One of the largest areas of contention in any home is the tricky matter of chores. When children are added into the mix, a simple discussion about who could do what can easily descend into an argument about what is fair, who does the most, and whose fault it is that you have a messy toddler.

You know the scenario. It has been a long, hard week. You’ve barely had time to speak to each other each evening before collapsing into bed with exhaustion, and now it is the weekend. There is the weekly shopping to do, a mound of ironing, endless dishes, and tidying—and the carpet hasn’t seen a vacuum cleaner for a while. Household chores don’t complete themselves; they steal time when you would much rather be doing something else. With small children in the mix, running a household can seem like a never-ending challenge, and the tension starts to build: “You never do anything.”/“You never ask me.”/“I have to do everything.”/“But you’re never here.”/“Look at this mess. Your children are out of control.”/“What do you mean, ‘my children’?!” and so it goes… What both voices are saying is: “I don’t feel appreciated enough and I’d much rather be doing something else—and to top it all, you never listen to me.”

How you can help each other

Your time together is precious so try not to “sweat the small stuff.”

Most of the tasks can be tackled with the minimum of fuss:
  • Make a pact that you will tell each other clearly when you would like help. Both sexes can develop a martyred air when they feel life is unfair—especially when one partner has done more of their fair share of the diaper changing lately. You need to explain how you feel and what you need help with.

  • Agree to disagree and find a compromise. If one of you likes the house pristine and the other can live with the mess, find mutual ground. For example, cleanliness takes priority over tidying.

  • Agree on a division of labor.

  • Agree to sharing the children, so you each have child-free time to complete a few things without interruption.

  • Restrict the number of toys or rooms that your child can play in so that the chaos is contained to some extent (although not to the extent that he or she is constrained or restricted too much).

  • Swap roles occasionally so you can empathize with each other’s needs.

  • Spend time with parents of children of a similar age, who can help to normalize your concerns, and remind you that you are not alone!

  • Appreciate and thank each other—as often as possible. Children are a joy, but they are exhausting, too. It is a treat to have a home that feels like yours for a few hours before it descends back into a toddler zone.

Dear Tanya

Q: We have been feeling guilty that our second-born is not getting the same amount of attention that his sister did at the same age. He is not speaking as early but seems happy enough. Should we be worried?
A: It is inevitable that your son won’t have as much one-on-one time with you as your daughter did, because you will be busier, but he will have other advantages.

His sister will be playing an important role in his development, being both a role model and playmate. He will understand more words than he is speaking and she may also be speaking for him some of the time. Boys’ language skills often develop at a slightly slower pace than girls anyway, but they catch up later. He will certainly benefit from having personal time with you to play and bond, but will have different needs than his sister, and a character all of his own.

What second children lose in one-on-one time they gain in having less anxious parents and an exuberant playmate. So try to lose the guilt and enjoy your son.

Q: My partner says our toddler is turning into a “Momma’s boy” and he should be disciplined and “toughened up.” Is he right?
A: The idea that young children of either sex will benefit from “toughening up” is an outdated concept. Children are far more likely to be adventurous if they know that they will receive comfort rather than criticism if things go wrong.

Your partner is right to believe that behavioral guidelines need to be put in place, but it sounds as if he may also be feeling jealous of the closeness that you share with your son. If he is feeling “second best” in your affections, or an outsider in his own family, this will impact his attitude.

You need to allow your partner to be a parent to your son in his own right and to form his own bond with him. Their relationship will be of increasing importance as your son grows up and will benefit from them getting to know each other in these early months.

5 points to remember

Emotional intelligence

Your toddler will have to learn to handle some big and all-consuming feelings. He needs you to help him feel secure at these times and manage his emotions as he grows and learns.

Let him scribble

There is no need for formal lessons or anything too structured at this age. Overcontrolled playtime will inhibit rather than encourage your child’s development.

  1. The more you praise and reward positive and fun behavior, the more of that behavior you will get. Your toddler will learn that it is more fun to be “good” than not.

  2. Toddlers are often very enthusiastic about order and the “rightness” of things. You don’t have to be too rigid, but this is the ideal time to introduce more routine and structure to your child’s day. It will give her a sense of security, as well as making everyday care easier for you.

  3. The more you talk to your child, the sooner she will learn the fundamentals of language. Reflect your child’s speech back to her and use simple adult words to help her learn.

  4. When your toddler plays, she does not need to know how to make things look perfect. She needs the freedom and encouragement to experience and make sense of the world in her own way.

  5. Inadequate sleep is often at the root of a toddler’s behavior problems during the day. If you can create a good sleep pattern, you may be able to solve the daytime problems, too.

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