Max gathering leaves

7 Things I’ve Learned The Hard Way About Parenting a Three-Year-Old

[AD: This post is sponsored by Wild Fawn]

I sometimes think that if I didn’t learn things the hard way, I wouldn’t learn anything at all. Parenting, however, has included some of my hardest lessons to date, so here are just a few of the things I’ve learned (the hard way, natch…) about parenting a toddler…

No matter what you do, always, always bring a change of clothes. (For them. But also for you, if you really want…)

We learned this one the really hard way, after a poop explosion on Cramond Beach earlier this summer, but if there’s one piece of wisdom I can pass down to new parents, it would be this:

Always bring a change of clothes. Always.

I’d stupidly assumed it was safe to stop lugging a changing bag around with me everywhere I went once Max was toilet trained. I was really looking forward to being able to reintroduce actual handbags to my wardrobe, in fact.

Here, however, is a photo of Max taking his shoes off after nursery one day:

Max's socks after nursery I know it doesn’t look like it, but he DOES own shoes, I promise. And boots. And indoor shoes, which he changes into at nursery. And wellies, which he wears in the playground. Despite all of the above, most days he comes home in completely different clothes from the ones he left in, because he gets SO dirty.

“Oh, it’s great that he’s having so much fun!” people always say when I bring this up, but people only say that because they’re not the ones having to buy his clothes or wash them, are they?

Which brings me to my next point:

Nice/expensive toddler clothes are a one-way ticket to heartbreak

I love buying clothes for Max: it’s actually the closest thing I have to a hobby these days, if I’m totally honest. For his first day at nursery, for instance, I decked him out in a wool duffel coat, worn with bright red chinos, and a cute embroidered knit – mostly because I knew they’d take his photo, and I wanted him to be wearing something nice in it. Why yes, I DID feel mighty stupid, thanks for asking!

For his second day at nursery, meanwhile, Max wore a cheap pair of joggers with a sweatshirt I’d almost forgotten he had. And now? Now he has five nursery-issue sweatshirts, five matching polo shirts, and a selection of black joggers from a multipack, which he wears on rotation all week, saving his “nice” clothes for the weekends – and sometimes not even then, tbh.

(Oh, and he also has two separate coats for nursery alone, purely so that there’s always one to wear while the other is in the wash. I didn’t even know you COULD wash coats until this year, true story.)

Why? Well, see above, basically. I don’t think he’s ever come home from nursery without either food or paint – or both – smeared all over him. So I still buy him “nice” clothes: I just no longer expect them to stay “nice” for longer than a few minutes…

Never show a toddler something you’d like to keep for yourself

Right now, Max’s big obsession is with “precious gems”, and his favourite game involves me getting my jewellery box out so that he can set up a “jewel store”. (The catch: you’re not allowed to actually BUY anything from this store, you just have to pay to LOOK at the things in it. Which is a pretty clever business model, really, when you think about it.)

In a bid to dissuade him from using my ACTUAL jewellery, we bought him a bunch of cheap paste “gem stones”, plus some semi-precious stones, which he loves (It’s his “treasure” box), but, I mean, he’s not stupid: he much prefers the real stuff, which is why he’s asked me if he can have this little Wild Fawn initial necklace every single time I’ve worn it since it arrived:

initial necklace

To be fair, it is his initial that’s on it, rather than mine, but I’m quite fond if of it myself, really, so I’ve had to temporarily placate him by assuring him that he can have it “when I’m finished with it” – which was kind of a bad move, really, because now, every time I wear it I can sense him silently watching me, just hoping I’ll die soon so he can have all my jewellery. So that’s heart-warming.

Max is also now the proud owner of several other ornaments and trinkets that used to be ours, Terry’s old wallet (complete with expired credit cards), and the broken CPU from my now-defunct desktop computer. Oh, and when I finally wore out my favourite jumper a few weeks ago, he made me cut off the buttons and give them to him. All of our bases are belong to him…

If you want a toddler to eat something, tell him it’s not for him.

I don’t think I’ve managed to finish a single meal or snack since Max was weaned, because, the second he sees me start to eat something, he wants it. He also has a nose like a bloodhound: a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of eating a piece of chocolate right after I’d put him to bed, only for him to call me back to his room shortly afterwards. Pretty much the SECOND I opened the door, he sat up in bed, sniffed the air, and said, “WHO’S BEEN EATING CHOCOLATE?” like one of the three freaking bears discovering that Goldilocks has broken in again.

In more positive news, however, if we ever want him to try something he’s been refusing to eat, all we have to do is pretend it’s not for him, and he will 100% try to steal it off “our” plates. When this ruse stops working, I’m probably going to cry.

Expect to be embarrassed.

Twice, now, Max’s nursery have questioned whether or not we actually feed him, because it turns out Max has been telling them that, no, we don’t.

The first time it happened, his teacher actually CALLED me to check he’d been given lunch that day (He had, and he’d eaten every bite of it, then rocked up to nursery claiming he was being starved…); the second time, she simply noted on his online learning journal that, during a discussion about healthy food, “Max explained that mummy and daddy don’t give him breakfast or lunch, just cake bars.” GOD.

(When I had to take him to the toilet with me when we were at the garden centre a few weeks ago, meanwhile, he waited until I’d pulled down my trousers, then shouted, “WHERE’S YOUR WILLY, MUMMY?” at the top of his voice. Yes.)

Max amongst the leaves6.
Toddlers are scrupulously honest.

(Unless it’s about food, obviously, then they’re straight-up liars. See above.)

I’m still smarting from the time I walked into Max’s room one morning to be greeted with the words, “Mummy, your hair’s a mess!” He wasn’t wrong, is all I’ll say about that.

My parents, meanwhile, have also learned the hard way that as soon as he comes back from their house, he will provide us with a comprehensive list of every sweet he was permitted to eat. “Gran and Grandad give me TONS of sweets!” he told me just last week. “And I don’t even have to be good or anything!” BUSTED.

Watch your language

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone to know that toddlers learn by example: which is presumably how the words “random” and “literally” found their way into Max’s vocabulary, and also why, when we drove over a large pothole in the road a few months ago, there was a moment’s silence, then a small voice from the back of the car shouted, “Oh, FFS!”

We’re much more careful what we say around him these days, needless to say. Well, most of the time, anyway.


Which parenting lessons have you learned the hard way?

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  • D


    They make up outlandish stories, tell them with a straight face, and gullible adults fall for it every time!
    Why is that? Shouldn’t grownups be a bit more discerning?!

    November 2, 2021
  • Myra


    I learned not to put condiments on the table because my toddler insisted on taking the lid off the salt pot and tipping it all over his food. Visitors now have to ask me for it

    November 2, 2021
  • Erin


    In preschool, I told everyone there (including the teachers) that my name was “Sara” and my mom thought I was missing when she came to pick up her daughter Erin. Kids are strange. Also, we don’t have a kid and I know dogs aren’t “kids” but my dog will rarely eat food unless we eat it first, so now we have a dog that mostly eats human food and he has to eat at the same time we do or he thinks we’re trying to trick him. Into what? Surviving? Who knows?

    November 4, 2021