Whoever coined the term "the terrible twos" clearly was not yet the owner of a three year old. I'm here to tell ya that three is kicking my ass. All the way to next Tuesday. It smarts. A lot. My sweet, clever, mild-ish mannered Boy-o has been stolen away and in his place is a vehemently oppositional child (though admittedly still clever and sometimes, if he really wants to be, still sweet).
Everything is a battle of wills. Toothbrushing. Who gets to go up/down the stairs first, or in/out the door first. Whose job it is to empty the potty. Getting in the bath. Getting out of the bath. Getting dressed. Getting undressed. Coming to the table. Staying at the table. Not throwing food at the table. Getting in the carseat. Getting out of the carseat. You get the picture. Aside from being oh-so-super-fun-to-deal-with, after a particularly bad day, a girl can get to worrying that her child is a bit more combatative than, you know, normal. (As in, maybe I am raising an angry-oppositional-teenage-runaway-high-school-drop-out-drug-dealing-serial- killer-who-BLAMES-ME-FOR-EVERYTHING).
So, I did what everyone does when they have major, unsettling, life questions. I turned to Google. And this is what I discovered. My wildly oppositional child is normal. Totally, oppositionally, exhaustingly, maddeningly, completely fucking normal. He's just, like, growing up is all.
The smart peeps who study smalls call this super-fun phase oppositional or negativistic behaviour. It generally reaches its height at 3.5 - 4 years and can (but usually doesn''t) last until age 6 (SWEET JESUS!). Said period is characterized by refusal of even the most reasonable parental requests (this sounds about right). This stems from the differentiation of self from other, and a growing realization that they have a will of their own with which they can refuse the will of others (even very sage others like their normally reasonable parents). This stage is all about assertion of their growing independence. And "it is a normal and crucial aspect of child development." * BUGGER. BUGGER. BUGGER. BUGGERBUGGERBUGGER. (I mean, it's nice that my kids' normal and asserting his independence and growing up and all. But does it REALLY have to be in a manner that makes me want to take up the questionable hobby of noon-hour drinking?)
Okay then. Deep cleansing breath. I also learned that I am doing the things I am supposed to be doing to optimize positive behaviours, like giving lots of warning about impending requests, presenting him with choices (but not too many!), giving him time and space to chill out (without punishing) when he gets overwhelmed or really emotional. Check. Check. And Check. And lest you think I'm a parent with super-powers, I should also let you know that I'm also losing my shit with alarming frequency, because none of the aforementioned loveliness seems to be working. (And then, naturally, feeling like a crap, crap parent. Because my little dude who was previously staunchly defying, grumping, bossing or otherwise terrorizing me, will have eyes welling with tears and be reaching up into my arms for a hug like the sweetest little bub ever.)
I guess the overview of the situation comes down to this - I'm doing most of the right things (and some of the wrong things). Boy-o is also apparently also doing most of the right things (and some of the wrong things). Somehow, we both just need to chill the bleep out. Easier said than done, I know. But nobody ever said this shit was gonna be easy.
So for now, I'll just have to hang on tight to the perfect moments in between the tough spots; when everything fits, when he laughs easily, when his smile lights up the room, his joy is infectious, and cuddles come freely. And try to content myself with the knowledge that apparently defiance is healthy for both of us (even though, like wheatgerm, this is the teensiest bit hard to swallow). That, and I love the little booger, even in all his oppositional-negativistic-glory (and let me tell you folks - it is some glory)... so I guess I'd better keep him.
*Haswell, Hock and Wenar. "Oppositional Bahviour of Preschool Children: Theory and Interventions." Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied family Studies, July 1981.