Recently, the hubs and I went to a wedding in Mexico. It was a blissful, kid-free three days.
The maid of honor, a first-time mom to a 14-month-old, had a very different experience. She was traveling with her little one, who was cranky from teething and off his sleep schedule. Her husband was pretty open with his annoyance, to the point of vowing never to travel with their little one again.
She asked me if I'd had the same experience when my kids were her son’s age, and so I told her the truth.
“The next few years are going to suck, and then they won’t,” I said. “That’s because you have a toddler, and toddlers specialize in making things difficult for their parents.”
She seemed relieved to know the truth: Some things just suck with toddlers. Any toddler. All toddlers. Some things just suck, like being at your sister’s wedding with a teething toddler. That’s the truth. Some things are hard for every parent of every toddler.
I know I felt a sense of relief, during the toddler years when I realized toddler-dom sucks for every parent, not just for me. For those of you with toddlers, I’m gonna let you in on the secret to making those awful toddler moments a little less awful. Let's start at the top.
1. Beach vacations
Also known as the worse kind of torture for mothers, beach vacations take on a whole new meaning when you bring the toddler. That’s because they're reckless, just learned to walk and want to touch everything. Also, they will find their way to the ocean as often as possible. You’ll be so on edge that you won’t be able to enjoy a minute of relaxation in the sun. And forget about your stack of beach reads. The only thing you’ll be reading when you vacay at the beach with a toddler is the SPF on the sunscreen your toddler won’t let you apply.
Pro Tip: Put a rash guard on the little one and save yourself at least some of the sunscreen wrestling match. And keep your toddler busy on the beach looking for shells, digging in the sand, and making castles. Don’t expect to lie in the sun with a trashy magazine. It’s not happening until your kid is a few years older.
There is no better birth control than watching a parent with their toddler at a pool party.
Going to the movies is a blast, until you do it with a toddler. They can’t sit still for long, have to go to the bathroom during the movie and can’t really get through an entire film. Oh, and when your toddler isn’t screaming, “It’s too loud,” they will be shouting, “What did he say? What does that mean?” over and over again. Don’t worry, everyone else’s toddler is doing the same thing so no one can hear yours.
Pro Tip: Take your toddler to age-appropriate movies and don’t be ambitious about what they can handle sitting through. Little ones can get overwhelmed by the darkness and volume, so make sure your toddler is up to it before you spend a fortune on tickets. And popcorn is a great diversion for restless little ones, so that jumbo bucket will come in handy. Plus, yum.
3. Airplane travel
Every mom earns her stripes after flying with a toddler, especially one that just learned to walk. That’s because toddlers like to move, pull, shout and yell, and those things don’t go over well with other passengers. Plus, there’s a bunch of waiting and having to follow rules. So just know that flying with little kids sucks for everyone.
Pro Tip: iPad! iPad! iPad! Throw out your screen-time rules when flying with little ones. Have a couple games and a coloring book on hand for when they can’t use electronics—or don’t want to. Lollipops are great for popping ears (I gave my toddlers ring pops so they didn’t drop them) and I apologized in advance to the non-toddler parents seated nearby. You’d be surprised how gracious people are about loud, busy toddlers when you apologize as a pre-emptive strike. (No gift bags necessary.)
4. Pool Parties
There is no better birth control than watching a parent with their toddler at a pool party. Just seeing moms or dads trying to ensure safety near a pool is enough to make anyone rethink having more. That’s because pools are scary, which means toddlers want to get in them. Parents with toddlers near pools spend the entire time hunched over trying to guide the little one away from the water. Naturally, the kid will only want to go the other way.
Pro Tip: Kids in a pool are easier than kids who want to get in a pool and aren’t allowed to. So even if you don’t want to get in your swimsuit, do it anyway and take a dip with your toddler. I swear it’ll be easier and more relaxing than spending an afternoon baking in the sun trying to keep your kid out of that pool.
Every mom has that friend or relative who thinks it would be so adorable to have your cute little toddler be the ring-bearer or flower girl at their wedding. The problem is, the flower girl part lasts two minutes and the wedding lasts hours. Most toddlers don’t last hours, and they do things like meltdown, destroy decorations and otherwise turn the place upside down.
While a day relaxing and looking at the horizon sounds amazing to us, when you’re 3, all you want to do is move and move more.
Pro Tip: If possible, organize a babysitter to either be on hand with your toddler after their duties or have the sitter pick up your toddler take them home. Trust me, they won’t remember missing the rest of the wedding, and you’ll be able to enjoy your friend or relative’s big day.
6. Meals with older relatives
Gatherings of extended family can be amazing but, when you have the youngest child at the table, your kid’s behavior will undoubtedly be judged and scrutinized. That’s because all parents get toddler amnesia, which means we forget our toddlers were just as wild and unstoppable as yours appears to be. Naturally, anyone without a toddler forgets that toddlers don’t do well with dinners scheduled at 8 p.m. or long lunches that require a little one to sit and eat for hours. Anyone who has a toddler knows toddlers don’t do that. Anyone without one has forgotten.
Pro Tip: If you just have to do the long family meal with your toddler, come with ample supplies of coloring books and toys. And pray for the best. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself and your child when your toddler starts to expire. Whatever you do, don’t be embarrassed by your toddler’s behavior. Everyone at the table may have amnesia, but they’ve been there too.
7. Boat trips
If you’ve ever been invited for a lovely day on a friend’s boat, you know it’s absolutely lovely—unless you have to keep your toddler from going overboard or from melting down from the boredom. While a day relaxing and looking at the horizon sounds amazing to us, when you’re 3, all you want to do is move and move more. Unless it’s a short boat trip, it could get hairy with a toddler.
Pro Tip: Ask your boat-owning friend if you can do a short trip when your toddler is involved. And get a toddler-sized fishing pole so your little one can have some fun trying to bring in a big fish.