When my first born turned one, the google guides started referring to him as a toddler, but my baby he remained. Then we hit “the terrible twos,” and I finally accepted the toddler label, which I found to be endearing far more than it was terrible. Surely, I’ll change my mind when he hits “threenager,” I thought. Well, here we are, and once again I’m clinging onto a defiant optimism that three will be wonderful.
Threenager, to me, kind of implies rebellion, manipulation. Just like “terrible two” implies a negative tone. This can set us up to be against our children in a defensive manner when they need us on their side more than ever.
Three is dramatic because the dependency that two year-olds maintain rapidly fades as bigger and bolder steps toward independence take place. My son is honing in on the “refinement” phase of the skills he has already acquired, and he is capable of much more. Three is a time of greater self-awareness. He can understand past and future. He can map things out in greater detail. Fears and anxieties also commonly take bigger hold, and adding to that, he can’t yet distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality. Relationships and social skills take off as he now leaps into “cooperative play,” a big step from parallel play.
Three is overwhelming. So I want to be his steady rock. Keyword: want. As much as I recognize the drama as purposeful, that doesn’t make it any less taxing. He hasn’t even blown out his candles yet, but we are already feeling the exhaustion and impatience that comes with trying to parent a preschooler.
I was listening to a podcast while driving the other morning and it talked about the need for mothers to carve out sacred space to truly trust our inner voice. In this day and age of raising our children, the “expert” voices have never been so overpowering as they are now. We can google everything, and we can launch ourselves down a path of more and more questions instead of answering with what simply is best for us. But parents today don’t just crave what’s best, we are conditioned by the age of information to find out what’s right by the research. I relate to this struggle of balance in voices as we approach three, when the research gets louder parallel to bigger decisions.
So here I am investing hours in analyzing what’s best and right. I give myself all the patience in the world as I take steps each day to dive deeper into the kind of parent I want to be. Yet, it’s so hard for me to lend that same patience in practice to my son. Nothing like hearing whining for 15 minutes straight because he doesn’t want his baby sister to be in the car with us to squash my parenting goals. It’s hard to reach for empathy, validation and problem-solving when he is screaming at my daughter for merely existing. It’s much easier for me to dismiss and say something like, “Well, your sister is here, so deal with it.”
The one benefit of all this research at our fingertips today is that it helps me to be more self-aware, and being more self-aware helps to fine tune my intuition. That doesn’t detract from my inner voice as mom, it strengthens it. I don’t like that it is currently intuitive for me to be dismissive in moments like that. I don’t like, as an adult, that I struggle with anxiety – which is likely related if I have historically dismissed my own emotions and stressors.
These years are hard not because our children are being dramatic but because they’re confronting us with the lifelong lesson of emotional intelligence, and just because we are adults doesn’t mean we stopped learning this or that we’ve perfected it – usually far from it.
When I want to be impatient and dismissive, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself that that is not actually how I want to respond. When my son is whining about baby sister being in the car, what is the reason? I can’t stop his frustration if I don’t at least attempt to understand it. But also, maybe I should stop viewing frustration as something to merely be stopped. I want to cultivate the kind of relationship with my son where he feels comfortable admitting frustration, where he wants to talk to me later in life because he knows I won’t immediately dismiss how he’s feeling. This starts now.
Why is he so pissed off driving in the car with baby sister next to him? It’s likely because his sweet introverted self just spent four hours at school and the last thing he wants is to hear his chatterbox sister in his ear. It’s because he needs to decompress, and he doesn’t know how to fully do that for himself or explain it to his sister. Now I say, “I understand that you don’t feel like being around your sister. You just want to go home and relax after being around people all day. Elowen has to be in the car with us because it wouldn’t be safe to leave her at home alone, but when we get home, I can help you find space.” He usually takes a few seconds and says with relief, “Okay mom.”
I can’t dismiss three. He doesn’t deserve that, and neither do I. Three is an opportunity for us to both grow, even if this growth is exchanged over draining moments like being annoyed at each other for co-existing in a car. I will try my best, as I know he will. We won’t always be right and we won’t always be perfect, but such is the reality of processing emotions. It takes thought beyond our own perspective. It takes work beyond what the experts advise. It takes time beyond our impulsivity.
Three will be dramatic, but it’s up to me if this is “good” or “bad.” I choose good, even if this choice means I have to be more forgiving and aware of my own bad.