So God Made a Mother Collection ➔

Psst, hey, fellow stressed-out Mommies..

If you are in a similar position as me, just got your Baby/Toddler down for a nap and you really were going to get right on those dishes/laundry/emails but you’re so tired that all you can do is flop down on the couch, phone in hand… read on. I have some wisdom to share on how you can make Mommy Life with a toddler significantly less exhausting.

First, let me give you a brief background story on how I stumbled upon this coveted knowledge:

Recently my son’s pediatrician referred us to the Early Intervention program, because Baby Smoosh was delayed in a few developmental areas.

I was crushed. I’m a stay at home mom and use every fiber of my energy towards teaching my son how to do stuff. I thought I was giving him such an advantage with the 1-on-1 attention 24/7 (forget that I’m exhausted and going borderline insane, my son is going to be the next Picasso and Mozart and Einstein all rolled into one person, darn it!) How could he possibly be behind?

So I quickly set up an appointment with the E.I. therapists, who determined that Smoosh scored low enough on his Self-help and Gross Motor Skills to qualify for further therapy. However, when the price tag reared its ugly head, I balked. You want me to pay how much for someone to come play games with my kid for an hour each week?! And why am I not capable of playing these same games and having the same effect… For free?

Well, it turns out that I am. Smoosh’s evaluators have clearly been doing their jobs for a long time and know the dirty little secrets of therapy. When they saw the look of horror cross my face as they presented the price chart, I think they felt sorry for me. And then they tactfully divulged the secret that every overwhelmed mom should know:

Ready? Give your kid some space.

Now, I know as a naturally overbearing, first-time mom with a kid so cute I can’t possibly step away from him for more than 30 seconds that this is not an easy thing to do. You feel like you’re neglecting your child if he’s awake and you’re not paying attention to him. You need to be right there, down on the floor to name all of the things he points at and smile at him when he does something cute and just generally make him feel loved, right?

Well, yes. But also no.

I’ll explain.

What Smoosh and every other blossoming toddler needs is simple direction, followed by freedomFreedom to explore, make mistakes, and learn. By me helping him every time he asked, I was actually hindering his development, both physically and mentally. Here’s an example:

The therapist pulled out a puzzle to do with Smoosh. He picked up the “neigh” (horse), and after unsuccessfully trying to fit it in the correct spot, he put the horse in my hand, said “Momma” and made his sign for “help.” So of course, I helped him. After that, he decided he was done with the puzzle and went over to rifle through the therapist’s bag of toys. But the therapist closed her bag, and despite Smoosh’s protests, had him sit and finish the entire 8-piece puzzle. I was not allowed to participate. In fact, she encouraged me to go into the kitchen out of sight. Smoosh did some more complaining and lots more demanding for some help, but by the last piece, he proudly placed the duck in the correct spot all by himself. 

A few days later, Smoosh and I were playing with some colored beads from my art stash. He entertained himself for awhile pouring the beads from one cup into another, until he suddenly decided that was boring and dumped the entire cup of 100 beads onto the floor, then headed over to get some crayons. My first instinct was just to pick the beads up myself. No way did Smoosh have the attention span to do it himself. But I remembered the tactic of “Give direction, then give space.” I called Smoosh back over to the bead disaster and explained that we had to clean up, demonstrating by placing a bead back into the cup.

“No!” was his response. Of course.

“Look, Baby,” I responded, my patience already wavering. “Pick up a bead, put it in the cup. Can you show me?”

Smoosh looked me in the eye and gave an adorably devious smirk. He picked up a bead and with the force of an NBA player, slam-dunked it into the cup, sending the beads I had already picked up flying. This happened about 100 more times before he finally realized we were absolutely not playing with crayons until he finished picking up the beads. And when that clicked, he went into busy-bee mode, scouring the carpet for beads and placing them nicely in the cup while I sat back and finished my cup of coffee from two hours ago. Magical.

After weeks of this tedious power struggle, Smoosh became more and more capable of following directions and accomplishing tasks on his own. He’s even getting better at solo creative play – which of course makes me weepy that my baby is growing up too fast and doesn’t need Mommy to build his block towers for him. But such is life.

Sure, we could do expensive therapy for the next few months and yes, it would help. But I could also sit back and let Smoosh battle with getting his monster truck out of the toy bin all by himself. Yes, he will get frustrated. He’ll scream and maybe even cry. My heart will break and I’ll feel like a horrible mom for not just giving him what he wants.

Or, I can give him five minutes. Maybe a simple direction to first pick up the giant popper toy that’s pinning down the truck, then try again. And chances are he’ll figure it out. He’ll be proud and happy and have learned a new skill all by himself. 

I realize that for you experienced moms, this probably isn’t a ground-breaking discovery. But before Smoosh, I had zero experience with toddlers. I wildly underestimated their mental and physical capabilities, and assumed an 18-month old still needed to be babied. Learning this ‘giving space’ trick was like finding out the the ‘Disappearing Man’ act in a magic show is really just using a false wall and a trap door. This is why magicians never share their secrets: It takes something that appears impossible and reduces it to a “well duh” concept.

To be fair, I should probably re-title this article: “How to Make Life with a Toddler Easier in the Long-run.” Because those first few days/weeks where you train them to follow directions and struggle through a task on their own can really wear on your patience and fray your nerves. But they will learn. And they will flourish. And you will finally get to finish that morning cup of coffee before it gets cold. Doesn’t that make it totally worthwhile?

Jessica Mautone

Jessica is a first-time, Stay-At-Home mom who loves to write as an outlet for the stress that comes along with raising a strong-minded little boy and two yappy dogs. Credit for her creative inspiration goes to good wine and frequent travel. 

I Know It’s Just Summer Camp but I Miss You Already

In: Kids, Motherhood, Tween
Kids by campfire

You would’ve thought I was sending you off to college. The way I triple-checked to make sure you had everything you needed and reminded you about the little things like brushing your teeth and drinking plenty of water about a thousand times. You would’ve thought I was sending you to live on your own. The way I hugged you tight and had to fight back some tears. The way you paused before leaving just to smile at me. The way I kept thinking about that boyish grin all the way home. The way I kept thinking about how you’re looking...

Keep Reading

I Want My Boys To Become Men of Character

In: Kids, Motherhood
Young boys with arms around each other by water

I’m a single mama of two young boys. As a woman raising young boys, I’ve thought a lot about how I want them to act—as kids and adults. We joke around that I’m not raising farm animals, and we don’t live in a frat house. I’m trying to plant seeds now so they grow into men with positive character traits. They burp, fart, spray toothpaste on the sink and somehow miss the toilet often, but I’m trying to teach them life lessons about what it means to be great men and gentlemen.  Interactions with other men provide opportunities for us...

Keep Reading

Until There Was a Boy

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother looking at son and smiling, color photo

I never believed in love at first sight . . . until there was a boy.  A boy who made my heart whole the first time he looked at me.  A boy who held my hand and touched my soul at the same time.  A boy who challenged me and helped me grow. A boy who showed me that, even on the worst days, the world is still a beautiful place.  RELATED: I Met a Boy and He Changed Everything A boy who reminded me how to laugh until tears ran down my cheeks. A boy who tested my patience...

Keep Reading

A Mother’s Heart Remembers These Sweet Moments Forever

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother and baby laughing

Motherhood gives you all the feelings. It’s hard not to be utterly thankful for and grieve the little things of your last baby, trying to take in all of the firsts and lasts. Every bin of clothes and baby gear packed up produces a tiny crack in a mother’s heart, breaking just a little bit more each time she says goodbye. It’s not that she needs those baby clothes, but it’s the memories each outfit held that are difficult for her to let go of. She does not want to forget those beautiful moments. When she looks at that bin...

Keep Reading

I Want You To Miss Your Childhood One Day Too

In: Kids, Living
Kids jumping off dock into lake

What I miss the most about childhood is owning my whole heart. Before I gave pieces of it away to others who weren’t always careful with it. And some, who never gave the pieces back. I miss my knowing. My absolute faith that my mother’s arms could fix just about everything and what her arms couldn’t, her cookies could. When my biggest grievance was not getting my way. I miss feeling whole, unblemished. Before words cut me. Before people had taken up space in my mind, created permanent movies that were ugly and still play on repeat at times. Before...

Keep Reading

No One Told Me It Was the Last Time You’d Be This Little

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother and young son playing in ocean

No one told me it would be the last time I rocked you to sleep. A cry in the night, the haze of a dimly lit room, our rocking chair worn brown. We were the only ones in a little world. No one told me it would be the last time I carried you on my hip. The way my body shifted—you changed my center of gravity. Your little arm hooked in mine, a gentle sway I never noticed I was doing. No one told me it would be the last time I pushed you on the bucket swing. Your...

Keep Reading

The Only Way to Freeze Time Is to Take the Picture—So I’ll Take as Many as I Can

In: Kids, Motherhood
Two kids sitting in wagon, color photo

Life ebbs and flows. Seasons come and go. One of the reasons I take so many photos is because they are the only way to make time stand still. They provide a nostalgia that can’t compete with anything else. They help us remember the exact moment captured and show us how fast time is fleeting. It doesn’t matter if their texture is glossy or matte. It doesn’t matter if they are in a frame or on a screen. It doesn’t matter if they are professional or if someone’s thumbprint is in the upper corner. All that matters is the moment...

Keep Reading

Did I Shelter You Too Much?

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mom and tween daughter

I’ve made so many mistakes as your mother. From moving too much to letting you stay up too late, I know I should’ve done better. But of all the mistakes I’ve made, not letting you make your own was my biggest. It’s the one I regret the most. I only wanted your happiness. Keeping you safe and happy were my most important jobs.  At least I thought so at the time.   If you forgot your homework, I’d drive it in. If you were too tired for school, I let you stay home. If you didn’t want to speak, I spoke...

Keep Reading

For the Love of the Game and a Little Boy

In: Kids, Motherhood
Several baseball players with coach, color photo

When your babies are babies, you think the days are never going to end. You’re so filled up with love for them, but oh momma, you are sooo exhausted. One day runs into the other, runs into the other, and so on. Those days are filled with feedings, diaper changes, sleepless nights, and milk-drunk smiles. You get all the firsts. The first smile. The first laugh. The first words. The first crawl. Before you know it, they’re walking. Walking turns into running. But hold your breath momma, these are the good old days. These long days and even longer nights...

Keep Reading

Dear Strong-Willed Child, Don’t Hide Your Big Personality

In: Kids, Motherhood
Little boy in sprinkler

My sweet child, I often wondered in our early days together how one tiny person could have so much bigness dwelling inside them. Your will was set from day one as you fought the nurses with more strength than any 7-pound human with unused muscles ever should have possessed. Your cry was big and demanded a response. Your appetite was big as you insisted on nursing every hour-and-a-half . . . day and night. Your pediatrician only smiled gently as I lamented your hatred of sleep, your refusal to be set down, and your persistence in screaming until your need...

Keep Reading

5 Secrets to the

BEST Summer Ever!


Creating simple summer memories

with your kids that will  last a lifetime