How on earth do you get through the toddler years?
December 30, 2017 12:12 AM   Subscribe

We are expats in a country we don't love and have no family support to speak of. We have 2 very small children- a 1.5 year old and a 2.5 year old- and I am very curious to hear ways other mefites have managed to deal with any similar situation. I pretty much feel like I suck at toddlers. So basically: does this get better? When? What did you do? Other details below.

So basically, we don't have any support- its just us- and whatever support we can pay for... which we are doing. We have someone to babysit when we want to go out, we have a great nursery, we have support cleaning the the house. We go on dates.

But we still feel envious of other families where the grandparents are able to support... we have some friends who are able to squeeze out a bit of time alone together for a week every once in a while while the kids stay with the grandparents. I would love love love to do that with my husband. We think about having an aupair but aren't sure its right for us at this time.

Also, for me, I am from a warm climate and when I am out with my children in colder weather- which is a lot- I am so aware of my limbs being cold that I am really challenged to just enjoy the moment. I never missed my warm sunny home before kids, but now I do! I feel like I wear long underwear pretty much 100% of the time.

We feel a lot of pressure to take them out because if we stay too long in the house they get bored and and that's no fun either- but because they are so small its often a 2 man operation to do activities.

Our second child is also very noisy and has been for a long time and I know he is just expressing himself but a lot of the time it sounds like nails down a chalkboard.

At the moment we are on christmas break in my husbands home country and I feel like I have been a big bummer. He was hoping for us to enjoy some family time and I feel like a complete jerk that I'm struggling to just enjoy the moment while the kids are small. The other day I cried because I missed my own mother who passed away 10 years ago, the next day I burst into tears when our older son threw a tantrum in town.

I still feel physically not myself after the kids. Before I met my husband and started our family I was fit and eating healthy and I was so vibrant. I was on bedrest for both pregnancies and had emergency surgery in november, but cutting myself and us slack just doesn't seem to make things better. I don't know. I feel like I've been in a rut for a couple of years now.

I feel quite guilty and sad about these things. I wish I was a better wife and mother. I have blessings to the moon and back, I have everything I ever wanted... my husband is very supportive- but its still really hard. I feel like in a couple of years things will be better, that the kids will be more independent and there will be less pressure to entertain them and we will be able to do more things, as a couple and as a family.

I am very curious as to any advice or answers people would like to share. These early years are so difficult, I have a mere pinch of self esteem left, I wish I felt more competent. Answers from people who made it to the other side are very welcome!
posted by pairofshades to Human Relations (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I feel quite guilty and sad about these things. I wish I was a better wife and mother.


When my son was born I was all "I'm gonna teach you to be an astronaut. And president! and Star Actor! and and and"... It's a ton of pressure and responsibility, even if you don't do that. You want to do your best.

But honestly, its perfectly OK for some days to be just getting the kids to survive until nap time. Undo all that stress and just... Be present in the moment. Because two things are actually bigger deals.

1. You don't have nearly as much control over how they will turn out as you think you do.

I am very proud of my son, don't get me wrong. But all of things I thought he would be.... he's, well, he's tall. I love him. He's a fine young man. And he's not at all as I envisioned before he was born. You're a fine mum. Love them, accept them, help them grow. That's all you can do and it will be enough.

2. These moments pass - your children live on, but the person they are today dies tonight.

My son is 23 soon, and what I wouldn't give to be able to read a goodnight book to his 3 year old self, even though, at the time, I was highly frustrated by it. I was a single parent, and had a lot to do. But I am really glad I took the time, every night, even when I didn't want to. I miss him dearly at 3. It's not that you have to treasure every moment - but with luck, you and they will live 80 years. This one or two is just a blip in time compared to that.

And things get easier as they get older and more self sufficient. Kids grow fast. Both not fast enough and too fast.

Let me put it another way - my dad was in the navy my first 10 years. I barely remember his absences. I really remember times he was home. The hard times melt away as the years go, and you remember the good times more.

When people talk about parenting being hard, this is what they mean. You'll never live up to your ideal. That's OK. That's why it's an ideal. Keep your chin up. It's hard now, but it gets better. I promise.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:36 AM on December 30, 2017 [24 favorites]

We moved to a new city (within the US) when our children were 1, 2, and 3. 30 months between top and bottom kids. We knew no one in the new city. It sort of sucked for a while. We moved from Chicago to Marin County, CA. Quite the culture shock. In hindsight, I think my wife was suffering from postpartum depression. What really helped were two things. One, we met two other couples who had very small children close in age to each other and to ours. We were all in the lifeboat together. Two, we came to accept our fate so to speak. Once we realized that the best course of action was to embrace the new and the unknown and the challenges, the entire family started to work better as a unit. Make no mistake, with toddlers, there will always be meltdowns. There will always be rough spots. We had no one to drop the kids off with, no one to come by for a drink while we relaxed at home, no one to give us advice, etc. Rather than lament that fact, we flipped and took it on as a challenge.

Parenthetically, as for the feeling of incompetence, our pediatrician told us in the hospital immediately after our first was born that we should always remember that this is the baby's/child's first time too so they will not know if you are doing it right or wrong. It is ok to make mistakes. It is ok to screw up. Just pick yourself up and get back in the game. He also said to call him as often as we liked, but there probably will not be a clear right or wrong answer. He said his answers will likely be, if he is sick, bring him in. If it hurts, stop doing it. If he is laughing, keep doing it. Finally, he said that sleep was the key to a happy child. He wrote a book on it actually. Dr. Weisbluth. We still bow to the man for his advice some 20+ years later.

I can only tell you that looking back on those days, it was a challenge, but we look back fondly, laughing at the absurdity of it all like the time we had to take two different kids to the emergency room for stitches 3 hours apart and making the other one sit curled up wrapped up in a blanket watching tv so she would not get hurt that day.

I don't know how to tell someone to just change their attitude, but I know that after 3 months of hating Marin, once we embraced the challenge, we came to like it. We only stayed for two years because of work, but things like literally bumping into Phil Lesh at the Woodlands Market, smoking a cigarette with Bob Weir at the Marin County JCC after he played a show in the back by the playground (I don't smoke, but how could I pass up that opportunity?) made it sort of an adventure.

The other thing we did was treat the Bay Area both as if we were tourists, going to all the attractions and, at the same time, as if we were life long natives.

As for advice with terrorists toddlers, we tried to not put the kids in situations where they would fail. That meant not taking them to adult like restaurants after say 5:30pm, not making them miss naps, not missing meals, etc. A tired toddler is going to be a problem toddler. A hungry toddler is a problem toddler. We also learned to say No at times and taught them that a tantrum will never result in getting their way unless it is a life necessity such as water or maybe sleep. By repeatedly telling them in a calm voice to ask nicely and by sometimes saying yes to a reasonable nicely worded and spoken request, they learned that while it was not 100% they would get their way, it had way way better odds than a tantrum.

Having said all that, somehow, when they hit say 13 or so, they forget it all and start whining again.
posted by AugustWest at 12:42 AM on December 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don't have a lot of advice, but want you to know I am right there with you. My kids are 5, 3 and 1 (exactly 4 years and one day between first and last), and large parts of the time it suuuuuuuucks.

We also have no extended family support, and just generally end up not going out or doing anything. We took the kids to a child friendly restaurant today for lunch and it was a disaster (it always is).

Just breathe, take it one day at a time, and don't punish yourself over stuff that is already over. Oh, and drink, hahaha.

One other thing, our five year old is actually much, much better than she was, so if you can make it just a couple more years (wow, that sounds like an eternity) things will get better.

Oh! Last thing, exercise! I am so tired once we finally get the kids to bed that I don't want to do anything, but if I go out and go running I invariably feel better. Good luck!
posted by Literaryhero at 12:52 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your kids are spaced very close together. From what I‘ve heard from friends in that situation, this is just damn hard, period - not something you‘re doing wrong - and you‘ll be in survival mode at least until the youngest one is 3. Hell, *I*‘m in survival mode and my little ones are 6 and 2! The good thing is that, yours being spaced so closely together, elementary school age should bring a lot of relief, once they start playing together with less intervention (or so my friends with closely spaced siblings tell me!). So, hang in there. It‘s ok to not feel super duper happy as a mum of small kids. It‘s all about survival!

As for the grandparent thing: even though I‘m an expat myself, I have a different perspective. I know that even if I lived close to the grandparents, they would probably not do a lot of childcare for us. Partly because of own health problems (cancer), partly because of genuinely not being psychologically fit to do so.

Having grandparents around who even qualify for active grandparenting is a big -huge!- privilege. It‘s not something everybody else just ‚gets‘ as a standard thing.

If people around you all rely heavily on family support, try to surround yourself with families more like yours for the time being. It makes things easier if you don‘t constantly have to compare your kiddo time with their childfree fun time.

All in all I read a lot of pressure to feel a certain way in your post that reminds me of my typical thought process when I’m depressed. Little kids can do this to you, it‘s extremely common - I‘d go so far as to say more common among mums than being super happy. Hang in there, get as much support as you can, it sounds like you‘re doing a great job for now. It WILL get easier!
posted by The Toad at 12:57 AM on December 30, 2017

Oh yes, this is just impossible -- trust me you are not doing it wrong! I think just knowing it's crap for everyone is really helpful. I've found Janet Lansbury (her podcasts and books) on toddlers incredibly helpful and liberating.

I also wonder if there's more to your question? I too moved to a new place with an infant -- and it was just impossible at the start. I felt my only identity was as a mother, had no friends and no connection to the new place. Looking back, I think I was struggling not just with postpartum depression, but just life depression -- is that it? Is this forever? Are we really alone in this? (Also have family far away.) Wish I'd gotten some help for this at the time.

Friends make a world of difference -- do take the kids out and chat up every parent who seems slightly like they might be fun to hang out with.
posted by caoimhe at 2:31 AM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm right where you are, a few years later. All our family lives on other continents -- in the other hemisphere, actually -- so we have no family support at all. Enough money that we can outsource some of it through things like babysitters, but still. None.

My kids are two and five. It gets a bit easier. Less exhausting and they play together better. Based on how much more mature and fun my kid is at five than at four, I'm guessing that by the time the youngest is five, it'll be another step easier. I know, best laid plans and all that, but that's what other people have told me too.

It's also helped that we moved recently and by luck ended up with next-door neighbours with kids the same age. Just that tiny extra support network makes a huge difference; they can dash over and watch the kids for ten minutes if we have to run to the shop, the kids have built-in friends, etc. You may not be able to replicate our luck, but if you ever move locally then prioritise finding an area with lots of families with similarly-aged kids. And in the meantime, if you haven't gotten to know your neighbours well, give that a try.

The main advice I have is to take it day by day, and do what you need to do to get through the day. I found that I went insane with boredom cooped up in the house all day with toddlers, so I took them places all the time (for me the hard bit is that we live in a really hot area, unlike where I grew up, and I feel so sweaty and unhappy all the time; but still, going out is better than staying in). I felt bad about dragging the kids everywhere because our culture has so many negative messages about over-scheduled kids and how children should be learning to play on their own and not be entertained. But it was hard enough as it was, and on the days I forced myself to stay in, I nearly lost it. Come to find out that some of my friends who were great at creating calm homes where their kids stayed in all day were feeling bad that they didn't take their kids out for "enrichment" like I did. Bottom line is, there's guilt to spare, whatever you do, so just do what you need to do. There is no such thing as the "best mum." Do you feed them, clothe them, love them? Do they feel safe? Are they learning? If so, they're doing great.

A few other thoughts: if you haven't joined the Metafilter Facebook parenting group, you should do so! It's a really sane corner of the internet. Mefite sestaaak started it, I think you need to memail her to get invited.

Like you I feel like childbirth and the postpartum years wreaked a bit of havoc on my body. And I also feel like I've lost a lot of the vibrant and multifaceted person I once was. But it's coming back, slowly. It helps me to realise that the ideal of "being a balanced person" really means "balance across one's entire life" rather than "balance at every time in one's life." For instance, I spent five years working on a PhD, during which I lost a lot of my former hobbies and spent little time cultivating any but the closest relationships. But at the end I had a PhD and the bedrock for my career. Now I've spent five years working on some kids, during which I lost a lot of my fitness, all of my spare time, and most of my short-term memory. But I have two awesome kids. In the long arc of my life, I'll have many years to devote to getting fit, sleeping in in the mornings, having long conversations about philosophy with my husband, going on hikes, etc. I don't have other opportunities to have these kids. That's what is required me right now, at this time. The rest will come back.
posted by forza at 3:08 AM on December 30, 2017 [23 favorites]

Look, I'm not a parent, and I definitely don't want to trivialise post-partum depression, or the general toughness of child-rearing- but I noticed that you are from a sunny clime, now living somewhere cold. You mention being covered up. Could it be that you are Vitamin D deficient? I have found making sure my Vitamin D levels are up really helps my mood.
posted by freethefeet at 3:13 AM on December 30, 2017 [11 favorites]

I, too, have felt the rage of a new mother with a young child in a place I didn’t really want to be living around people whose extended families were a huge support for them. I, too,had a vibrant and fulfilling life before kids that went out the door when my oldest was born. I feel you. I’m sorry. It sucks.

Some things that helped me:
- recognize, as someone said above, that having involved and supportive and nearby grandparents is a massive privilege, accept that as with many privileges others will be unthinkingly careless about talking about it, and try to think of the privileges you have that your peer network doesn’t that maybe help to balance things out.
- do you have an end date for the country you don’t love? We did, and that kept me from going crazy. I was unhappy without a job and the networking and socializing I was used to, but I knew that would change. And it did. So I was able to try to step back and appreciate the positive things about our temporary (2 year) situation while looking forward to when I’d be working and have friends and all of that again. What are your long term plans? If you’re “stuck”, what can your family do to try to build up a support network that is like an extended family?
- I can’t help with the climate thing other than to agree it is hard (I went the other way - I’m from temperate/cold places and lived in the tropics and couldn’t stand the heat and humidity). Cope how you need to - maybe agreeing to extra spending on hot beverages or warm clothes that make you happier than long underwear do.
- yeah. Toddlers are hard.
- have you talked to anyone about depression? Or even just talked to a professional, period?
posted by olinerd at 3:49 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Please also get a warmer coat. I hate being cold and I was miserable (for years!) in cold climates until I invested in warm coats. I had no idea. Now I have an enormous puffer coat and winter is so cheerful that I look forward to going out.
posted by mochapickle at 3:49 AM on December 30, 2017 [19 favorites]

A huge part of parenting, for me, has been acceptance. I'm on a different road. My youngest is 5 but developmentally 1 or 2 with severe autism. The toddler years stretch out ahead of me with no end. And i was miserable. But not now. Because I have accepted it.

My mother is dead, my father lives miles away, my in laws are nearby but too elderly to be in sole charge of my son. My eldest is 11 and has asperger's and ADHD too so she also needs very attentive care.

It sounds like you have got an absolute ton of things to accept. A baby us hard, two so close together is a real challenge. In a part of the world you're not used to or keen on. Without the support network you would choose for yourself. It IS HARD. You are not failing for feeling it is hard, you're just a rational intelligent human.

A huge part of my acceptance has been taking an SSRI. It's given me a respite from the pain of getting through each day to actually process and adapt more intelligently to the challenges of our lives. Previously I was miserably firefighting from one crisis to the next. Now I'm able to stop and plan differently for next time and avoid a lot of hassle. I've been on them for a year and am about to begin stepping them down to come off them. Perhaps talk to your doctor about that. Reactive depression is a real thing and can be treated. Just because you don't have ongoing or long standing depression doesn't mean you wouldn't benefit from treatment.

I would also say you need to invest in better outerwear. Buy ski gear if you have to - there is no need to be cold. And if you are cold despite good ski wear then get your thyroid function checked. Thyroid insufficiency is common enough and causes exhaustion, weight gain, slow healing, depression and intolerance to cold.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 4:26 AM on December 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

Here be me thoughts:

1. I was raised by very matter-of-fact parents in the seen-but-not-heard / pay attention as little as possible era of child rearing. That attitude transferred to me, and the upshot is that 1) I feel zero pressure to enjoy my kids or adore them, and 2) as a result, I think, I generally have fun with them and do enjoy them. When they're not being SOBs, that is. Either way, I don't feel any pressure to be super-dad (just like my mom felt no pressure to be super-mom). They don't need my constant attention and adoration, and all of us are better off when I don't provide it.

2. I think you have to hypnotize yourself to enjoy cold weather. Wear lotsa layers and go sledding from time to time. Oh, and enjoy the kids' wipeouts, which are occasionally scary but almost always very funny. Kids that age are probably old enough for bunny hills. Anyways, winter is *miserable* if you don't psych yourself into enjoying it.
posted by jpe at 6:10 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

The toddler years are hard, and for some super-hard. I was going to say it gets better, and it really, really does...after 4.

I agree that things go better when you surrender to them. My first child I was continually seeking...something. Being a better parent. Having a weekend!! But my second (mine are wider spaced) I was a very little bit in the moment.

Here’s what worked for me, your family may well work differently!

1. This made the biggest difference for me. My husband and I agreed we each got one weekend day to sleep in or read in bed (to 9:30 or 10) while the other took the children out for a picnic breakfast/went for a walk/coped. That one day helped my body a lot.

2. We stopped trying to go out as a couple. We still had date night but it was Netflix and order in, or play a game. For US this lowered our stress levels and we had more fun.

3. Once we were past the disaster sleep period, we each also took one after-bedtime evening a week to be human. For me that was a weekly after-bedtime wine night with other moms, and then for a while a class.

I know these points are all about parents and not children. But the thing is, what it sounds to me like you are saying is you are a bit burnt out. You and your body have been through a lot lately, and of course you are grieving not having other support. Please don’t judge yourself on this! The trick is to find things that fill your well.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:12 AM on December 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Sorry, one more thing:

Those ages are, as a matter of objective fact - tough. They're old enough to be bastards but too young to be very autonomous or be little helper monkeys.

So don't fee bad about being frustrated; you're almost certainly right to be!
posted by jpe at 6:14 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not a parent, just an uncle, but this seems about par for the course. Toddlers are nightmares. They have no self preservation skills, they are connnnnssstttantttlllyyy needy and demanding and just little sociopaths insane monster tyrants sometimes.

I don't think I could deal with toddlers full time. I will always deeply love my nieces, but sometimes I really really don't like them or being around them.

But they grow. They start being able to feed themselves and self-regulate and communicate. Each age has it's own needs and problems, but the feeling of being on call 24/7 lessens.

Check out any post-partum and or SAD or vitamin levels, yes. But it sounds like you're doing fine... Better than average even! On raising two toddlers simultaneously. Most parents have similar issues, I believe. Children are hard.
posted by Jacen at 7:06 AM on December 30, 2017

In terms of practical suggestions, I would say spend more money than seems reasonable on extra childcare -- even if it's just so you can have some time alone you can count on -- and get a housecleaner, if you can afford that. Those things helped us immensely.
posted by gerryblog at 7:08 AM on December 30, 2017

I'm so sorry. You sound sad and I think it's important to take that sadness seriously. It might be depression (it is likely depression), it might be medically caused (do look into vitamin D deficiency) but I do think that step one is to accept that your current situation is not working for you.

You mention nursery--are both kids in "school" or daycare yet? Can you pay for extra care, whether through a nanny or more hours at care?

We also live far from (unhelpful, anyway) grandparents and I found the time when my daughter was 1.5 to be very difficult. We didn't start paying for school for her until after she turned 3. It's only been 6 months so far, but having care and time without her has made me realize how very deeply and fundamentally unhappy I was during her toddler years. She's demanding--extroverted--and I just need time alone to read books, take baths, go for long walks, and do other things that make me feel fundamentally like myself.

What things make you feel like yourself? Can you find your way back to them? You dismiss hiring an au pair but don't say why. I think you should do it. Even if it's a financial stress. Your wellbeing matters.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:27 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't have ideas about coping better, unfortunately, but I just want to say that it is okay not to always like your children when they're in the little stage. You love them, of course, but liking is harder, right?

My wife's girlfriend's kid - the closest we'll have to a child - just turned 13 this fall, and suddenly, he is just a delight. We loved him before, and he was lovely younger too, but his sense of humor just turned on and he's cracking level-10 dad jokes, and we can crack jokes with him (he used to just not get being teased, which lead to meltdowns), he'll try almost anything food wise (I watched him eat most of an entire acorn squash on his own last night, he's also growing like weeds) and he's better behaved so we can take him nicer places, he can play more complicated board games (we played one of our more adult party games last night with him, after pulling the inappropriate cards out of the deck, and had a lot of fun). He's more easy going. He's more self-aware ("If someone plays the 'get mad when loses monopoly card on you, are your feelings going to be hurt? Great, I'll pull it out.") He's still 13, and wriggly, and obstinate, and resists bedtime, but it's a lot less difficult.

It's okay to be a person who doesn't do little kids well and to look forward to when they're older. You love them, you take care of them, you even enjoy their company - but it's okay to acknowledge that it may be easier when they're older.
posted by joycehealy at 7:29 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I didn't see this in your post - what does your schedule look like on a daily basis? Do you work outside the home, are you a stay-at-home parent, how do you and your husband split up responsibilities ... how much of a given day do you spend away from the kids, and how much of that do you have just for yourself?
posted by trig at 7:50 AM on December 30, 2017

Get warmer clothes so you can venture outside. I live in Maine, Northeast US, and being cold is no fun, and preventable.

Set up a structure. We get up, have breakfast, go outside to burn off energy and have a chance to be noisy, inside, Monday (etc.) games and play, lunch, nap/ quiet time, snack, outside again, 1 hour of screen time, dinner, bath, read aloud, sleep. Kids do best with structure, and it will help you manage what the heck to do with 2 small needy people who don't use words well if at all and are so demanding.

Monday, Tu, Wed, etc. activities can be finger-painting, play-dough, games, music, car & trucks, dress-ups, simple cooking. It's another question. Kids are overwhelmed by a room full of scattered toys. keep toys organized in containers, and keep some toys put away. So when you bring out fingerpaint and paper, it's familiar because they've done it before, but fun because they don't do it every day. Structure takes time and effort to start, but pays off many times over. Don't beat yourself up if the structure falls apart all the time, just try to have it. It wil have to be tailored to you and your kids.

If they hate to be quiet at quiet time, be tough, allow soft, quiet music and books. Kids need it and so do you.

Use meetup, facebook, any social resources to find others who can do play dates; you need support and a social life. I'd spend money on a part-time child-minder, even if it's a couple hours a day.

It's hard. Don't feel bad about yourself. Cherish the good moments and recognize that the difficult times are typical. You sound depressed; get whatever help you can. Consider a blog or instagram even if it's short comments and a few pictures several times a week, even an online community provides support. wishing you the best.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

You've already gotten a lot of great support here, so I'll just add a few recommended "hacks" for some of your specific issues.

1. It's too cold part 1. I recommend a) getting a warmer coat - if it is your limbs that are cold, get leg warmers and arm warmers. b) Find whatever the country your in's version of these warmers are. c) Start packing a thermos of hot coffee, tea, whatever to sip.

2. It's cold part 2. Are there any indoor rec areas for kids in your area? Is there a gym with a kids play area? A library with a kids section? Go there, instead of being outside. Pack a lunch, spend the day.

3. Two man operation to do activities. Find play areas that are fenced in or indoors and let children run free. You bring a magazine and your thermos of hot coffee. This makes a two man operation into one.

4. Not feeling yourself. Yes, it took me about 2 years to start to feel normal again. Is there a gym you can go to with childcare? Not to workout per se, but I found leaving kiddo with childcare and then going to the stretch room with thermos of coffee and magazine very helpful to my sanity. If there is something like that - do it!

5. General malaise. Seek out a therapist. It sounds like you have a lot going on, you are feeling sad, you might have some postpartum depression. Having an hour a week to air these things will be helpful.
posted by Toddles at 8:54 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wanted to also add, this research on tantrums really informed how we approach them and made me feel better about them when they happened.
posted by Toddles at 9:10 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nobody really is prepared for how boring it can be to raise a child. You think about baking cookies, going to the pumpkin patch, sharing your wisdom and chasing butterflies but the reality is much harder and much more boring. Little kids just aren't capable of being great company all the time and constantly attending to their needs is just grindingly boring a lot of the time.

We also did not have nearby family when my child was young. What kept me sane was connecting with other parents. I signed us up for whatever classes I could find .. at the local rec department, church schools, Gymboree ... any place that had a Mom and Baby class, we went.

Also, my kid had screen time. Not unlimited, but probably more than some other parents allowed. He watched Baby Einstein and Sesame Street and all the other shows. He never sat slack jawed on the couch watching - he'd be puttering around doing other stuff while it was playing - but he got a pretty decent amount of screen time. I don't feel guilty about that. While he was occupied I could call a friend, do something online and recharge my mental energies. I know this is a very personal decision but for me, well, I needed those half-hours off.

It's going to get better. It'll improve so slowly you probably won't notice it right away but it will get better. Try hard to let stuff go. Meltdown? It happens. Move on. Spilled apple juice? Oh well. Let it go, it doesn't matter and it's not worth getting upset over.

By the way, you are very competent. You're raising two little humans in a foreign country. I am impressed.
posted by Kangaroo at 11:40 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

While everything you are expressing is within the range of normal as validated by all the barely-surviving parents above, I have to say I'm surprised that (unless I missed it), nobody has suggested you be screened for Post Partum Depression. Is that something the healthcare system in the country you live in can assess?

In whatever country that is, are there mother and baby groups and do you speak the language well enough to join one? Decreasing your parenting isolation might help a bit.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:52 PM on December 30, 2017

This is us, but one kid. No family. New country. Do you have daycare? Even 1-2 days a week can make a huge difference. Then make friends at the daycare. It helps.

Also I drink a ton of coffee and stop wishing for things to be different. Accepting that my life is wasted for the next 2-4 years has eased the pressure.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:28 PM on December 30, 2017

Wow, what a lot of good answers. I remember once hiring a sitter for a couple of hours and going to find a tree to sit in. How bizarre is that? Lonely as hell in a weird suburb of Ottawa, with a very active 2 year old and a new baby, believe me, I was a basket case.

If you can find a co-operative child care or a mom-and-baby group to join, do that. Other moms will be your saviour. Some, it's true, will be 'perfect' but most will be as desperate as you.
I wish I had gotten anti-depressants, in retrospect. But nobody wants to admit they're depressed, even though in my experience probably 80% of new moms suffer from it.

When the kids started getting truly fractious, it was always either bath time (they played very happily together in the tub) or time for separate rooms. As they got older, I'd tease them by putting on bright red lipstick and chasing them around the house, because obviously Somebody needed a kiss. (little boys - they thought this was hilarious)
Hugs to you and your wonderful babies.
posted by Enid Lareg at 3:23 PM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a 9yr old, 7.5yr old and a 7 week old. Frankly, I am out of my damn mind. In all honesty, I don’t remember much about the first 3-ish years of my eldest’s life because I was so overwhelmed being a new mom and then suddenly being a new mom to Two Under Two. I’m not kidding. I DO remember it being so, so hard. Painfully, horribly, soul-shatteringly hard.

But we all survived.

We don’t have participatory family either, and no real friend groups to lean on. So both kids went to daycare at age 2 even though I’m a SAHM because I just needed two damn seconds to myself. To pee alone. To wash my hair. To just sit on the couch uninterrupted. I ALSO remember daycare drop-offs and they were glorious.

I love my kids with everything inside me, but parenting is hard. You’re doing great, even though it doesn’t feel that way. My checklist for each day is: did everyone eat?, brush their teeth?, are they wearing clean undies? Yes? Then I’m totally rockin’ this motherhood thing.

Everyone above has given great advice about getting screened for postpartum and vitamin levels and getting more YOU time. You’re rockin’ this motherhood thing even when you think you’re not. Really.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:18 PM on December 30, 2017

Hi! Yes all of you come join us on Facebook. Memail me and we’ll get you set up.
posted by sestaaak at 4:25 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ugh, it’s so hard. The closest family for my partner and I are hours away and I am still very jealous of my friends that have grandparents who step in regularly. However, I did survive. Our kids are 9 & 11 now.

You don’t say where you live, but I’m also in a very cold climate and getting two little kids and myself out in snowsuits was rough, even if my partner was involved. Are you in the city? If so, my favourite outings with the kids were the library (they have toys, videos and music cds available around here, as well as books of course), IKEA (cheap food, free diapers, sometimes free childcare, lots of room to move), a mall with fountains and a bookstore, the greenhouses at the botanical gardens, the science centre and an indoor playground. I had year passes for those last three so the expense was fairly low and loud kids are par for the course at most of those places. Staying at home all the time made me feel like I was losing my mind. When I was there I used screens much more liberally that most of my friends did and started my eldest on minecraft when he was 4.

At home we also did stuff that I liked: cooking, dancing, building elaborate wooden train sets. When the weather was nice it was easier, with lots of park time, splashing in tubs of water, sand and so on.

It is a huge moment when they are old enough to get their own cereal and leave you alone in the morning. We let ours watch all the cartoons they wanted if the let us sleep in. You’ll get there. I used to want to strangle people who’d say “enjoy every moment, they grow up so fast”. It’s not true. When they are little they take for bloody ever to grow up. But they do get more independent with time, I promise you.
posted by Cuke at 7:14 PM on December 30, 2017

+1 to warm coat, good mittens (NOT gloves), good hat (I prefer balaclavas), warm boots/shoes, thermal underwear top & bottom, and then hand & foot warmers if the above is not sufficient.

I hate-hate-HATE feeling cold but I just went out on a very pleasant walk today in our 5-10F weather.

But--I had on TWO pair of tights under my pants, 0 degree mittens, heavy duty parka, TWO balaclavas, and warm winter socks. Next level if my hands/feet still feel cold is hand & foot warmers in the shoes & gloves.

People who grow up in warm climates often have no idea this is possible, or how to get started. It will take some shopping trips (though much nowadays can be done via Amazon or whatever) and experimentation. The experimentation is putting on your things, going outside, and finding out what feels too cold or too warm. Whatever is too cold or too warm, adjust. It is very, very possible to be out in -20F weather for an extended period of time and **not feel cold at all**.

We had twins plus a 6-year old, and I took them out walking every day, winter, summer, spring, fall, for exactly the maintain-your-sanity reasons that you mention.

So not only you need warm clothes to do that, but they do.

Also, I cannot recommend highly enough to get a real stroller that will roll. The usual type of stroller you see, even very expensive ones, with tiny little wheels are completely useless.

You want something with big wheels, like bicycle wheels, that move and roll. B-I-G, like minimum 8-10 inch diameter. Probably you are looking for something like a "double jogging stroller" which works SO MUCH BETTER as an everyday stroller even if you never even once run or jog behind it. Here are some examples of the type of stroller I'm talking about.

We had this exact model, which worked as a bicycle trailer, a jogging/running stroller, and also as a regular stroller. We put literally hundreds of miles on that thing in stroller mode. Nap time--they would be in it all snuggled up inside it for their little nappy-boo and I would be out walking to the park, the grocery store, the library, the farmer's market, whatever. Just for a walk, lots of times--wherever I wanted to go. Because they were asleep and didn't care.

That type of stroller was literally life-changing for us as parents of twins.

By contrast, I wouldn't have had the patience to push them even two blocks to the park in a regular small-wheeled stroller. The difference is THAT dramatic. The big wheels roll over things--they don't get stuck or jammed--and they roll EASILY, not requiring some huge effort.

Something like that is going to cost a fair bit, but the return on investment is huge. We used ours DAILY until the kids were 6 or 7. Even when they were big enough to walk, it was still a super-handy little cart to tote all of our stuff--and also, the kids when they ran out of steam. Which they inevitably did . . .

You can walk a lot more places when the kids only have to walk as much as they want, and can ride the rest of the way.
posted by flug at 12:15 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, I will add that neither my wife or I remember too much from the time the twins were zero through about six. Sleep deprivation, overwork, constant stress, and lack of normal social contact will do that to you . . .
posted by flug at 12:21 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't have specific advice, other than be mindful when you are playing with your children. If someone had told me 18 years ago that the years would truly fly by, I would never have believed them. Now my daughter is graduating from high school this year, and I wish I could better remember the days when she was young. I was so stressed out that I don't think I truly enjoyed her childhood. Who knows what she'll tell her therapist someday. :)
posted by cass at 2:30 PM on January 4, 2018

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