Monday, April 5, 2010


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.


  1. while i believe wholeheartedly in nearly everything that you write, I do query the use of the words 'questionable hobby' when referring to noon hour drinking. well really just the word 'questionable'. that is all. xo maggie muggins

  2. Fabulous post! Is it possible this starts at 2.5 with some kids, though!? OMG my son has to counter everything we want him to do right now. Everything. Yesterday I apparently chose the wrong shoes and he had a 10 minute meltdown over it. Oye!

    Anyway, I have no doubt you are an awesome mum and the fact that you can freely admit that this shit is fucking tough at times and does make you want to drink(I'm in favour of confirms it even more. I am scared for the ones who bottle all this up and try to live as a Stepford Mummy.

    -Jennifer: the 'shoot me now' frazzled mother of a 2.5 year old and 45 days from due date with number 2. EEK!

  3. T, with a 4.5 year old I was able to chuckle at the memories of our tyrannical threes...It does get better. My unsolicited advice/experience is thus: when they need to assert their independence give them the time to do it (it saves on the melt downs) even if it is going to make you a little late or cause inconvenience (our big one was dressing himself despite the additional 15 minutes he needed when we were rushing out the door). We also used (and still do) his room for time outs. I don't care if he plays when he gets there, but it gives you both some time and space when the tantrums are unbearable -- also, since we don't tolerate the tantrums and whining (it is generally and automatic bedroom time), he knows that it is unacceptable and generally only happens when he is tired so getting sent to his room often turns into a much needed nap...

  4. I am wondering if the behaviour has anything to do with the younger child's increasing need to make his/her needs known so the three year old has found a way of keeping control of his parents. It may be his way of saying "I don't want to be the big boy...I want to be the centre of attention the way I used to be." I present it as something to think about. And yes, it does get better especially when the older child goes to school and really is the big boy and the younger child cannot go. PW

  5. And in search of all their (blessed) independence, who do they call out for in the middle of the night ... and off we go with sleepy motherly pleasure to demonstrate comfort & security :)
    (WE were certainly never like that as kids! were we?)

  6. Oh hells to the yes! This is my life. Thank you for posting and not making me feel so alone, nutty, horrible - you name it. Margaret led me to your blog not long ago and I L.O.V.E. it. I just moved back to Winnipeg after 13 years in Alberta and so I feel you through and through with the redneckville thing. I happened to marry one of those rednecks, only he became an English teacher who snowboards - a freak to be sure in the hearts of many from Red Deer! Anyhow, just thought I'd delurk and let you know how much I enjoy your writing :)

  7. Nikki - thanks! That was so nice to hear, especially yesterday, in the throes of "i am a crap parent" and my kid is going berserk-ness.