Parenting a Toddler with Unrealistic Expectations

It comes as no secret, especially to those who have experienced or are experiencing it, that parenting is really hard. Actually, really hard probably doesn’t even begin to break ground on how difficult this parenting thing is. There are many days that I wish it came with a solid reference manual. However, there certainly is not. This year I decided on the single best New Year’s Resolution that I have ever made. I have dropped all of the expectations I previously had about parenting and all of the expectations that I had for my toddler.

How I Got Here

Remember the time before you had kids where you looked at a family in a restaurant and thought, “I will never let my kid act like that?” Yeah, me too. Now I just laugh about that. Or how about the time where you said that you would never use the TV so you could get a shower or get dinner on the table. Yes, I remember that too. Those days are long gone. I threw them out when I gave up my expectations of parenting.

You see, I have always tried to approach parenting in a “gentle” manner so to speak. I buy into attachment parenting, not because I was “convinced” but because it works and it just makes sense to me. Now, to me that doesn’t mean that I never tell my child “No” or that he is allowed to do whatever he wants. Rather, it means that I love him without measure and I try to always lovingly guide him onto the right path while not punishing him for ‘misbehaving’, that I try to approach even the most trying situations with a gentle attitude and I always respect his feelings, even when I think they are a bit absurd. For instance, the time when he acted as though the world would end because I didn’t let him eat his food off of the floor at the restaurant. I am here to show him love and compassion at all times, regardless of the situation and regardless of my level of frustration.

Armed with all of these ways that I choose to parent, I was surprised that I had days that ended in disappointment. I sometimes felt like a disheartened mother who wondered how I could possibly do it differently tomorrow. What could I do to encourage him to relax, to not throw his toys, to calm himself down a bit?

I would find myself wondering, “If I am showing my child respect, love and compassion at every turn why is he seemingly acting out?” OH RIGHT! Because he is a toddler. And that is just what many toddlers will do. Toddlers can be exhausting and fickle little creatures, can’t they?

My disappointment lead me to taking a step back and realizing that the expectations I had for him were to high. Even if I wasn’t saying it out loud, in my head I still expected him not to hit, or throw, or get upset. I expected him to wake up happy. Now isn’t that silly? I don’t even wake up happy everyday. Ask my mother, she will surely tell you. I come from a very long line of people who are “Not Morning People” it is just in my blood. I need some food, a glass of water and a nice cup of coffee before I transform into my typical pleasant self. Well, my son needs a little bit of food and a lot of love to get going some mornings.

I no longer wanted to expect things from my little one. I never wanted to go to bed disappointed in the nature of our days. I wanted everyday to be a new adventure, a clean slate from the day before. A chance to build upon the old and encourage new skills.

I abruptly made an effort to stop expecting him to act or behave in a certain way.

Encourage, Don’t Expect

Toddlers lack impulse control. And that is not an opinion, it is a fact. They actually lack the brain structures in the prefrontal cortex that allow for good impulse control. Simply put, they cannot stop themselves from doing something they have the impulse or desire to do. Therefore, expecting him not to hit is an unrealistic expectation. And I am done with those! He cannot yet form the thought process that brings him to the conclusion that he shouldn’t hit Mom. I will always encourage him not to hit or throw his toys, talk to him about why he should’t hit and continue to lay the groundwork for a child who will gain impulse control and understanding. Because really, that is all you should be doing. I won’t expect him not to have a potty accident, I will encourage him to try to use the potty in time, every time. Armed with this information, I am embarking on this new adventure in parenting. 

The day will come when I expect him to treat others with respect, to do his homework and to sit nicely at the dinner table. The toddler years are just not those years. These are the years to encourage him and set him up for the expectations that I will have for him in the future. But for now, there is no need to have these high expectations.  He is a healthy, smart, vivacious, extroverted, happy child, who makes me smile everyday. And really, that far exceeds the importance of any other silly expectations I have ever had.

And guess what? Things. Are. Better. Without expectations, I don’t often find myself disappointed. I am only human, so some days are better than others. Everyday I go to bed focused on how I got to spend the day encouraging my little one to grow into the person he is destined to be.  And I wonder what tomorrow will bring. One of the best parts? My little guy seems pretty happy with Moms new attitude! My calmness and lack of frustration fuels a better environment for learning.

Don’d be fooled though… He still tests the water and throws his toys around on occasion. And some days, I swear he hears nothing that comes out of my mouth. But guess what? If I pay close attention, he is learning.  And as days go on he shows that. We are going at HIS PACE and that is the way it should be.


That imagined child that you carried those 9 months during pregnancy likely sat nicely at the dinner table, had perfect manners, always woke up happy, never hit or yelled or threw themselves on the ground because you wouldn’t let them eat food off of the floor. But guess what? I would take the boy that I birthed over that “imagined” child any day. Toy throwing and all. My “real” child tests my patience, constantly makes me fight to be a better person, a better mother, and enriches my life in ways I never knew was possible. He has also taught me a thing or two (or two hundred) about patience. I now parent with a patience that I never knew I had inside me and I spend my days encouraging him to do all the things that I know one day he will do without second thought. Without setting “real” or “unrealistic” expectations there is never a night that I go to bed disappointed. I now go to sleep thinking about what actions I should encourage tomorrow and how much I love this little boy that I am honored to be be a parent to.

For More Personal Experiences and Journeys check out Mommy Moments.

Photo Credits:Jessica


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