These days the Terrible Twos seem to be passé or at least some sort of urban legend. Most parents I talk to agree: their kids weren’t that bad in their twos. Yet when I ask about the Threes, I get a completely different reaction: I wide-eyed, distorted and haunted expression comes across their shaking heads as if they’re stranded in Jurassic Park and see the man-eating T-Rex for the first time. Coming after them. No words. Just fear and horror.
Recently, I heard the term “Threenagers” slung around one of my parent groups. I cackled like a hyena with an equal level of maniacal joy and utter relief. “Yes! Yes! A Threenager! That is absolutely what I have on my hands right now!” My three year old is pushing boundaries I never thought she’d push (well, not at least for another decade) while throwing around an amount of sass that far rivals anything I could personally relate to.
By all accounts, I was a good kid and teenager. I rarely rebelled. So lately, when I speak firmly to my Threenager or try to explain to her why she can or can’t do something, you’d understand my confusion when she aggressively furrows her brow, sternly points her finger in my face, squarely stabs me in the eyes with her piercing gaze and says, “you don’t talk to me like that, mommy! I don’t like it.” Huh? This is also a typical response to, say, me asking her nicely to eat some of her vegetables.
When I pick her up from preschool and she’s sitting attentively, eating and socializing with her fellow Threenagers, she sees me and suddenly for one moment, I’m the apple of her eye. She’s back, I think with a sense of relief. Until I ask her to pack up so we can walk home and talk about her day. Suddenly, she’s a drunk Threenager who wobbles around and won’t take direction from anyone. Horrified, I ask the teacher if she’s like this all day. “Oh, no, not at all. She’s amazing!” she laughs and continues, “it’s only when you get here.” Of course.
Frankly, I’d rather have her be wonderful and compliant at preschool, and a hellion at home; but lately, man…could she give me a little more balance as opposed to her own personal version of “Sybil” or on really challenging days, “The Exorcist”? She knows all the ‘rules’ of the house, yet she only uses them when convenient, especially if it’s an opportunity to tell me I should go into a Time Out. WTF?
Nothing has changed in my approach. But suddenly nothing seems to work. All sorts of boundaries are being pushed on a daily basis. She wants to be more independent, but she’s also not old enough for certain things yet. I understand her internal battle, and I want to tell her she’s almost there. I see it in the class above her. They seem to have a little more control. Control over their emotions, words, and abilities to function on that next level without simultaneously imploding and melting down. They do it once in a while, but not daily.
So, until then, I’ve decided I’m going to try to be the center of calm in the eye of her storm (she says while she desperately reads thousands of articles on how to get your toddler to listen), and let her inner, unrelenting, uncontrollable emotions release into the universe (she says while planning to mentally chant “The power of Christ compels you” during any given tantrum).
And if those things don’t work, I’m just going to have a huge “Game of Thrones” sized goblet of wine and be grateful she’s not Joffrey Baratheon.