People talk about the terrible twos, and it’s true that it can be challenging at times. But sometimes — often — the problem is me. Toddlers have their bad days just like us, and I have to constantly remind myself of what I can and can’t expect for her at this developmental age. We expect impeccable discipline from them, then sit down and binge watch Netflix while eating out of the ice cream container?! I don’t think so! (not that I’ve ever done that…) And sometimes our bad days line up. I’m tired, I’ve lost my patience, and I just want her to obey, now. I don’t want to negotiate, I don’t want to get down at her level and look her calmly in the eye. And those are the times it tends to get especially difficult.
Yes, toddlers are trying, but I’ve noticed when we have a happy environment that’s conducive to good behavior (not having to say “no” to everything, having some structure, spending some quality time together to fill up her cup…), she’s quite delightful. But the thing is, life happens, and I can’t possibly control all the external factors. Sometimes I have to care for her baby brother and can’t get to her right now. Sometimes — often — life is happening, or I’m not where I need to be mentally, there are deadlines and definite time limits, and I can’t possibly build it all around her. I feel like that is what really brings out the terrible twos. And she’s going to have to learn it doesn’t all revolve around her as life goes on anyway!
I’m not a perfect parent (faaaar from it), so I know that sometimes I just need to give myself a break and go breathe in another room for five minutes, but I’ll tell you this: when I lose it and get angry, she models my behavior impeccably. It never solves the problem, and always escalates.
I learned this the hard way: we spent a night at a hotel a little while ago for Jonas’ treatment — all four of us in the same room — and she had just learned to climb out of her crib, so she was having none of this bedtime business. She was wired and kept jumping out and popping up at my bedside and running around and talking and singing and refusing bedtime. No way.
As an hour wore on and ate into the next, I’ll be honest: I was no longer calm and patient. I started pretty roughly grabbing her and putting her back into her bed, every ten seconds when she popped back up. She thought it was hilarious and just went wild. Eventually, we made some headway by changing tactics and she finally, finally went to sleep. The next morning, we were all exhausted and rushing to get to the clinic, and at one point she wasn’t happy with something so she hit me. I had never seen her do that, but it was crystal clear: she had learned volumes from my behavior the night before. I was instantly chastised.
I cannot expect her to do something I do not do myself.
For me, the problem is almost always tiredness. It leads to irritability and grumpiness and I have thinner patience. I don’t always think rationally in those cases. And I know if you’re a mom, you’re laughing right now, because that’s what is so hard about motherhood: constant fatigue. That being said, it can be a reminder to take a few minutes for myself, recompose, rest, instead of whatever I had planned during quiet time.
Yes, it’s hard, but here’s the thing: I’m the adult in the relationship. Sometimes I just have to pull up my big-girl panties and tone down my emotions before it escalates. I guess what I’m getting at is the most difficult part of parenting is that you can’t just apply a handbook or employ a set of techniques: who you are and how you behave are what set the tone and make all the difference. I feel more and more that my energy is best spent working on myself, because that will have the greatest impact on my children — do what I do, not what I say. And I’m definitely still learning, but it’s worth it!