Tired of Just “Toddler Talk”?
A Prescription For Your Daily Dose of Adult Interaction
You wake up one morning feeling a little out of it. Not quite sick, but not quite well; not sad, but definitely not happy.
At breakfast you find yourself looking for the toy in the cereal box, hoping to grab it before your kids see it. Although the kids aren’t up yet, you switch on the TV and click past the morning news programs in search of something with talking puppets or dancing letters or, better yet, both. You finish your cereal, put down your spoon, and with a rush of self-pride, say, “All gone!”
The warning signs are there: You are becoming your toddler.
And is it any wonder? As an at-home mom you are the constant companion, coach and conversation buddy to your kids. That’s good, you say. It’s the reason I chose to be at home. Well, certainly, you’re right, to a point. By talking with them often you are teaching them the language skills they’ll need for a lifetime, and performing one of the most important tasks you have as a mother. If you are talking to them exclusively, however, you are starving yourself of adult interaction and stimulation, and risk becoming intellectually anorexic. It’s time to schedule a thorough check-up.
Treating any ailment begins with an examination. This exam is one you can give yourself in the comfort of your own home, though patients who are in advanced stages of Toddler Talk Overdose may wish to have a partner ask the questions.
1. Have you lost contact with friends by changing the location of your home or by leaving a job outside the home?
It’s a common complaint of toddler moms. They try to stay in touch, but it just isn’t easy. The days when you could cart your infant along for a lunch date with your best friend are over. You toddler is no longer predictable in restaurants, nor does she sleep as you chat.
2. Have you lost your sense of schedule, only rising to the time-constraint challenge long enough to deliver your child to the library story time?
It’s easy to forget how to plan your own social time when one day looks suspiciously like another.
3. When you are in a grocery store, shopping center or post office, do you linger over your interactions with grown-ups hoping desperately to hear even one multi-syllabic word?
If you answered “Yes” to any or (gulp!) all of these questions, you will be automatically referred for a series of diagnostic tests.
1. The Interests Test.
This test asks you to consider whether you are currently pursuing any of your own interests. Whether you enjoy painting, reading books, or learning new computer skills, there are others out there who enjoy the same things you do, and who are just waiting for the chance to know you. Clubs or community college courses are available to support almost every interest. It is well worth the effort to let them help you find a kindred spirit.
“But I’ve always enjoyed reading,” you say. “Why should I suddenly feel the need to join a book club?” Because you have overdosed on Toddler Talk, that’s why. A woman in the workplace has many opportunities for adult conversation that are much harder to duplicate from the homefront. Pick something you love, find a group associated with that love, and force yourself, if necessary, to be a joiner.
2. The Friendliness Test.
The Friendliness Test asks you to think about how long it has been since you have met anyone new. Strangely, the answer to this test has little to do with whether you have lived in your neighborhood for many years or just moved in. It has a great deal more to do with your attitude.
How do we meet other people? Lots of ways. Instead of just kicking up your heels at aerobics in “group isolation,” look around for someone who looks like a nice person, and start a conversation. A simple “hi” or comment about the class may be enough to tell whether that person is also ready to meet new people. Your enjoyment is sure to increase when you not only do something you like, but feel that you know someone there. It gives a sense of belonging that just showing up does not accomplish. Maybe that person will become a come-over-for-coffee pal, or perhaps she’ll just be the one you say hello to at aerobics, but you will have increased your adult interactions for the week.
Louise, a forty-year-old mother of two small children, tells of the day she met a new friend at the grocery store. “I know it sounds funny,” she says, “starting a conversation with a stranger. But there she was behind us with a boy and a girl about the same ages as my kids, and we just started chatting.” She admits the whole scenario felt strangely reminiscent of her dating years. “When we had talked in line and out into the parking lot, one of us said, ‘We should try to get together sometime.’ I called her the following week for lunch with the kids at McDonald’s. Since then she’s become one of my closest friends.” Meeting people starts with eye contact and a smile. It only gets easier after that.
3. The Good Friend Test.
The Good Friend Test asks you to consider your readiness for reciprocating friendship. Being at home with the kids can sometimes be smothering, but quite often it is simply cozy. When it’s cozy, it’s easy to forget that to have friends you need to be a friend. Keeping in touch is a nice thing to do even on the days when you don’t feel desperate for adult contact. Calling just to say “hi” can be a treat for both of you. Still, a good friend finds out the best times for those calls. Some people enjoy a few minutes a day on the phone; others are burdened by that much contact. Some enjoy sitting and talking at naptime; others use that time to fly through the housework or may use it for their own rest time.
Even considerate friends can make mistakes if they don’t ask when a good time to talk might be. Joann remembers calling her new friend Anna at around 8 AM. “She had called me early a few times so I thought it would be a good time to call her. I forgot that her part-time nursing schedule includes one night a week of the 11-7 shift.” Needless to say, Joann no longer makes the early calls.
E-mail has been a salvation for many friends, especially the long-distance ones. Phone calls can be disruptive and expensive, but with E-mail friends can write notes and read them when it’s convenient, staying in touch daily if they wish.
Good friends can show support in other ways as well. Giving your friend a break by offering to watch her kids for a few hours can be a great help. So can listening sympathetically when it’s your friend who has heard too many sentences beginning with the word “Mommy.” Being a friend doesn’t have to mean a large commitment of time. It just means a willingness to share the ups and downs that affect everyone.
If you are willing to work toward passing the aforementioned tests then the cure for too much toddler talk is certainly within reach.
You’ve chosen to be an at-home mom for reasons too numerous to list. But that choice did not imply locking yourself and the kids in and throwing away the key. The cure for too much toddler talk demands that you take two prescriptions for as long as necessary:
1. Get out of the house with the kids.
2. Get out of the house without the kids.
Get out with the kids. Spending time with your kids can be a great way to make contact with other moms. Play in the park when other families are there. Sit in the library during story time. Take stroller walks often, varying the time of day, if necessary, until you meet some neighborhood moms.
When Lori moved to her new home, she could see at once that there were few at-home moms in the neighborhood. “So I went to the park day after day with the kids, looking for other moms with kids, knowing that eventually a new friend would find us.” In time, of course, one did.
Moms of school-aged children often meet new friends as school volunteers. Many projects which help the teacher can be done with others, sometimes even with a toddler in tow. Parent-teacher organizations are another outlet for social contact. Wherever a school function is being planned, plenty of moms can be found.
Expect to see other people. Expect to meet a new friend. Expect your sense of isolation to dwindle.
Get out without the kids. While your best friend from your former job may not complain that she never has you to herself, she’s probably thinking it. Happy moms find some time to be with only adults at times, even in the daytime. A babysitting co-op may be the ideal way to step out for an hour or two, and it’s a great way to meet neighborhood mothers as well. Mom’s Day Out programs or hourly day care can also be a help.
Even those moms who epitomize domestic happiness need some time away from the homefront. One of the most interesting groups I’ve heard of offers women who love home sewing the chance to bundle up their fabric and portable sewing machines and head off to a church basement for a sewers sleepover. Without children underfoot or meals to prepare they can chat a little and sew a lot—adding a welcome element of camaraderie to a usually solitary pastime.
Finally, get out with your husband. Remind yourselves that just as every word spoken in the house doesn’t need to be by a toddler, it doesn’t have to be about a toddler either. But even if it is, spending time with one another will help to rejuvenate a waning spirit. Having a regular date night is a great idea, but staying connected in smaller ways is good, too. Taking a walk with or without the kids is a nice escape. (Parents can chat at adult height while those at stroller height can just enjoy the view.) Or try having breakfast or dinner with just the two of you. You’ll both enjoy the chance to relate in roles beyond Mom and Dad. Besides, keeping your marriage strong requires a dose of preventative medicine.
Toddler talk is a wonderful thing. But like a steady diet of any one thing, too much may leave you hungry for variety. If you follow this advice, you’ll be able to indulge in all the toddler talk you want, but your overdosing days will be behind you.