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The 5 Traits Moms Need to Survive (and Enjoy!) Toddlerhood

#5 - Empathy

We'd all like to think of ourselves as compassionate with our kids. But sometimes the illogical whims of a toddler are tough to comprehend, let alone empathize with. Take Madeleine McLaughlin, a 2-year-old from Brookfield, Connecticut. She can't bear to find a strand of hair on her bed but will walk around with a full diaper, claiming nothing's in there. "I want to say, 'Can't you see the irony of it all?'" says her mother, Mary.

But as a mom of three kids under 4 years old, McLaughlin has learned a different sanity-saving strategy. "What I've come to realize is that just because I see the big picture doesn't mean my child does  -- and that's okay." This is exactly the right approach, say experts. You have to feel that your child's goals are valuable and important (within reason), even if they aren't important to you. And being able to do that in an empathetic way is key. "A toddler needs a lot of help managing emotions," says Thompson. "What's tricky is managing your own feelings at the same time."

Of course, even empathy has its limits. "I will bow to Madeleine's demands only to a point," says McLaughlin. "I can't cater to her every whim, especially because they change so rapidly. But if we can meet halfway and I can understand that she has limits too, then we can coexist without both going absolutely crazy."

And while some semblance of sanity might feel like the ultimate goal on most days, it's the big picture that counts. "Friends will say to me, 'I could never have kids, I'm too selfish,'" says McLaughlin. "To that I say, 'Have a kid and you'll learn how not to be selfish.' I don't think you are ever truly grown up until you have kids."


Barbara Rowley is a contributing editor and the author of Baby Days. Her last feature for Parenting was "Simple Truths All Moms Can Use," in the October issue.