Skip to content

2nd year of motherhood in review

2nd year of motherhood in review

Photo by Our Days Photo & Film

Today our baby girl turns two. I truly cannot believe that there was ever a day we lived without her but simultaneously feel like she was born yesterday! Motherhood is such a wild ride of so many emotions. Despair at the time slipping through your fingers and your inability to stop it, the joy of soaking in the phase they’re in right now, but at the same time the exhaustion that comes with the challenges of each phase and part of you hoping you can just get to the next one already.

I wrote a post reflecting on my first year of motherhood on her first birthday last year, so this year, I thought I’d do the same, answering your questions and reflecting on year 2.

The briefest synopsis I can provide: it’s a wild roller coaster that never stops, but it’s the most fun damn roller coaster you’ve ever been on. (And also the craziest.) Most people want to know if it gets easier. The baby years are challenging in completely different ways. I think in many ways it does get easier. In many ways it gets harder! Every phase of parenting gets easier and harder at the same time.

So, let’s get into your questions, and also please enjoy some photos I snapped this morning wearing her 4th of July dress that she demanded instead of the cute rainbow one I purchased for her birthday. 😝 (Along with some others from the past year peppered in there!)

2nd year of motherhood in review

2nd year of motherhood in review

How would you define your overall approach to toddler parenting? Has it changed at all since she was a baby?

I don’t really think it’s changed that much from when she was a baby, but definitely evolved with the challenges of parenting a toddler. Our philosophy was always to just take everything as it comes, roll with the punches, and integrate her into our own lives. So far, that’s what we’ve done in year 2 just as we did in year 1!

The biggest challenge that has come with toddlerhood is definitely how quickly/fast they change, and how it seems like everyday you’re navigating a new situation and having to figure out your stance/how to react on the fly. They hit you HARD for the first time and you’re like, “Shit. How do I react to that?!” or they’ll do something horribly naughty but it’s SO FUNNY and you don’t know if you should laugh or cry or discipline them or let it slide or WHAT.

That was REALLY hard and stressful at first, but now I feel like we’ve either gotten used to it/into a rhythm AND/OR perhaps that was just a really rough/fast and furious period of development and things have mellowed out a bit. I think about 18-20 months was the hardest for us. Now it’s gotten easier because her speech is exploding and she’s able to communicate whatever she wants, and is a lot less whiney/explosive. I think I called my mom and sister multiple times during that period asking for help and reassurance that this wasn’t going to be the way life is forever. (Good news: it’s not always going to be like that.)

See book recommendations further down for more on this!

2nd year of motherhood in review

Expanding on that– have any of your parenting views changed on what’s possible to maintain/not? For example, your view on not having very many toys/gifts, continuing to travel with a toddler, etc? Everything you read and loved about Bringing Up Bebe still remain true?

Honestly none of that has changed! We still stand firm on our views of minimal toys (I don’t want my house taken over by kid toys! I’m also all about the Montessori approach to less-is-more when it comes to less toys resulting in higher quality play/less overstimulation, rotating a small amount of toys, etc) and we’ve continued to travel with her a lot! We’ve yet to do an international trip with her, but we’re taking her to Australia in December for a family wedding! (How’s that for her first international trip? LOL. Go big or go home!)

I think she’s probably the easiest to travel with now than she ever has been. (The hardest age was when she first started walking around 12 months, because she was less likely to sit and watch a movie and was prone to wanting to get down and move.)

I’m not sure if it’s her age specifically or that she’s traveled so much since she was a baby and now it’s just normal to her. Again, she’s easier to reason with now too, now that she’s more verbal and can talk/understand what I’m wanting her to do. (“When you sit down on your bottom you can have an applesauce!” etc.) Also she has a longer attention span and will watch a movie on her iPad for an extended period of time!

My stance still remains the same about integrating June into our orbit rather than revolving our lives around her.

Does that mean our lives haven’t changed since having her? Of course not. Our approach might be different, and we might do these things less–but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up travel, going out to dinner, making plans, hanging out with friends, and generally just giving up on fun. As a result, she’s also her happiest self when she’s in the middle of the action with the people she loves. She’s adaptable and comfortable out in the world! Not only that, but getting ourselves comfortable being out in the world and doing all the things WITH her has been a massive and incredibly rewarding growth experience for both of us!

I think the hardest test for all of these things probably comes once she’s school-age, but as of now, I don’t really think much has changed. Also–these are just beliefs specific to me. Many people have differing opinions and that’s great–I think as long as you are still living out whatever your beliefs and truth are as parents–that’s fantastic.

June tongue out

How would you compare this year to last year? What’s harder, what’s easier?

Oh man. It’s funny looking back, because you don’t realize how easy the baby phase is until you’re in the toddler phase. (Why was I so stressed about THAT? They just SIT THERE!)

Every stage of parenting can seem like the *most* you can handle, and I guess the universe designed it that way. I don’t want baby parents to read this and think, “OMG. I CAN’T HANDLE ANYTHING MORE THAN THIS!!” and that’s not how it’s going to feel. (At least not in my opinion.)

It will be harder in some aspects but also a lot more rewarding to balance out the parts that are harder. I don’t think there’s ever a stage of parenthood that doesn’t test your limits!

Also, every kid is different. Some are harder babies and easier toddlers, and vice versa. I think June is a more challenging toddler emotions-wise than she was a baby, but I also feel like we’ve come into our own more as parents so we’re better equipped to just roll with it. (She’s also way more fun now!) I would say maybe it’s more emotionally draining but more fulfilling if that’s possible!?

I think SO many parts of toddler parenting are easier and more fun.

Their little personalities just explode daily. Every day she is saying something new, doing something new, and truly we say all the time, “what did we do for fun before this kid?” She is an absolute joy to just observe. It’s also just so much easier when they can TELL you what they want/need. Also–when they only have one nap it’s a game-changer and makes getting out and about so much easier.

On the other hand. Toddlers are WILD. They test EVERYTHING from your emotions to your willpower. It’s so hard. But every phase has been my favorite phase so far. (Aside from that period around 18-20 months. Honestly, that sucked. I much prefer 24 months.)

I think as soon as they start talking more, it gets significantly easier. Of course, that doesn’t mean their EMOTIONS get easier, but the more they can talk/understand, the easier it is to manage their expectations and emotions within reason. More on that part below!

Dad and daughter

How do you balance spending time/connecting with her and also keeping space for yourself?

This is such a struggle. I’m not really sure if anyone has the “balance” figured out. I’ve talked about this before, but I really felt a prioritization shift when I became a mom in that I just didn’t really care about work that much anymore. At first, it was really hard to grapple with because it was such an immense shift.

Instead of working around the clock, grinding out as many hours as possible to grow my income, get to that next level, etc, I just try and put my head down and get the minimum done that I need to and then check out so I can spend time with her. I don’t think it will always be this way, but that’s where my priorities lie right now, and I’ve come around to being OK with that.

There are some days days where I think, “maybe I could just send her to daycare part time?” Sometimes I long for that while others I’m like, THANK GOD FOR FULL TIME DAYCARE GET HER OUT OF THIS HOUSE.

So, the compromise is that every so often on days where work is light, I’ll keep her home for a half or full day and go do something fun together just the two of us. Go to the zoo, go to the forest preserve, take her on a morning coffee date, etc. It’s so tough because on one hand this time goes by so fast and I want to soak up as many moments as I can with her. But on the other hand–I need my sanity!?

I think the QUALITY of the time I spend with her is more important than the QUANTITY.

We will go do things just the two of us (I love our ritual of morning coffee and pastry dates) or all together as a family. I do my best to not be on my phone around her, and to engage her in whatever I’m doing when I can–whether that’s helping me cook in the kitchen, helping around the house, etc. Get down on the floor with her and actively do whatever she wants me to do–whether that’s help her “cut” her play fruit or put her babies down the slide, whatever. I try to give her my undivided attention for a good chunk of time in the morning and evening before and after school/work.

As for keeping time and space for myself, I think daycare helps with that immensely because she’s out of the house for most of the day. The hours she’s at daycare, I’ve got my “mom” hat off. I will try and squeeze in things for myself during those hours in addition to work. Neal is also a very hands on dad (who does not view handling June solo as “babysitting”) and we have family close-by, so I’m still able to see friends, take a girls trip, etc. A support system is so important.

(For more on our decision to go with daycare for our childcare option, see this post.)

2nd year of motherhood in review

LOTS of big emotions today. 😂 Just about everything resulted in a meltdown at the end of the morning

How have you managed navigating the inevitable big emotions (i.e. tantrums) that come with toddlerhood? What has worked for you?

I think first and foremost, know that they have nothing to do with you as a parent. They are developmentally appropriate. Your toddler is supposed to have big emotions. If you can keep yourself calm, they will be able to calm down much more quickly. Doing that is SO HARD. But it’s what I know to be true.

Someone asked, “What’s your approach to discipline–like, Big Little Feelings approach, or just wing it?” and navigating toddler emotions is definitely NOT something I would recommend winging. Just as I do not recommend “winging” and not planning ahead for the newborn phase, or winging approaches to baby sleep. (More on that here.)

Don’t get me wrong, it works for some people–and that’s great. But if it’s NOT working for you–know that you aren’t expected to be an expert in the field of child behavior and psychology. That’s not your job–your job is to find the information that most resonates with your parenting style (or what sounds appealing to you) and implement it. It’s not your job to just inherently know things.

I am very much against just “enduring” or saying “it is what it is” until they “grow out of it”–that’s just not a great way for anyone to live.

There are very few things that can’t be improved with the right knowledge–but it takes being proactive and it takes time, effort, and patience for tactics to pay off. (Just like anything in life. Nothing good in life comes from the easiest path!)

I also don’t think “disciplining” in the traditional sense (i.e. “You hit mommy! Bad! You’re going to time out! Go to your room!”) is helpful for a 2 year old. (Or any age, really.)

I think approaching behavior issues from the same team but holding strong boundaries is very important. (“I won’t let you hit me. I’m putting you down now.”)

Kids don’t act out trying to be bad, they just aren’t developmentally capable and there’s usually a reason for the behavior. Punishing them doesn’t do anything to resolve the issue or teach them anything positive. It teaches them that you’re not a safe person and that your love has conditions.

But teaching them skills to work through their issues pays dividends, and not only makes your life easier in the long run but also allows them to grow into emotionally healthy adults!

I don’t necessarily feel the need to put my “parenting style” in a box (i.e. “Gentle parenting”) but I do think my mom was a gentle parent before gentle parenting was a thing and never punished me for my emotions or the behavior that resulted from them, so I probably gravitate toward that more than anything.

So–when June started really ramping up the toddler behavior, I had no idea how to react or what to do, but the following books have helped me A LOT.

They helped from both a granular level and also from a holistic parenting philosophy standpoint.

Additionally, I bought the Big Little Feelings toddler course, which, in all honesty–is VERY overwhelming and I made it through about 5 videos before I gave up watching them. I do think it’s helpful, but I really dislike watching video content (I’m too impatient and I can read SO much faster, I prefer books😂) but I’m going to approach watching the videos on an as-needed basis. It’s SO thorough which I really appreciate, and they have a section for pretty much every issue that will arise during the toddler years. I can’t say I’ve utilized the course fully yet though. I’ll report back at a later date.

Toddler books I’ve really loved:


Happiest Toddler on the Block:

I would say the most granular approach, step-by-step, by age, what you can be doing proactively and reactively to help manage big emotions. It’s SUPER helpful and I think there’s probably a lot of overlap between this and many of the other books on this list.

The Whole Brain Child:

I’m reading now and is really helpful in understanding how toddler’s brains work so you know what’s helpful and not helpful when it comes to responding to behavior. 

Good Inside:

Dr. Becky is basically the Dr. Spock of our generation, and I thought her book was great. If you follow her on instagram, it’s kind of a more detailed compilation of all the things she already talks about. The most important takeaway from this book is how to lovingly hold boundaries which is really, really important.

Hunt Gather Parent:

I have talked at length about how much I loved Bringing Up Bebe, and I think this is similar to that in its analysis of motherhood in other cultures and why so much of what American parents do contributes to difficult behavior. I thought it was incredibly interesting and super insightful, and one of my the most impactful books I’ve read as it pertains to figuring out my “philosophy” for parenting in general. Of course, like anything, not ALL the things she talks about are a perfect fit–but take what you want and leave what you don’t!

Simplicity Parenting:

I actually read this book when I was pregnant because I was a little bit freaked out by the culture of over-stimulating/busy/competitive/maximalist/material (completely miserable-sounding, IMO) American parenting in general. I think today’s kids are way over-scheduled, they have too much stuff, too many choices, and that childhood is focused on the wrong things. This book is proof of all of those things and more, and how simplifying your life can help you raise emotionally healthy, confident, happy kids AND be happy parents in the process. This book isn’t exactly applicable to me now with a toddler, but I think it’s more of a general parenting approach that I found interesting and helpful! 


baby bunny teeth

The bunny teeth 😭♥️ Always with her goofy faces

A few more things also stand out in terms of what’s helped us navigate screaming/yelling/whining/etc:

Boundaries, replacement behaviors, and a consistent response.

The more firm you are on your boundaries, the easier things will be. Kids need to know what to expect and when there are lots of grey areas are when tantrums happen. This is why routines are so helpful for little kids. Here’s a recent example:

Yelling demands:

When June was about 20 months old, she started SCREAMING this horrific banshee scream at the top of her lungs when she wanted something. MILKKKK!!! MORE!!!!!! for example. It was HORRIBLE and so disruptive and like nails on a chalkboard. We solved this quickly by doing the following:

NEVER giving her what she’s asking for when she’s yelling. EVER.

Providing her with a replacement behavior. Calmly saying, “You can say, “more please” in a nice voice!” and not giving what she’s asking for until she repeats it. Say it over and over if needed. “More, please!” in a pleasant, appropriate tone. Then when she says it, say something like, “oh SURE! Thank you for asking in your nice voice!” and give it to her immediately.

The reason this worked was because we held a firm boundary (yelling is not OK, we don’t yell in our household), we offered a desired replacement behavior instead, and did it consistently every single time, over and over and over. It probably took a week, but now we hardly ever deal with screaming demands. (And if she IS screaming demands, it means that she’s overtired, hungry, etc. There’s a reason for it.)

For more help navigating behavior, I’ve recently started following Mandy Grass on Instagram and I think her videos are helpful! I also shared a few more things that have helped over on this Instagram post. (I’m realizing at this moment I definitely need to write a full blog post on everything that has helped us thus far on the tantrum topic, haha!) This blog post has a lot of helpful tips, though!

2nd year of motherhood in review

How do you navigate developmental milestones and comparison to other kids? Does it make you anxious?

To be 100% honest, I don’t think I’ve looked up a milestone since her first birthday. There is such a massive range of what’s considered “normal” at different stages and for the most part, kids all get to different milestones at different times! I think give it a little time, if you’re still concerned, trust your gut, and reach out to a specialist and/or your ped. I don’t think it’s productive to compare your kid to other kids because they’re not robots–they’re all on their own timelines! (And I also think it helps that she’s in daycare and if there were a question about her not hitting a milestone, her teachers would bring it up.)

I think there is definitely a lot of anxiety among moms who are comparing their kids to others’ kids they see on social media–of course, it’s so easy to get sucked into that stuff! If that’s you, I highly recommend getting off social media and unfollowing any accounts that don’t serve you. (Even if it’s MY account!) I think the whole “stay in your own lane” philosophy is really important as a parent. Assess yourself and your kid against yourselves, don’t compare to other people.

2nd year of motherhood in review

What helps you on the hardest days?

There are lots of hard days. What I always come back to during the moments where it feels like everyone’s brain is melting is what I wrote in this post. She’s a good little girl having a hard time. It’s really hard to be two!

Also knowing that nothing lasts forever. Truly, the worst meltdowns only last for minutes. You can endure anything for a few minutes. (I mean, hello, childbirth? That’s way longer than a few minutes!) I think 99% of winning parenting is a positive attitude and perspective. The good news and bad news is that you are in control of your own emotions and you get to decide how you’re going to react!

Some days that means you take a deep breath, get ahold of yourself, and get everyone calmed down and the night ends with cuddles and you feel like an absolute rockstar. Some days the night ends with tears from all parties and after bedtime you pour a glass of wine, turn on the TV and don’t speak to each other for an hour. Tomorrow is a new day.

Everything is a phase and every tough moment comes to an end eventually. I know that no matter what, no matter how hard certain moments are, I’m going to miss these days when they’re gone, and that always helps ground me. ♥️

What are some of your favorite memories/moments of June this past year?

It’s so hard to choose! Just all the memories of seeing her whole personality come alive in more ways.

She’s always been a sweet and spicy, goofy, yet fiercely determined little girl who tells you exactly what she wants, and just seeing how much that is manifesting and evolving every day as she gets older has been so fun to watch.

How one day she decided she was just going to sit on a barstool instead of her high chair. (She hasn’t used a high chair for months.)

How she is essentially a small ninja and can scale from the floor to the barstool onto the counter and death drop off the other side of counter and land on her feet like a cat. (This has involved a lot of spotting but we quickly learned we better help her learn how to do it safely because she was NOT going to be deterred!)

How quick and smart she is, and how she’s already a great negotiator.

For a toddler, she’s surprisingly reasonable when she wants to be. For example, after our super long travel day to Oregon, I looked at her and said, “mommy is so tired, and so is June. Mommy won’t brush your teeth tonight (she HATES brushing her teeth) if you go straight to bed with no whining” and she looked at me and considered for a second, and walked straight to her pack n play and started crawling into it. I pulled the covers over and walked out. Not a peep. (And usually bedtime is an ORDEAALLLLLL) I was 🤯

Her adorable language. The way she says oatmeal like “oat-me-mo!” and says “FOON!” instead of “spoon.” And always responds “YESH” and recently “Ohhh yesshhh” to questions. Also, “IIII LIKE IT!” and “I. Don’t. Like. It.”

How she hates when I have my hair in a ponytail and says “NO MOMMY BOW!!!” (come to think of it, “no mommy bow” may have been her first complete sentence? And also probably the moment where I was like “oh wow, we have a toddler on our hands. She has arrived.)

Also the time when I flew to Santa Barbara with her, just the two of us, and she yelled “MOMMY AHCKY (yucky) POO POO’S!” when we’re in the bathroom stall in the crowded airport bathroom. (For the record MOMMY WAS NOT GOING POO POO!!) I laughed at that one for about an hour and I’m sure the other 30 people in the bathroom did too. 😂

How some of her favorite foods are croissants (‘SONTS) and olives. (POLIVE).

Also how she always steals her daycare teachers’ flaming hot Cheetos and scarfs them down yet tells us that even things like ketchup are “too picy” at home.

How excited she was when she saw a caterpillar for the first time in the forest preserve. (It was like she won the lottery!)

Her running to a big group of high schoolers on a field trip at the zoo, enamored with them and posing with them for a photo.

The lime game she invented where she stands on the counter, steals limes out of our fruit bowl and chucks them as hard as she can for Neal and I to catch.

Chopping veggies with me with her cute little Montessori knife.

How she calls lotion “sauce” and says NO SAUCE! whenever she gets out of the bath because for some reason she hates lotion.

Countless experiences together traveling different places

How she is a warm weather girlie and LOVES Florida and California. How much she loves the hiking pack and being outside together. (She loved our hikes in Oregon so much, we’re so excited to take her to Yosemite in August!)

How she can easily stay up until 11pm when we’re hanging out with friends and family because she just loves to party and be around her people.

How when we would FaceTime with my dad in his last few months, even though he couldn’t talk (and neither could she!) he would growl at her and it was their funny thing. The second she saw him on FaceTime she would go RAHHHHHRRRR totally unprompted.

How she is a kind, caring friend who doesn’t mind sharing (usually) and wants to play with everyone–unless you mess with her.

And at that point she’ll have no qualms about knocking you off your play car or pushing you down the slide.

How her favorite book is this vile halloween book called Pig the Monster about a pug who leaves bags of poo on people’s doorsteps and eats so much candy be barfs all over everyone and she demands to read it every night. 😂

How she is stingy with her cuddles but sometimes will say an, “I luh you mommy” and “I luh you da da”. And give us kisses out of nowhere.

How often she sings to herself and loves music. And how we took her to Disney on Ice at 18 months old. She was enamored the whole time and sang aloud LET IT GOOOOOO with the music and made everyone turn around and be like, “I’m sorry–did that small baby just sing that?!”

Jess Keys and family

Photo by Our Days Photo & Film

I could be here all day. If you made it to the end of this post I am very impressed and also honored you cared this much about what I had to say on this subject! I hope this was helpful, and if any part of it wasn’t, please don’t feel the need to take it to heart! Every parent is doing their best, and you are doing a terrific job! Thanks for being along for this ride, aunties. We love you!