Had enough of the baby stage? How toddlers get easier...and harder

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We helping a friend by babysitting their baby (who was a joy). I found myself all strapped up with a baby carrier. A neglected baby gate found new purpose at the bottom of the steps, like a Toy Story toy pulled down from the attic. Diapers and baby bottles dotted our home like they used to, like we had stopped celebrating Christmas and all of a sudden decided to put wreaths and Santas up.

Did we find it easier taking care of a baby than our 3-year-olds and 5-year-old?

You so quickly forget how different things are when you're dealing with a crawling infant versus a kid who already knows how to use the Tivo remote.

I looked through our minivan in preparation for babysitting, and I couldn’t believe that what once was a car full of baby seats and breast milk bottles and Cheerios is now full of ... well, still, Cheerios, because those will never come out even if you dissassemble the van and burn it to the ground. But with twin 3-year-olds and a kindergartner, life is different. It’s a booster seat. It’s books they can (somewhat) read to themselves. It’s wrappers from snacks they can feed themselves.

What phase is easier: Toddlers or babies?

You often hear from new parents how they are sure the next phase will be easier. "We just have to get through this (Insert hair-pulling/teeth-gnashing/anxiety-inducing baby activity) and things will get calmer. Does that sound familiar?

With a baby around once again, it was like old times. I was seeking hidden dangers like an open door to the basement steps, tiny items that could go in his mouth, and hard edges to a coffee table. I almost forgot how for a few years, we essentially abandoned our living room (hey, it stayed clean!) because it was easier to do that rather than babyproof it.

Babysitting went smoothly. In fact, out of the 8 (EIGHT) toddlers and elementary kids we were watching that day, the baby was just about the easiest. For me, it was like learning how to ride a bike again… you find yourself bobbing as you hold them just like you used to for hours on end.

But what if we had a baby every day? (We can’t, by the way. I took care of that!) I don’t think I’d be saying the same thing.

So where are you on this journey? Are you swaddling and burping and five-point harnessing? Or are you scouting out booster seats and dealing with a three-nager and learning all the nuances of the PBS Kids lineup?

If you're just starting with a baby, I've got good news and I've got bad news. What do you want first? The bad news? What, you aren't already stressed enough? OK, but I warned you:

6 Things That Are Harder About Having a Toddler Versus Having a Baby:

  1. Toddlers can run away. While a newborn isn't going anywhere (it's set it and forget it if you've got a bouncer... for a solid 2 minutes until they cry), an infant can certainly cause some mischief by crawling to the top of the steps. But with a few baby gates, you're OK. Toddlers? Toddlers can open doors. They can run down the aisle in the grocery store. They can decide today is a good time to sprint toward an oncoming car in a parking lot. Being a parent of a toddler is an ongoing string of internal expletives while you try to keep them alive.

  2. Toddlers can get into much more trouble. With babies, you're mostly focused on the next thing they need - fed, changed, bathed, etc. Toddlers add a new wrinkle, as you become Batman trying to stop vigilantes from overtaking your home. We haven't had the "open a door and discover Sharpie all over the bathroom" kind of kids, but they still get up to some hijinx. They are testing limits. They will find your limit and pee on it.

  3. Toddlers mean it's time to potty train. We just got our last kid potty trained. It's a gamechanger when you're not worried about diapers and they can just go to the bathroom on their own. BUT to get there, you've got one hell of a journey. Secret poopy underwear. Rushing to a bathroom in a Target only for them to decide "I don't have to go." Pee on any porous surface they can find. The journey is worth it, but you will have a poop experience that will make you question God.

  4. Toddlers can embarrass you in ways a baby can't. One time, in a grocery store bathroom, my 3-year-old Hannah was with me in a single stall. She peed, got up, and then it was my turn to go. I could hear a gentleman come in and start using the urinal outside the stall. It was at this time Hannah decide to point at herself and loudly proclaim "DADDY I HAVE A VAGINA!" with a big grin on her face. "Yes, you do," I quietly whispered. "YOU HAVE A PENIS!" she responded, this time to a loud chuckle from the stranger. Perfect. Just perfect.

  5. Toddlers can ramp up the intensity and duration of a meltdown. A baby screaming can make you feel like you are losing your mind. But, for the most part, a bottle/boob/nap/pacifier/shiny object can solve it. A toddler screaming can feel so much more intense because, for one, they are bigger, and for another, they can make a stand over any tiny thing. The irrational anger over, say, you choosing the wrong colored shoes for them even though those are the shoes they picked out will make that tantrum all the more wearying. Jut follow #reasonsmykidiscrying and you'll see. Let's not even talk about how they will decide they must buckle themselves into their car seat without the ability to do it in under 3 hours.

  6. Toddlers aren't as portable. They are easier to travel with by sheer volume (no Pack'n'Play!). But that little baby who once would spend hours in your baby carrier is now a 35-pound monster who demands to be carried down the boardwalk for two miles. And you damn well better do it or she's going to lose her shit like a Black Friday shopper who had the last discount flatscreen snatched from their hands. That's why we still use our Radio Flyer wagon when we have to do a lot of walking.

Phew. That sounds like things are going to get worse, but, like everything with little kids, it's not as simple as that. In fact, my wife and I often say that whatever phase of life our kids are in ends up being our favorite one thus far. Sure, I get a little weepy thinking of my son starting kindergarten, but I also love watching him grow and learn and discover who he is.

6 Things That Are Easier About Having a Toddler Versus Having a Baby

  1. Toddlers can walk! Now if you've met my daughter Quinn, she will randomly swear to you that her legs don't work and she must be carried. Popping out of your car as your kids walk into a store with you is so much easier than hauling a stroller out or latching them into a carrier, or struggling with three grocery bags in one arm and a baby in another. I'm losing all that forearm strength I built up, but I do not miss constantly having to hold a baby to do anything . (Don't get me started about having twin babies.)

  2. Toddlers can feed themselves/pee by themselves/move around the house by themselves. The independence will make you wonder how you ever did anything before. How did you eat dinner back when you had to spoon feed a baby at the same time? I had forgotten until recently about all the extra steps you have to take with a baby around; I don't miss constantly shutting doors, putting up gates, and worrying about random tiny objects becoming choking hazards. Holy shit, the amount of grapes I have cut in half. It's a bunch. #dadjoke

  3. Toddlers can entertain themselves. It may be for 5 minutes. Or 2 hours. But you'll discover one day that they'll just play in their room for a while and you can... do whatever. Read a book! Watch a show! Start a fight club! It's never going to be as long as you'd like, but always remember at one point, your baby was within arm's reach 100% of the time.

  4. Toddlers can start sharing your interests and gain new interests. We got to show our kids classic like The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast and The Incredibles. "But Andy! The Incredibles isn't a classic. It came out like four years ago." No it came out FOURTEEN years ago. Toy Story came out TWENTY-THREE years ago. I digress. It is really fun to show your son or daughter something you love and see them love it, too.

  5. Toddlers start revealing their personality. We all love to pretend that a baby has a personality as soon as they exit a vagina, but, uh, they don't. They also don't look exactly like their mom or dad on the day they are born, either, you guys. Right? But as your kid hits 1 and then 2, you'll see a personality emerge. By 3, you can almost picture exactly how that kid is going to be as an adult. My daughters couldn't be more different, personality-wise, and we love it. It helps you bond with them more, for sure! Example: My daughter Quinn recently started winking. I have no idea why. But now she winks at the end of a sentence, which turns into a fun game of "Is she messing with me?", like "I love you Daddy." *wink* Uh, you do? Or was that sarcastic?

  6. Toddlers are probably sleeping better. I don't know if I can emphasize this one enough, especially as a dad of a former colicky baby and of twin babies. I am still far, far, far away from feeling regularly rested; I could fall asleep mid-sentence if you gave me the opportunity. But it is now normal for us to get six hours of sleep. Sure, a mini-pause or three occurs because a kid comes into our room or I'm settling them back down, but compared to being up an hour at a time rocking a baby back to sleep? And then doing that again 45 minutes later, all night? It can be a game changer. I'd say it's one of the biggest differences because you don't realize how tired you've been until you realize how much your eyes used to hurt simply by having them open. You're gonna deal with wet sheets and nightmares and the like, but that's not even close to dealing with night nursing or colic or general overnight fussiness that will make you lose your mind.

What are you most looking forward to about having toddlers? Or, if you're already at that stage, what's better or worse than you expected? Give me a shout on Twitter!