If you are a stay at home mom to a toddler who is teething or overtired or practicing for her Yale School of Drama audition, you may not spend a single minute of the day without her on your lap or on your mind. She is somehow both desperate for your attention and rejecting everything about you. After a few days (or weeks) of this needy, moody phase, the walls start to creep closer, and you can’t take a deep breath or see a private moment anywhere in your future. You are Trapped by a Toddler, but there’s hope. There’s a way out.
1. Remember you are the boss
If you are a stay at home mom, you are the the big boss at the very tippy top of the company. You can give yourself any job title you want and even have it engraved on a plaque to mount on your door. When the mail carrier stops by three times a week to deliver the household goods you ordered from Amazon because you don’t have time to go to the store, he or she will know who they are dealing with. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself you are in charge of your life and your child, and you can start to let go of the feeling that your little one is the supreme ruler, dictating food choices, activities, and your sleep schedule. I tell myself, “She is not my boss, forcing me to get out of bed at 8 a.m. and feed her breakfast! I am the boss, and I choose to get out of bed right now because I want to feed this child something organic and feel virtuous about it all day!”
2. Get dressed
Take a shower, put on makeup, get dressed. Do whatever combination of these things makes you feel like you can leave the house. Too often when you are Trapped by a Toddler, the days play out like this: you sleep until the last possible minute because you were up too late the night before; you rush to get the baby dressed and fed before you even think about what day it is; two hours later you are still in your pajamas and beginning to wish you could leave the house, but what’s the point of getting dressed if your hair is too greasy for even a whole can of dry shampoo? If you had just gotten up 30 minutes earlier to shower and dress (or whatever it takes for you personally to feel presentable), you and your little pumpkin could be out enjoying the world.
3. Go outside
Maybe you are not really outdoorsy — you don’t have to drop $1,000 at REI for hiking equipment. Just go outside of your house — to the front yard, to the park, to a Target parking lot. This is why you got dressed this morning! You are no longer trapped inside the house by your toddler or your lack of personal hygiene. And having more open space around you will make it easier to breathe.
4. Call the babysitter
Do you only book a sitter once a year for a doctor’s appointment or your anniversary? One great thing about being the boss is you can schedule a babysitter for a random afternoon, then go somewhere and be alone! I don’t mean grocery shopping or other errands (unless that relaxes you, weirdo). I mean you can go to a coffee shop, stare at the wall, and eavesdrop on other people. You can go to a movie. You can read a whole stack of two-year-old magazines because you haven’t been able to read a magazine since your child was born. Speaking of magazines…
5. Read a magazine
…Or a book or listen to a podcast or watch something other than Curious George on TV. I know, if you could just stop life and watch a whole episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, you wouldn’t feel the crushing suffocation of being enclosed in a tiny, screaming, toddler-shaped box. I’m not suggesting the impossible. But there is some chunk of time you can put your toddler in a safe place and trust that she won’t break out or break her arm. My daughter’s bedroom is totally baby proofed, as long as I remember to put the trash can out of reach. I can go into the next room, set a timer for 15 minutes and do a little chunk of something personal. Maybe you are only comfortable with 5 minutes, maybe you feel comfortable leaving your little one to play alone for 30 minutes or an hour! The important thing is to set it and forget it — use your personal break at least once a day and eventually you will remember your real name and that you exist as a being separate from your child.
The most important key to busting out of the Toddler Trap is to put these habits in place before she breaks your will and slams the cage door shut.