What I Wish I'd Known When I was Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers

As I write this my boys are staying up a little late to read. Elijah (7.5) is reading a LEGO Ideas book and Ezra (9) is Charley and the Chocolate Factory. There's a soft glow peeking under their doorway, and as I reflect on this day I can't help but think of what bedtime looked like a few years ago, anyhow desperately I longed for them to go to sleep so I could...just breathe. 

I'm filled with gratitude for the years of hard work David and I put into learning to parent with gentleness, grace, and peace. The toddler and early preschool years were especially difficult for me (hello postpartum anxiety), and there were plenty of times I said "I can't do this anymore!"

But here we are years later, and our entire family has affectionately started referring to this summer as "The Summer of Peace." Our home is filled with peace, even as we navigate big changes for our family and while David and I finish the manuscript for our book. These are the days I longed for, hoped for, and prayed for when our boys were young. And as I reflect on those early years, there are a few things I wish I'd known. 

What I Wish I'd Known When I was Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers
  1. I wish I had known that the fruit of my labor would show up sooner than I thought, and in the most unexpected ways. I saw little glimmers of it every now and then, like when our then three-year-old told his two- year-old brother, "You're in my space, please play somewhere else." and the two-year-old replied, "Oh okay!" and moved to the other side of the train table. But many times it felt like my efforts were in vain because I didn't see that much fruit as soon as I wanted. Looking back, the peace, honor, emotional intelligence, assertiveness, and teamwork that we cultivated actually did reap a bountiful harvest! But not always, and not perfectly. And I wish I hadn't expected it to be always or perfect.

  2. I wish I had known that I would never regret choosing to parent with gentleness and peace. When my children were younger I had a lot of fear of messing them up. We started out spanking and parenting pretty traditionally, and were very quickly convicted that treating children as less worthy of honor, respect, and protection than adults was not aligned with the way of Jesus. But even with strong convictions, I still feared it wouldn't "work". I wish I had known then that I would never regret treating my young children with honor and dignity. Watching them grow in honor and respect, not out of fear but out of love for others, has been a beautiful journey.

  3. I wish I had known that laying a foundation of trust creates a safeharbor for complex conversations. As our children get older, conversations become more challenging. Because we worked so hard to become safe for our children no matter what, they know that tricky and complex conversations are inherently safe to have with us. It doesn't necessarily make those talks easier or less uncomfortable, but it does create safety and vulnerability. Trust really is the key that unlocks healthy, flourishing relationships.

  4. I wish I had known that I would enjoy collaborating with my kids. There is so much pressure on parents to control their child's behavior, and when they were small I felt that pressure heavily. Looking back, I wish I had known how truly delightful it is to problem-solve and collaborate with kids. They're naturally creative and curious, and they come up with some of the most out-of- the-box solutions to problems. Letting go of my desire to control them and their actions freed me to enjoy them for who they are, and it allowed me to genuinely appreciate their problem-solving skills.

  5. I wish I had known that connection is correction. We've heard it many times from many places: connect before you correct. And there's wisdom in that for sure. But it took me a long to recognize that connection is a form of correction because it models for our children what we expect from them. It models conflict resolution, reconciliation, emotional regulation, and kindness in the face of adversity. Is it the only form of correction? No. But it is probably one of the most under-appreciated ways of correcting a child's behavior, and I wish I had realized its power long before I did.
If I had to do it over again, here's why |would: 
In general I don't like using my children as examples of why Peacemaker Parenting "works" They are not my report card, they're not my trophies to show off. They are their own people, and ultimately they do and will get to make their own choices. So I hesitate to share their stories too publicly. Yes, we enjoy a beautiful, trust-based relationship. Yes, they are generally well-behaved kids. Yes, they know how to bring peace to their own conflicts and rarely need us to coach them through fights or disagreements. But none of that is why I'd choose Peacemaker Parenting again. Rather - it is because parenting with peace and gentleness forced me to confront my own emotional immaturity and surrender it to Jesus. It tested how deeply I trusted Jesus to be my source of peace, my identity, and my strength, and it helped me realize just how truly gracious He is to me.

If you're in the thick of it with toddlers, I want to invite you to join our next workshop: Peacemaker Parenting Toddlers. It's specifically geared at providing a model of Jesus-Centered parenting for parents of 15-36 month old children, but the truths and tools will be applicable for preschoolers and early childhood as well.

​To the Cycle-Breaking Toddler Mom:

To the cycle-breaking toddler mom,

Yikes, huh?

These days are tough– you are learning to navigate a whole new set of obstacles. Your child who was mostly eating, sleeping, and pooping for a while is moving into their own personality in a whole new way. You are excited and terrified at the same time. If you're like me, you find yourself in two groups of people – the first group is made up of parents who lament the dreadful toddler moods and wild-and-free ways, and the second group is parents who seem to have their toddlers sitting quietly through a church service with no fuss or discussion. And here you are just trying to maintain your dignity and confidence in front of these people while accidentally wearing the shirt with spaghetti stains and wondering if maybe you’re wrong for making the decisions you’ve made for your family about being a peacemaker parent instead of a punishing one. 

I’m here to remind you– you are doing the right thing. 

Sure, the toddler days are accompanied by some rough and tumble days. It comes with the turf.

These little people follow you like a shadow.

They nearly fall asleep sitting up but will suddenly muster all of the energy in the universe to fight bedtime with much gusto. 

They cry when their lunch is cut into the wrong shape, when the green cup is dirty, and when you mispronounce the word they made up.

They know exactly what they’re asking for when they say “ahh bubfhryskaya” but you wonder if a high-ranking military interpreter might be able to spare a few minutes to translate for you.

Sometimes it feels like no one sees the countless hours you invest in caring for their physical, emotional, and yes, even spiritual needs. Many days your hard work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. And while it feels like no one sees - your precious little ones are watching you ever so closely. Because they adore you. Because they trust you. Because you are their safe place when everything in their little world feels too big - your love feels bigger.

This is the real reason they act spectacularly "difficult" just for you - you are their safe place.

You are the mom who is growing and learning all about them. You see their physical and emotional needs and you show up in ways no one else does to meet them.

You are the mom who refuses to punish them for lack of development. You refuse to use fear or shame to manage their behavior, and that means they're also not learning how to repress deep emotions - those emotions are being felt, as God intended them to be, sometimes without reservation or inhibition.

You take seriously your responsibility to show the heart and character of Jesus to your child. You know that spiritual and character formation begins not with managing behavior, but with introducing your tiniest disciples to Jesus, and you imitate Him as you disciple your children.

You are the mom who is doing your best and even though it might not seem like it, your child knows it and they love you for it. Your best on Thursday night might look different than your best on Saturday morning, and that's okay. Because even when you mess up and struggle, you're teaching your children how to do that well. 

Cycle-breaking mama, you are empowering your little ones in ways you won't even know for years to come. You are loving them. You are modeling the heart of God to your children in a tangible way. 

If you were raised in a circle of people who don’t align with treating toddlers as whole persons deserving of honor and respect, let me tell you right now–just because a whole bunch of generations taught one thing, doesn’t make it true. This feeling of “What are people thinking of me as a mother”  can be a really strong emotion to conquer. I feel you on that, I've been there–so many times, actually. They’re tough feelings to sit with, but take the time to work through them. It will be worth it. 

If you haven’t heard it lately – frequent meltdowns, unpredictable outbursts, yelling, saying no, and not following instructions are all normal for a child who isn’t afraid of punishment. It is part of their learning process. These things are not cause for shame or “What is wrong with me” conversations in your head. They are doors for you to walk through and teach your child through love. They're opportunities to celebrate the way God designed your child. And yeah, they're a chance for you to grow too.

I know it’s hard. The ups and downs of toddler emotions can make a mama want to lock herself in the bathroom with a pair of headphones a handful of peanut M&Ms and never come out. Ask me how I know. 

Hear me when I say you’re going to get through this. 

You probably won’t “nail it” every day–no one does!

But every day you learn a little more and you practice a little more, and you make a little more progress. Soon enough, the cycle of fear, shame, or abuse is broken. And guess what? It started with you. 

So reheat your coffee however many times is necessary today. Take a breath. Say a prayer. And remind yourself that you were made for this. 


Scripture Affirmations for Moms + Free Download

Anyone else just want to sit down and color like you used to when you were 5?! 

I always loved to color but sometimes now I feel like if I have to tear out or look at one more page from a paw patrol coloring book I just might lose it. 

Moms aren’t exempt from needing a creative outlet and sometimes it just helps our brains so much to be able to sit down and relax with some markers, crayons, or watercolors. 

Another need we moms have is to have the truths of God’s word spoken over us and meditated on in our hearts. Cue the mama scriptures coloring download. 

Sometimes we can’t walk away entirely but we need a minute. 

Sometimes we can’t find our own words, but we need some words. 

Sometimes we can’t do everything, but we can claim a promise…

We can speak a scripture we have hidden in our heart. 

We can breathe a prayer to our good father. 

We can remind our own thoughts of what Jesus says about us and how loved and precious we are. 

And sometimes, in those moments, that is enough. 

A prayer for the mama who desires to live sacrificially, but who also needs rest

Dear God, I don't know how to do this: how to live sacrificially for my children while also taking care of myself so I am healthy and whole. I don't know how to live in a way that is willing to lay down my life for others, but that also honors the priceless treasure that I am. I know when I take care of myself it is easier for me to be gentle with my children. But being gentle with myself is a struggle.

I don't know what to do with the "I'm supposed to be able to do it all" thoughts that sneak in when I think about asking for help. I know asking for help is okay, but trusting someone else with my children is hard for me. God, you lead gently lead those who have young. Gently lead me towards love and wisdom, and away from fear and control.

Help me remember that sometimes laying down my life looks like missing sleep and holding babies when I'm touched out. And sometimes it looks like giving up control and trusting someone else with my precious child so I can sleep in peace.
Thank you for sustaining me thus far. Sometimes I look back on the week and wonder how in the world I made it through. You are the how. You are the one who equipped me, even when I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. You are the one who empowered me, even when I felt weak and unable. You are the one who comforted me, even when I didn't know why I was crying. You are the one who was gentle with me, even when I wasn't gentle with myself. And I am so grateful for You. Amen.


To the mama who feels alone in her parenting choices,

I see you. I’ve been you. 

It feels like you’re hiding in a closet somewhere because you grew up in a pro-spanking or pro-punishment culture but you’ve decided to raise your child with grace and respect instead. 

The people around you think you’re nuts for choosing to parent as a peacemaker instead of a firm disciplinarian. 

You know the truth! You’ve experienced for yourself the character of your good father, God. You know the contrast of grace vs. the law. You’ve even seen how modern neuro-science backs it up. Of course it does–it is all a part of God’s design. These kids are his image bearers, after all. 

But you still feel alone. And on the hard days you ask yourself, “is this really the right thing?” They say “Motherhood–it takes a village.” But where is my village?!  You wonder.

Many days you feel ill-equipped. It feels like your children are a little, or a lot rowdier than their peers, and even though you're convicted and convinced that spanking and fear tactics are wrong, you wonder what on all earth are you supposed to do instead.

You’ve been trying to navigate conflict after conflict. Some days it seems like all day. You are doing your best but some days it just feels like it is too hard. I see you sitting on the floor in the kitchen out of the kids’ view. Grabbing a handful of chocolate chips and crying a little. You look down and see you are wearing the same sweatshirt you put on a couple of days ago. Your face still has leftover makeup on it because you keep trying to make yourself feel put together but at the end of the day you’re too tired to wash it off. 

I want you to know that I see another side of you, too.

I see the mom who can walk into sibling disputes, bedtime battles, toddler tantrums, and tween angst and bring in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You choose to love and not cause fear. You choose to help and not to hurt. You choose to demonstrate humility and not pride. Because of that, your children trust you. They learn from you. They look up to you. And even when it feels like it isn’t true, I promise you, they love you for it. 

It is this tenacious side of you that makes you a great mom. Maybe you haven’t read all of the parenting books. (When would you have time, right?!) Maybe you’re the only one in your circle who believes this grace-based parenting is actually going to pay off. It could be that most days are still hard days and you find that you are working even more on yourself than on the kids…

But let me tell you something: You are not alone in this. We want to be your village. We want to invite you to the beautiful community we're building in The Mentorship. It's a space where you can connect with others who have chosen to parent with grace and peace, and it is filled with encouragement and support for your family. 


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