July 22, 2014 at 11:54 AM ET
So, first-time parents, you've made it through baby's first year — congratulations! You've got some big milestones under your belt, and you feel like maybe, just maybe, you're starting to figure out this whole parenting thing.
Soon your baby will start walking, and talking, if he or she hasn't already. And everything will change, again.
Everyone has advice for the baby's first year. But soon, trust us, you'll look back on those newborn days and think, "What did I have to worry about?" A mobile baby is a whole new ballgame: Prince William and Duchess Kate know what I'm talking about, as Prince George toddles off to his first birthday today.
Fear not — we've collected the best advice for surviving your baby's SECOND year, from parents who have gone before you.
1. Set the bar low. As I wrapped up my first son's 1-year visit, the pediatrician said, "Your job this year is basically just to keep him alive." I laughed. He wasn't joking. I thought, "Really?! Just keep him alive? What about proper nutrition, developmental milestones and nurturing his growing brain with educational toys?" Then little Eli started walking... and running... and climbing... and jumping... and I understood the pediatrician's advice, even as I marveled at my little daredevil's ability to find danger in the safest of environments.
So yes, lower your expectations of yourself. Your sweet baby is about to go running into the world. Wear comfy shoes, try to keep up, and stock up on colorful band-aids.
2. Enjoy watching your little baby become a little person! Jenna Bush Hager's daughter, Mila, is 15 months, so she's right in the thick of things. "Mila is walking and talking and laughing and sometimes yes, screeching. But even the moments that seem less than enjoyable — when Mila yells "Hiiiiii" on an airplane or throws her food off her high chair — Henry and I try to laugh. (Maybe not in front of her — yes, discipline starts at this age too.) We love everything that is Mila; her sweetness and charm as much as her mischievousness."
3. Read, and reap the rewards. All those "Where the Wild Things Are" readings pay off when your little one busts out a vocabulary word like "rumpus." Jenna Bush Hager adds, "Read and talk to your sweet babes incessantly and they will surprise you by saying words like 'apple' and 'owl' when you least expect it."
(Jenna, this definitely continues as they grow, and discovering that your child knows something you didn't know they knew is one of the greatest pleasures of parenting — this morning I listened as my 4-year-old told his grandfather, "Woolly mammoths are the the ancestors of elephants, you know.")
4. Put the phone down. Erica Hill, whose sons are now 7 and 4, cherishes the memories of those early days and marvels at how time flies. Her advice? "Embrace the changes, share in the wonder and put the phone down. You don’t have to document every moment with a picture or video. In fact, sometimes the best way to remember these milestones is to simply be a part of them. Take them in, knowing you can always relive them when you close your eyes."
5. Want privacy? Get creative. TODAY Producer Alicia Ybarbo, co-author of "Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us," warns that once your baby learns to walk, bathroom breaks will never involve just you. "And you might as well remove the door because it will never close again." Need privacy? Try these Alicia-approved tricks:
"Have a secret movie stash on your DVR that doesn’t get rotated with the everyday stuff. They’ll be excited to watch something new, but only give them snippets so you keep them wanting more.
"Wrap a toy they haven’t seen in a while. Sit them down to open it, and hurry. You’ve got exactly 29 seconds before they turn angry.
"Never sneak away to use the restroom. Toddlers react to silence. Make it quiet and they’re likely to send out a search party. Talk loudly (about nothing) on your way to the bathroom. Keep talking upon your return. They’ll never know you left."
Stealthy! We like it.
6. Don't rush socialization. Around age 2, your child might be ready for preschool. Or maybe not — and that's OK. "Some kids are socially ready and can handle it. Some just aren’t," TODAY Parents editor Kavita Varma-White says. "My son had been home with a babysitter for his first two years. When he went to preschool, he cried every day we left him, and the pain of listening to his wails from out in the hallway still haunts me. In retrospect, there was absolutely no need for him to go to preschool. While I cherish the sweet 24-month-old hand-print Mother’s Day card he made me, it was not worth all the tears (we both) shed."
7. Don't rush the toddler bed. Sure, it's exciting to move your little one into the big boy or girl bed, but there's no hurry, says Megan Colarossi, TODAY contributor and co-star of our "Parental Guidance" web series. "Unless your little one is climbing out (or jumping over the rails), keep them in their crib as long as possible," she advises. No bars on the bed mean they can toddle out and wake you in the morning. "A toddler alarm clock does not have a snooze button! There is no rush."
8. Just don't rush anything, OK? "Have no fear, it will all come," reassures TODAY contributor Jacoba Urist, mother of Wilson, now 5. Chatter about milestones seems to amplify in the second year, she noticed, but try not to stress about when your child will talk, walk, draw a circle or kick a ball. There's a huge amount of healthy variation. "My best advice actually came from my own mother: nobody ever shows up at their college dorm in diapers, with a pacifier. Everybody gets to campus talking and potty trained."
Colarossi agrees. "DON'T FREAK OUT! Toddlers go at their own pace," she says. And don't compare your child to that one toddler valedictorian: "There will always be that kid who can spout off all of the presidents and dominates three-consonant words... it's not normal!"
9. Don't let temper tantrums get to you. Even if you heed our advice and don't freak out, at some point, your child will. Probably at many points. Tantrums come with the territory. "I wish somebody had told me, kids become a lot louder and insistent in the second year," Urist says. "Try as hard as you can not to let anybody's looks at the grocery store or on the airplane or at a restaurant get to you."
When you're child is in full meltdown mode, it's easy to think everyone is staring at you and judging. "But remember: there are moms out there too, who understand and empathize," Urist says.
10. Get dirty. Like loud noises, messes come with the toddler package. "Remember you can always clean your clothes but you cannot relive a moment," Colarossi says. "So if you are all dressed up, and your little one is coming at you full steam ahead covered in dirt, paint and gosh-knows-what-else, DON'T hide... It all comes out in the wash (or dry cleaner) in the end!"
11. Lift with your legs. I don't mean this metaphorically. The world is your gym, and proper form is key. That little bundle of joy is packing on the pounds and getting heavier by the day. Take care of your back, because you've got a lot of squirmy baby to carry and back injuries are the worst, especially with kids.
So lift them carefully, but do carry them when you can, because they're only this little for a short while. When you give into the cries of "Uppy!" and hoist that growing toddler on your hip, your baby's dirt-, tear- and juice-stained face nestling into your neck, sticky fingers twining into your hair, chubby toddler limbs wrapping around your weary muscles... yep, it's all worth it.