Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Caring for Ourselves

When I spend the majority of my day caring for 8-12 toddlers per day, I tell people, “When I get enough sleep, I have the best job in the world. When I don't get enough sleep, I have the worst job in the world.” People who don't have children laugh, and people who do have children laugh too, but it a completely different way.

I believe that there are a couple of reasons for the stark contrast of how it feels to be with kids when we're rested vs. when we're tired. The first and most obvious reason is that our patience is impaired, along with our imagination and our wit, all three of which are huge bonuses when it comes to enjoying the children in our lives. But I think it's actually more than that. I think that it has to do with the fact that children learn how to interact with the world though imitation, and it is largely us who they are imitating. Not just our actions, but our mannerisms, attitudes and moods as well. So when I am short on patience and snappy in my interactions, I suddenly have my hands full with children who can't get along with one another, and can't resolve their conflicts peacefully. Children have no filters at this age.  They soak in whatever is around them, and it comes out in their actions.

If we accept this idea that children soak in and imitate everything around them, then we must strive to be worthy of imitation as often as we can. And this means taking care of ourselves. Not just in getting enough sleep, although that is certainly necessary. But to really take in and believe that the more we care for ourselves, the more that benefits the children in our care. Not just our physical self, but our social, intellectual and spiritual self as well.

Our Physical Self
Caring for our physical self is fairly straightforward, although even this can seem overwhelming if you have a toddler and a newborn at home. Getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, and exercising all help us feel less harried and more alive. Outdoor air and sunshine are also important for our physical selves, and young children benefit enormously from large chunks of outdoor time, so try to be outside with your child both morning and afternoon if you can, perhaps a long walk in the morning, and play in the yard or at the park in the afternoon.

Our Social Self
Caring for young children seems to take up all of our energy, and we often feel too tired and sometimes even guilty to take the time to nurture our social lives. But making the effort to have social time with other adults, both with your child and away from your child, is important. Having social time with other adults while your child is present can start out as a challenge if they're not used to it. Start small, and use it as an opportunity to teach your child the skills they need in social situations: to welcome a guest into the house and offer them something to drink, to say “excuse me” if they would like to interrupt two adults talking, and to thank them for coming when they leave. I loved having guests at both Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten and at Rainbow Bridge, and the children quickly grew to love it too, and often played 'guests visiting' in the play-room.

In addition to having guests over, it's worth the expense to get a babysitter, or the effort of arranging childcare swaps, to take social time away from the children. Go on date-night with your partner. Meet a friend for coffee or for a drink. I remember quite clearly as a child when my mom's friend Harriet would call, my mom would excuse herself, and I'd hear peals of laughter emanating from her room for the next twenty minutes. I would sit outside the door, unable to hear the words but enthralled with this new, vibrant side of my mother. Later, as a teenager, I used to babysit for a family with three boys ages five and under. Every other Friday they would go out on date-night together, and come home laughing and full of life. I remember even at age 16 being impressed that they “had a life” (as I thought of it) just with each other. When you take the time to be social without your children, the positive effects spill over to them.

Our Intellectual Self
By nurturing our Thinking Self, I mean pushing ourselves to continuously push our boundaries and learn new things. This can happen through signing up for classes, doing workshops, reading books, or any way of seeking out new ideas and working to gain new skills. I can clearly remember my dad referring continuously to instruction manuals as he did home-improvement projects, saying quietly to himself, “Aha, so that's what I need to do.” Or going on nature walks with him and stopping to figure out what kind of conifer we were standing under, using the tree-identification book. He'd go through all the questions with me (rough bark or smooth? Long needles or short? Single or multiple needles from one spot?), but he wasn't doing it to teach a botany lesson to me, he was doing it because he was curious. He was nurturing his Intellectual Self. Likewise, when I took the LifeWays early childhood training, every time I came back from a training session I was completely jazzed up, full of new ideas of things to do or try with the children. Or simply seeing the things we were already doing in a new light, based on my new-found knowledge of child development. I was truly sad when the year was over!

Our Spiritual Self
If you already have a spiritual or religious practice, then take the time to renew your energy in these areas. But even if you don't consider yourself to be spiritual, you can nurture your Spiritual Self quite simply by doing the things that help you feel grounded or centered. For me, these include going on hikes by myself, doing artwork, sewing, dancing. Each time I do one of these things I feel so good afterward, and think, “Why don't I do this more often?”

Which things make you feel that way?

If reading all of these areas with the different selves makes you think, “well, that sounds nice and all, but I'm far too busy with my high-maintenance two-year-old who is driving me crazy,” I sincerely suggest that you think again. You don't have to work on all of these areas of your life at once, just choose one thing to take care of yourself, and start to do it. Children are happier when the adults in their lives are happier, and they are learning their way through the world from us. Taking care of ourselves is an important piece of taking caring for them.


  1. Absolutely spot on! When I was pregnant with my first child, before knowing I was pregnant, I craved cake after dinner (not having been such a cake eater) and fell asleep at eight o'clock . Little did I know that was my body's way of preparing me for what was to come.When our eating and sleeping are adequate and refreshing, it's like the world is brighter and lighter. Now with a teenager, I am struggling to stay up late enough to be there with him when he is energized and wants to hang out!

  2. I find it difficult to reconcile my needs with the needs of my children, particularly in relation to attachment parenting and co-sleeping. I have PND and I think a large part of this is cause by not sleeping properly due to a frequently waking 9-month old and one a night by my 4-yr old. My boy is in our room and often in our bed. I don't sleep all that well sharing my bed but I love my kids and want them to feel secure, loved and not pushed out.
    Still, I can clearly see that I am not a good parent when I am sleep deprived.

  3. I know there are lots of opinions on co-sleeping, and I think it's great if you love it. But if it's interfering with your sleep to the extent that you're grumpy during the day, I would say that it's time for a change! Part of being in a family is figuring out what works for ALL of you, and you can't meet your children's needs if your needs aren't being met. So don't feel bad about taking care of your needs.

    One transition could be to put a bed for your son on the floor next to your bed, and to take him back whenever he gets out, sitting with him until he's settled (this will be less restful for you in the beginning, but he'll get the hang of it!). Be sure to give him lots of extra love and snuggles during the day, and be supportive and compassionate at night as you help him settle back into his bed.

    Once he's ready for his own room, you might try putting the two kids into the room together, so he doesn't feel like he's all alone, or being excluded from the whole rest of the family. I shared a room with one or more siblings until I was 10 years old, and I loved that time that we had together, without the adults.

    Anyhow, hopefully this will get your creative juices flowing. But I want to encourage you that taking care of yourself allows you to be a better mom, a better role model, and a better person all around!