Terrible Twos? Or Therrible Threes?

My friend Robin posted about her experience with “terrible” vs “terrific” twos encounter. You should really go to her blog and read her description, as her voice is vivid in her writing, and I could never do her story justice! Suffice it to say, she expressed frustration at the insensitivity of some folks to the challenges of living through certain phases of raising children – and how irksome platitudes can be!

I left a comment of sympathy, but I felt the need to expand more than I could in a comment, so here it is (must say something about the power that toddlers wield over us defenseless parents!):

I am currently living through my second experience of raising a toddler. My first run-through was with my now-30-year-old daughter (SH), who was always a bit anomalous, never quite fitting any predefined definitions or stereotypes. Firstly, she was born very prematurely, at 28-weeks gestation (that’s 3 months early), so her early years were qualified in our minds with “What age is she?”. When she had her second birthday, was she really developmentally 2 yet, or not quite? Her dad and I were very young, so we had limited perspective (although we didn’t think so at the time, of course). And, my recollection of the time is now 28 years old(!), so the details are fuzzy. What I do remember is that somewhere around age two, she began to throw temper tantrums, but that during that year of having the title of “2 year old”, the tantrums were sort of caricatures of tantrums. By that I mean, she would throw herself down on the floor, with fists balled up, and actually kick with her feet and pound the floor with those little fists, and it was just so funny! It was like something out of a cartoon, or a movie, but I hadn’t really expected a child to really do this action, and so we generally just laughed them off.

But, then she turned 3.

I became convinced that it wasn’t “Terrible Twos” but really “Terrible Threes”! The tantrums turned serious. They didn’t stop as quickly; in fact, she could sustain anger for what seemed like hours (I’m sure it wasn’t, but it sure felt like hours). She had always been strong-willed, which I continue to believe was a big part of why she ultimately came through her 4-month stay in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) with relatively few physical sequelae, but when she turned three, that will-power seemed to get focused on challenging us, her parents, and it wasn’t a laughing matter anymore. It was an awful year, and I remember going through dozens of books on disciplining, trying to find the key to get her to work with us, rather than against us.

She (and we) emerged from that dreadful year, and she became delightful again, and, by and large, she remains a delight to this day. She is still strong-willed, and very much her own person. And, for that, I am most grateful and proud.

So, now, we’re living through 3 again with little J.

Oddly enough, we have a bit of the same difficulty that I had the first time around with figuring out exactly what age J (or his brother S) is. I may have written about this problem here before, but if I haven’t, this is the issue: when we adopted our boys, they had birth certificates, but those certificates were created in the year before we brought them home, and the birthdates on the certificates were not necessarily based on the real dates when they were born. For example, J is going to turn 4 next month, according to his “birth certificate”, but, anyone who knows him in person knows that he’s just barely 3 now (we figure his birthday may actually fall around September or October, making him about 6 months younger than his age on the birth certificate).  In his older brother’s case, the age was clearly off by at least a year, making him too young, and we filed with the court to reissue his birth certificate adding a full year!!!

So, we’re not exactly sure how old J is, but based on our best guess, my experience of 2yo and 3yo is strikingly similar to the first time around with older sister – the 2-year-old tantrums were classic in form, and funny to watch, and quickly over, but the 3-year-old tantrums are much more serious, more sustained, and clearly signify more in his mind about control over himself, and over us!

So, my sympathies with all moms of 2- and 3-year-olds.  I do think this phase of transition between infant/toddler to boy or girl is tough for the kid, and for the parents.  And I do think that those kind and well-meaning friends who give us advice about how darling these phases are – i.e. “Terrific, not terrible, twos” – really don’t understand how unhelpful they are being.  We moms (and dads) are sometimes struggling to hold it together, and we don’t really want the sanctimonious message about how we should be treasuring every moment.  Some moments just aren’t fun!!

Thankfully, those moments are usually balanced by plenty of moments that bring us joy, and remind us why we endure the bad bits…

2 thoughts on “Terrible Twos? Or Therrible Threes?

  1. Janaki says:

    Amen!! I'm with you 100%

  2. Yes! To all of this. The thing is, for which I do believe that woman wasn't giving me nearly enough credit, I really emphatically believe in the weight of words. I am not calling my son (or his once-2yo sisters before him) terrible, but damn if I'm not going to call a spade a spade and point out that this behavior is terrible. And sometimes the experience of parenting through that behavior is terrible, and the only reason we keep it up is because we are intelligent enough to recognize that behavior of little value does not equal human of little value. Otherwise the signs on fire stations would offer no-questions-asked drop-offs for 30-month-olds instead of newborns.
    For myself, one of the salvations of parenting through the hardest parts is talking (or blogging) through those parts. Finding a community of support in the knowledge of parents who have gone this road before or with me is invaluable to the sense that I'm not alone in this, and that this too shall pass. And when someone whom I'd expected, frankly, to offer a word of support uses language instead in a smug and corrective way, I'm not helped through the moment at all. Ugh!! 🙂

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