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The toddler and preschool years are a period of tremendous change. You may feel both excited and amazed by all the things your child is learning to do and stressed and exhausted by the ever-changing nature of the job description of "mom."
"Just when you think you've got everything figured out, your child walks into a new stage -- literally," says Andrea O'Reilly, founding president and director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University.
This is also the stage when mothers can start to get a lot of mixed messages about mothering. "Mothers face stresses about whether to return to work, how much to work, and how much of their time to spend with their children," explains Miriam Peskowitz, author of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? (Seal Press, 2005).
"They have some people telling them that ‘good mothers' stay at home and they hear others telling them that ‘good mothers' go to work. It's hard to sort through these competing messages about what a good mother does."
Figuring out how your mothering style is going to play out in the real world is another challenging aspect of raising a toddler or preschooler, adds Bonnie Elgie, a Calgary, Alberta, mother of a two-year-old.
"Disciplining is by far the most challenging and difficult thing for me as a parent. I constantly second-guess my decisions and responses. I don't want to be too strict and over-react to situations, but, at the same time, I want to teach my son appropriate boundaries and manners. Every situation is unique and calls for a wise response. Some days I just don't know how to react."
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Know that you have what it takes to do a good job of mothering your toddler or preschooler. Sure the skill set may be radically different than what you used in caring for your baby -- you'll break new ground when it comes to patience and you'll surprise yourself by coming up with 1,000 different answers to the question "Why?".
"It's all about listening to the cues and going with your intuition," insists O'Reilly.
Refuse to turn mothering into a competition. "Some mothers care very much about things like whose child walks first, talks first, gives up diapers first, pumps highest on the swing, or is the first to be able to count," says Peskowitz. "Unfortunately, all of the normal developmental milestones of childhood have become stress points for mothers in our increasingly competitive society." O'Reilly agrees: "Mothering is the most competitive sport on the block."
Realize that every stage of mothering is a limited time offer. "The stage you love will end-and the stage that you fear will last forever will stop abruptly," adds Andrea J. Buchanan, author of Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It (Seal Press, 2003). "Change is inevitable, and having 'this too shall pass' as your mantra is your safest bet."