest of ya’ll, but the COVID-19 pandemic is something that I’ll NEVER forget. The world stopped for some time and we all had the opportunity to spend more time with our families and learn the importance of togetherness. While the circumstances were less than ideal, I’m so grateful for the chance to spend quality time with my toddler. As a full time working mama, I often complained to my friends and family about the guilt that often comes with having a career and being a present parent. Over the past few months, I’ve been able to make priceless memories with my little boy; from making pancakes together in the morning to overcoming the hurdle of potty training together.
- It’s OK to Have a “Bad” Day
Mental health is a genuine concern during this global pandemic. Being quarantined for four months takes its toll on both adults and children alike. There are days when we wake up and we’re just “not feeling it” – and that’s OK! During the quarantine, there’d be days when I’d be less productive than usual (i.e. spending a good chunk of the day in my PJs playing Sims while my toddler runs circles around the living room). As someone who’s dealt with mental illness, some days, I’d find myself slipping back into a functional depression or letting my anxiety get the best of me. My toddler would have his days too – he’d want to spend a little extra time in bed or some days he’d want to spend cuddling. Could I be upset at him because he wasn’t up and ready for the day? Absolutely not! What I’ve learned from my toddler is that sometimes a “bad day” can be a restorative day, a day of healing. What matters the most is that we take care of ourselves first and then go back to taking care of business.
- Be True to Your Emotions
Anyone who has a toddler or has at least interacted with one is sure of one thing: toddlers never hold back. Young children possess an emotional skill that as we get older we’re taught to suppress or even eliminate and that is to express your emotions as they are. Toddlers are prone to tantrums when they’re upset or can display unparalleled bliss or excitement when happy. They are experts at expressing emotion. Now I’m not saying next time something goes awry to throw a full-on temper tantrum, but expressing our true emotions in a healthy way can actually heal us and enable us to move on.
- Togetherness is a Blessing
During this pandemic, many people are blessed to be together with their loved ones, and unfortunately, many are also not. Pre-pandemic, it was so easy to be wrapped up in our outside lives, saving quality family time for the weekends or squeezing in an hour or two before bedtime. Now we’re together for a lot longer and I couldn’t be more grateful. Yes, we get under each others skin sometimes, that’s part of any healthy family dynamic. But the real treasure is getting to spend extra time with each other, something we shouldn’t take for granted.
- Flexibility is Everything
Want to hear a funny joke? My 2020 vision board. That’s the joke and the punchline. (Don’t worry, I’m not quitting my job to pursue my stand up career anytime soon) I’m sure I’m not the only person who had goals and plans for this year that fell to the wayside due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My toddler, who started a new school two months before quarantine, was enjoying his new environment, teachers, and friends. However, once lockdown began, instead of crying about how he misses his school (which I’m sure he does), he simply found joy in things he could do at home. Just like that, he went with the flow. Being flexible is something that’s important if you want to preserve your mental wellness. Inflexibility can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety that could be avoided by trying to make the best of the present situation and planning accordingly for the future.
- Patience is the Key to Mental Wellness
You may be thinking, “what could a toddler possibly teach an adult about patience”? Well, well, well. My answer is, “a whole lot”. I’ll be honest, back in March when everything shut down, I expected to be home for three or four weeks at most. Then April rolled by, then May, and then June. As the weeks progressed, my anxiety started to rear its head. “How much longer is this going to last?” I’d ask myself. Meanwhile, my toddler ,who’s left the house even less than I have, simply wakes up each day with a fresh perspective. He doesn’t think about how many days he’s woken up still at home, but somewhere in his mind, he’s accepted that this will end at some point and he just has to be patient. Watching him has helped me look at the bigger picture and be grateful for the days that we do have and to be patient that there’s an end to this pandemic.
Overall, I’ve been extremely grateful to study this little book of wonders that is my toddler. In his simplistic way, he’s taught me so many crucial life lessons, lessons that although are beyond his current understanding, will follow him as he grows and flourishes.
What have your little ones taught you during this pandemic?