Are Two Year Olds Actually Terrible, Or Is It Just Toxic Mommy Culture?

‘You know it when you see it’ is probably how most of us would define toxic mommy culture. She’s the ‘Karen’ of the mom world and is generally found wearing a t-shirt that reads “Mama needs a drink.” But what if I told you there’s a subtler aspect to this toxic culture we all have unknowingly participated in?

By Alicia Bittle6 min read
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I’ll be the first to tell you, being a mom is hard work. It’s dirty, it’s exhausting, it pushes us to our mental, physical, and emotional boundaries, and then asks us to push further. It makes us keenly aware, in a very personal way, of all our shortcomings. But is taking the blame of our human limitations and placing it onto the natural development of our children really the answer to these growing pains? Is calling it “the terrible twos” and then calling them a “threenager” (managing to insult not just one but two sensitive developmental periods at the same time) really a perspective we want to perpetuate?

My Red Pill Moment

As I was nursing my nine month old after putting my two year old to bed, I found myself reflecting back on a good day and wondering, “When will the terrible twos start?” And that’s when I realized my two year old was over half way done with being two. She was technically closer to being three. 

Mind slightly boggled, I took a further step back and asked myself, “What was I waiting for?” Had I seriously been bracing myself against a belief I wasn’t even aware I was holding? Had I really spent the better part of a year subconsciously regarding my two year old like a time bomb, just waiting for her to explode into something “terrible”? How had I gotten here? How had I allowed myself to dread the future version of a person I loved more than life? How had I just accepted that as fate?

Enter Toxic Mommy Culture

Here’s the deal: Toxic mommy culture is sneaky, sneaky, sneaky. This is because it’s actually just victim culture, and victim culture likes to wear many different hats. It wears obvious hats, like mommy wine culture, where mothers on social media can be found blaming their alcoholic habits on their child’s behavior, and it’s a victimhood mentality because we as mothers are the adults. Our brains are fully developed. Our childrens’ are not. There are times when they literally cannot help themselves and their behavior. They’re new to planet earth, they have zero experience with life so far, they’re winging it more than we are. They are literally doing the best they can with the circumstances they’ve been afforded, with an imperfect example (us) to look to for guidance. 

So, for a mother to publicly post a picture with a wine bottle in the foreground and her unsuspecting, beaming child in the background and then caption it with a story about a tantrum thrown earlier that day (which, let’s get real here, no child in humanity’s history, has never not thrown a tantrum) or simply the hashtag “the reason I drink” is completely unfair to that child on so many different levels. It’s repulsive and sickening.

Toxic mommy culture is actually just victimhood culture in disguise. 

Another obvious example of toxic mommy culture is the vile trend that began back in March ‘22 of parents spelling out explicit or abusive messages with their toddler’s alphabet food, presenting it to them for a meal, and filming their child’s delighted reaction. The comment sections of these videos were equally as disturbing as hundreds of parents applauded the actions stating the trend was “hilarious” and calling all children “demons.” The mother who started the trend gave her child the message “U piss me off” spelled out in potato alphabet letters, and I’ll just say this: If you ever, as a grown adult woman, find yourself in such a state of emotional victimhood that you find it necessary to bully your own child, please seek professional help. 

Here’s where toxic mommy/victim culture gets sneaky though. I actually don’t think many of us even realize we are participants. I don’t even think some of the examples that I’ve cited realize just how toxic and abusive their actions are. Some of this stuff is so ingrained within our little personal bubbles of culture, it enables us to believe our behavior is completely normal. 

During my research into the hashtag “mama needs a drink” and “mama needs wine” on Instagram, I combed through pages and pages of adorable pictures of small children on their birthdays staring lovingly up at the camera and their mama behind it. There were also photos of mothers doing crafts or cooking with these babies, and the captions were all similar. They started out praising their child, documenting their likes and dislikes and talking about what a blessing they were to the family. But then, one paragraph later, the mother would turn around, briefly discuss some of the more hair-raising antics children can get into and follow it up with the hashtag “the reason I drink” or “mama needs wine.” And as much as that scenario makes you cringe, here’s the thing. I took a deep dive into some of these profiles, and more often than not, these were mothers who clearly loved and were invested in their children's lives. Were they perfect? No, no one is. But did they love their children? Did they treat them well (at least with what I could see on social media)? Undoubtedly.

Additionally, as I discovered, I’m not alone in my subconscious brainwashing. Upon researching the hashtag “terrible twos,” the pages were filled with adorable babies during their second birthday, and again it was caption after caption of what a joy this child was in their family. In fact, these posts were even tamer than the mommy drinking culture hashtags. The vast majority of the mothers said nothing negative about their children at all. The posts were full of touching observations and bittersweet sentiments unique only to motherhood. Clearly, mothers who adore their children. So how (and why) have almost all of us bought into this “terrible” aspect of our culture? We all clearly hold our children (and the children of those we love) near and dear to our hearts. What has made it so easy for us to turn around and call an entire year of their existence “terrible,” even if it is in good humor?

To me, what it boils down to is this: Our culture has an inherent lack of respect for children. If we held children in the same regard as the adults in our lives, we would never allow ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, to discuss children the way that our culture does. We don’t pre-label entire years of an adult's life as “terrible.” We don’t take cute pictures of our best friend to then go behind her back and post the picture publicly with an embarrassing story or personal struggle she’s going through and then hashtag it “the reason I drink,” as if somehow, it’s all about us. We don’t think our friend’s blind spots or vulnerabilities are funny, and we certainly don’t go document them so that we can post about it online just for the laughs. So then why do we think it’s acceptable to treat children like that?

Our culture has an inherent lack of respect for children.

I think it’s because of conditioning. It’s because of a lack of critical thought. It’s because, I’d argue, of a lack of respect for human life in general. A lack of respect and decency toward the most helpless of us that has bled like watercolor to muddy the entire picture regarding children and childrearing in our culture. 

It’s hard to break out of a culture you’ve literally been immersed in your entire life. Even as children, we grew up with the phrase “terrible twos.” It’s sneaky because it’s not one huge and obvious thing. It’s just little things here and there that everyone says and does, so we never realize those little nuggets stink until our noses are rubbed right in them. Like me, realizing I had subconsciously been waiting for my daughter to spontaneously burst into a gremlin once she turned two years old. 

Let’s Embrace Resiliency Culture Instead

So, how can we correct something hidden in our subconscious? We bring it to our consciousness and challenge it, of course! However, this is much easier said than done. Most of us strive to avoid toxic mommy culture at all costs, and while this is absolutely something we should do, it also makes our job of removing all toxic thoughts and attitudes from our own minds harder. This is because we’re no longer being challenged or confronted in this way, so we’re no longer forced to think critically about what we believe and why. That is why we need to not only remove the negativity of victimhood culture from our lives, but we need to make sure to replace it with the opposite: resiliency culture.

Unfortunately, finding hashtags and accounts that promote this culture are sometimes harder to find, but they do exist. The Instagram hashtags I like the best for resilience surrounding toddlerhood is “being two is fine” and “terrific twos.” The posts tend to highlight the hilarious and heartwarming absurdity that is witnessed during raising toddlers as well as the trials. But the difference here is that the trials are talked about respectfully. The blame for the trial is not placed on the child, and there is always a resolution. Sometimes the resolution is: My kids broke down at the store today, but none of my parenting tricks worked, so later I had a good cry, but it’s ok because we’re all human, this just happens sometimes. We all learned from this, and tomorrow we get to try again. And sometimes it’s: My kids broke down at the store today, so I tried this parenting technique, and it worked and we all had a great time! 

Let’s embrace a positive, respectful, and honest attitude about the joys and trials of motherhood.

Following accounts and hashtags like these work because our thoughts are still being confronted in a way that causes us to bring our subconscious thoughts to our conscious mind. They’re wonderful tools we can use to challenge ourselves in a constructive and positive manner.

Being Two Is Terrific

Now, in case you still don’t believe me that two year olds really are terrific, I’d like to tell you about all the joy you have to look forward to.

Firstly, two year olds are so easy to make happy. You want to take the dusty, old, green bag clip you found under the bed with you to the store? That’s an easy yes! 

They spin, laugh, and run in circles around the house when you play a “happy song.” They feel the depth of what you and I as adults feel, the only difference is that their tiny bodies just aren't physically capable of keeping it all in. 

Have you ever wished that hugs, kisses, and cuddles from loved ones had the ability to take away all of your problems? Well, this is true for toddlers. Literally everything in their life is solved with physical affection and the reassurance that they are loved. Tripped and fell? Kisses. Got scared? Cuddles. Need to calm down? Hugs. They also believe this schema holds true for everyone else as well. So if they think one of their family members is upset, guess who’s getting all the physical attention until they feel better? 

Do you have trouble with taking yourself too seriously? Well, it becomes impossible once you have a two year old. This is because they start intentionally imitating our facial expressions. Want to see the most hilarious caricature of your angry face ever done? Want to see it reflected back to you while you’re trying to enact discipline and keeping a straight face is imperative? Good luck. 

They are also masters at the literal. Tell them that we only scream and yell outside and it becomes “I scream in the sunshine.”

And lastly, as my two year old is now only a month away from three and I’ve become pregnant again, the baby in my tummy is a daily conversation piece. She can’t wait for her baby sister to get here so she can “feed her lemonade.” With that aging though, and consequential time that’s gone by, we’ve also had to discuss harder topics as well, such as the death of her great-grandma and a miscarriage. She never fails to remember both family members in her prayers and talks about them both, often, to make sure they are in heaven and happy. Also, along these same lines, in my two year old’s world, when batteries die, they go to heaven too. 

Closing Thoughts

It’s valuable to share stories about the trials and difficulties we face as mothers. It’s literally what we’ve been doing since we gave birth to the earliest tribes and communities. We’ve been singing the song of motherhood over people since the very beginning. We have nurtured, instructed, and nourished them with it. 

Somewhere along the way, though, the notes went sour. Children became burdens instead of blessings, and mothers became victims instead of victors. But the truth still remains. Just as mothers must brave the deeps to find themselves once again in every changing season, so too must a society, and it’s up to mothers to sing them to the surface with whatever brave, small, true song we have. 

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