Toddlers are too young to understand deep, philosophical lessons. They are too young to understand moral quandaries. They are too young to really grasp right from wrong.
As parents, we know that just because they can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught. I feel like this is a “no, duh” moment many parents are saying to themselves right now.
Yet an issue I run into as I parent Jai with Ash is knowing what lessons to teach and how best to teach them. Questions I ask myself on a daily basis: is this something worth correcting Jai on? How do I correct him, with a warning or straight to time out? Should I follow the mainstream recommendation or go with my instinct?
A mentor once told me years ago, well before I met Ash, that you are never truly prepared to have a child. So if you want to have one, you have to just jump in and learn as you go. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be worth it in the end when you have a functioning, well-adjusted adult that wants to have a relationship with you after they’ve moved out of the house.
But in order to achieve this, I have to begin training Jai to be polite, thoughtful, a good listener, able to share, and comfortable with adults as a toddler. The list is a bit longer than that, but those are the main concerns I have on a daily basis with a toddler.
As I am training Jai, I have to be mindful of several things: I’m an adult, what battles to pick and being humble throughout the whole experience.
This is part two of a two-part post about coping with toxic friendships. I previously discussed the formative relationship that led me to seek out toxic friendships, the anger connection that was the center of these friendships, how I chose to ignore the red flags, and my own toxic role in these friendships. What follows is a continuation of my self-reflection and how I’ve worked towards being healthier in my quest to remove toxic friendships out of my life.
By engaging in toxic relationships, I prevented myself from being receptive to healthy friendships. I do have healthy relationships, but the ratio of toxic relationships outweighed the healthy ones since childhood.
I am lucky to know people who want to establish a healthy relationship with me. Unfortunately, in the past, I haven’t done enough to nurture these friendships though I am trying to do more as I change my friendship patterns. I am not quite there yet, but I am hoping I can reach out and do a better job reciprocating once I’ve healed.
There are three main reasons why I stifled healthy relationships: one, the toxic ones took up more time and energy so I couldn’t think about fostering another friendship; two, I didn’t think I deserved healthy friendships because of my own low self-esteem; and three, I was so uncomfortable with the healthy dynamic that I did not know how to handle it.
I found myself suspicious of any healthy relationship. Clearly, the other person wants something out of me and I was unwilling to give it to them. Ironically, I was willing to give a toxic person everything and more, but when the relationship had an equal dynamic I didn’t know how to handle myself. I found myself freezing and not pursuing the friendship hoping it would go away.
Emotionally healthy people scared me for the longest time. I resented that they highlighted my own inadequacies because I never measured up in comparison. I wanted to be where they were without doing the emotional legwork.
I sabotaged healthy relationships throughout my life, which I deeply regret. I don’t know how many awesome friendships I’ve missed out on in favor of the toxic ones. I am very lucky for the healthy ones I have today, and I recognize how patient these friends are with me and how they pursued my friendship with no expectations.
This is part one of a two-part post about coping with toxic friendships. Today I will talk about the formative toxic relationship in my life, how I connected with others to encourage a toxic relationship, the red flags I ignored, and my own role in a toxic relationship.
For the month of August, I am writing about tidying up the home life: from cleaning the house to effectively organizing my time.
Friendships are a sticking point in my internal life.
I have a lot of people I consider friends, some I consider close friends, and fewer considered best friends. In my 30+ years, I have a lot of failed friendships and until recently, rarely did I focus on the successful friendships, but much of my mental energy went towards the unhealthy ones.
Many, if not all, of these failed friendships, were toxic in nature. It is important to note I am not talking about friendships that died due to time, distance, and a lack of communication. The toxic friendships generally did not have geographic issues nor was there a lack of time for the friendship, they failed for other reasons.
When the friendships were dying or at a clear end, I would repeatedly reflect on my perceived failures: lack of perception for the warning signs from the beginning, my role in encouraging the negative friendship, and the length of time I allowed myself to endure the unhealthy dynamic.
What follows is my experience with toxic friendships, the self-reflection I needed to complete to move towards healthier friendships, and the fallout from these situations. This process wasn’t easy, and I am nowhere near finished with it, but I wanted to share my current position both as catharsis and hopefully to show that there isn’t anything wrong with you if you realize you’re in a toxic friendship.
My Toxic Origin Story
I am rather lucky that I can point to the origin of my toxic friendships. It was one individual in my life and how everyone surrounding them responded to their toxic behavior.
It was a family member that I dealt with since I was six years old. I have allowed geography to cut them out of my life which helped me heal, but the scars and patterns remain today from the experience.
This person controlled everyone around them with such toxicity, that the only way to reasonably handle them and keep familial harmony was to give in to their desires. We would eat on their terms. Do activities on their terms. Listen to their problems on their terms. There’s video evidence of them completely changing the mood of the room when they walked in for my sixth birthday. This video saved me from believing I imagined their behaviors when they tried to gaslight me as I grew older.
What I saw growing up with this relative was the following:
It’s important to love a toxic person no matter what. Unconditional love will help them.
Give that toxic person whatever they desire because that’s part of the expression of love. They are broken and only you can help fix them by giving into them.
How they treat you is a measure of your worth: if they treat you badly then you are doing something wrong. If they treat you well, then you are doing something right. Always strive to be treated well.
I dealt with this relative for 18 years, which straddled my formative years on how to foster friendships with others. Unfortunately, what guidance I received to navigate my troublesome peer-relationships didn’t match the example I was given regarding this ever-present familial relationship.
So instead of seeking healthy friendships, I sought the relationship I was most familiar with: a toxic one. I don’t know how many friendships I’ve had that were toxic on some level, and that’s the thing, not all these relationships were toxic in the same way.
Think of it as gradations of toxicity. Sometimes I can overlook toxic behavior because the time spent with the person is more important than the slightly toxic behavior they exhibit from time-to-time. With others, they wrapped up so much of my time and energy that it was a drain to think about the next time I would see them. I will be focusing most of my post on the latter.
For most of my adulthood at the beginning of each year, I fell into the mental trap of “getting healthy and in shape for the summer.” I wanted to have that perfect beach body, even if we never made it to the beach, and feel comfortable wearing cute summer outfits.
I never succeeded.
Life would get in the way, I would get distracted or frustrated with my diet and exercise and so I would enter summer either at the same weight I was at the beginning of the year or a little bit heavier.
What do I do? Well, I have to make some adjustments to accommodate this unforeseen speed bump.
The main thing I’ve learned is that my choices had to change in the summer months. This can range from the food I eat to the time of day I exercise to the intensity of the exercise I commit myself to complete.
If there is a day where I know I won’t be able to exercise for a while due to the heat, I have to adjust my eating to reflect that. Rather than eating heavier or caloric-dense meals, I adjust to more frequent and lighter meals throughout the day.
If we expect a high heat day or extreme humidity, then I will make sure to get out earlier in the morning to avoid dealing with either. 6:30am is usually a great time to get out, beat the heat and the traffic, and be home in time to say “good-bye” to Ash before he heads to work.
If it’s too hot or humid out to exercise, then I move any sort of workout indoors with the A/C blasting or a fan on me if I need to do something with intensity. I also need to make sure that keep drinking water throughout the day.
The hardest choice to adjust is the first one: I love to eat. So if I am having a craving for something particularly heavy, potatoes of some sort, I want to indulge it. I try to find ways to compromise or satisfy the craving with something else. Popcorn works best, but a cool piece of fruit will do in a pinch.
Remembering to drink enough water can also be a problem for me – so by carrying around a water bottle or cup can help remind me to stay hydrated. I need to keep drinking water if I am going to keep exercising throughout the hotter months.
Camping was always fun: sleeping outside, getting as dirty as can be, and eating all the sugary food my parents packed but normally never ate at home. I met so many different people when I camped and was introduced to new things. When I was a toddler I wasn’t into soda (“too peppery” was my response according to my mom), but a kid named Chris from a campsite over reintroduced it to me and I became a fan into adulthood.
I learned how to play pool from another set of kids on a different trip and made friends with some raccoons that invaded our campsite on yet another. One trip saw us sleeping in the car one night because it rained so hard our campsite flooded.
Camping was such a fun part of my childhood that right after Ash proposed I added a bunch of camping supplies to our wedding registry. He was never a big fan of camping, but he’s such a good sport that he went along with my interest to get back into camping once we were married.
We went once.
It was an ordeal, something to discuss in a future post, but it took us six years before we’d attempt it again. The takeaway from the trip: it was fun but extremely eventful. Fuel for family stories for years to come.
Jai’s First Trip
Once I got pregnant I knew I wanted to take my child camping as soon as they were old enough. I know we could have taken Jai right after he was born if we were super dedicated campers, but we’re not. We’re extremely casual, but not to the point of an RV or camper.
I decided that once Jai was able to walk it would be a good time to go. Unfortunately, his birthday is at the end of the casual camping season here and he didn’t start walking until he was 13 months. So we’d have to wait until spring/early summer to try our first trip.
We planned a trip for early-June at a campground not far from where we lived. Ash, Jai, and I went with my parents which helped the trip go smoothly because Jai had some adult available at all times to take him for a walk or follow him around the campsite to make sure he was safe.
Overall, the trip was a huge success with Jai in love with the outdoors (more than before). Able to spend 48 hours outside, including sleeping out there? All the dirt I can play with? All the walks I can take? We have a fan. He was slightly grumpy for a few days after we returned that I suspect it had to do with the fun ending and no longer having 24-hour Grampy access.
Admittedly, it was an easy-going trip because we only got a few sprinkles, four adults to watch him, and a relatively private campsite for the few crying sessions. I know not all of our trips will go so smoothly, but it was a fantastic way to jump back into the yearly trips with our little one.
Planning Ahead & Quick Tips
What helped the trip go smoothly was all the planning ahead we did.
I looked for camping lists and cobbled together my own list to bring everything we could possibly need. I also tried to keep the list to the bare minimum so we didn’t overstuff the car. I remember having to squeeze in next to coolers and tents in a much smaller vehicle as a child. It was fun, but as I got older it was hard to stretch out on the longer trips to campsites.
While we didn’t know what the site was going to look like ahead of time, we were able to confirm water & power hook-up and there would be bathroom facilities close by. We wouldn’t need to lug water for cleaning back to the site and we also didn’t need to stress over making our own bathroom.
Making use of plastic totes to hold camping supplies and food. Allowed me to move the food back into the vehicle with ease at night to prevent bears and other pests from getting into the food.
Air mattresses. We’re causal campers, so lying on the ground isn’t appealing, and we wanted to make sure Jai was comfortable. As he gets older we can let him have the pleasure of sleeping directly on the ground for a night.
Bring “special” toys, but keep the toys to a minimum. I have a child backpack filled with trip toys and activities that are only there for trips like this. By keeping them set aside, they are always “new” and exciting to play with, though he never once cracked into that backpack during the trip. Why? Because he wanted to play with all the dirt, sand, and twigs he could find.
Accept the dirt and settle for wipes. We kept the trip short (which was equally helpful) so the need for a bath or shower was minimal. Jai loves his nightly baths, but because there was so much to do during the day, he didn’t miss it when it was bedtime due to exhaustion. Camping is such a wonderful opportunity for them to get dirty without repercussion. A quick wipe before bedtime was enough to make me feel better about his cleanliness.
I created a packing list to share from our trip. Download your copy below.
Sleeping at night. He slept just fine at night, which was good, but the major concern we had was him being in the tent alone (we stayed close by at all times with the door in sight). It was harder for him to fall asleep at night because there was no way to dim the tent and he could easily hear us just outside. Keeping him up later wasn’t a real possibility for us because he was already hitting his threshold and I didn’t want him to be overtired and unable to sleep.
What to do in case of rain or stormy weather? We didn’t have bad weather during the entire trip, but I suspect if it got really bad, I would have sent Ash home with Jai while I held down the site until it was time to strike camp. This may not be a luxury for everyone camping with toddlers, but we kept it in the back of our minds in case something happened.
Wildlife encounters. There was a real concern for bears while we were camping with signs posted all over the place warning campers about leaving food out. My mom caught a raccoon looking for scraps at night, though there was absolutely none to be had (we packed everything away and into the vehicles). I think we would have stayed in the tents until it was safe to leave if there were any major issues.
Overall, there wasn’t any major issues or concerns for the entire trip. I think a lot of it had to do with staying flexible and not stressing over anything.
Keeping it Fun and Flexible
The most important thing is to keep it fun and flexible.
If possible, select a site that is within driving distance of your home. It relaxed us knowing that if Jai did not enjoy his time, we could drive him home so he could sleep in his own crib for the night.
By keeping it flexible, it kept our stress level down and therefore his stress level down. We had no set plans beyond making and striking camp. If we were going to spend the entire day at the site watching him play with dirt, then we’d find something relaxing for the grown-ups to do while he did that.
It was important to me that his first trip be uneventful and fun, which I believe we were successful in doing. We are going to try to take him out a couple more times this year before the end of the season to keep him used to the idea and help get him excited for next year. I anticipate each year will grow more and more exciting for him as he gets older. I want him to look back on these trips with the same level of fondness and nostalgia as I do now.
How early did you take your little one out for camping? How well did that go? What suggestions or stories do you have to share? Leave your comment below.
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