Do you think that there are certain childhood ages that are categorically more difficult to parent than others? This is not to say that we can’t still enjoy and celebrate each age, or that we don’t still absolutely adore our children with reckless abandon through the more difficult phases, but — #realtalk. Is this the case?!
Over dinner a few weeks ago, friends of ours said: “They tell you to brace yourself for the terrible twos, but we weren’t prepared the difficulty of the threenager phase. Three was way more difficult for us than two.” This was the third or fourth set of parents who had shared the same observation on the twos versus the threes independently of one one another in recent memory.
I have to agree with this mounting and informal consensus. Three really rocked our world. It was full of big emotions, boundary-testing, what felt like endless reinforcement of the same set of rules, meltdowns, struggles to get through even highly routine steps in our daily regimen. I can’t tell you how many nights we spent troubleshooting as parents: “But what if we tried…?” and “Maybe she needs more one-on-one time…?” and “We just need to be consistent on…” I was frankly shell-shocked by the sassiness and the dawn of emotionally manipulative comments and the shocking volume of her feelings around needing a specific cup, or specific pajamas, or what have you. There was also the daunting reality of being physically outmatched: at two, my daughter could be lifted out of a dangerous situation; at three, my daughter could often out-run and out-wrangle me.
Then again. We were parenting a child through a pandemic; I feel as though she was still processing the addition of a new sibling (“he’s permanent?!”); she is our first and therefore this was our inaugural interaction with the threenager phase; and the period is also fresh in our memories, whereas, for example, newborn days feel like a distant blur (time does sand down the edges, doesn’t it?). Is it possible that when micro hits this age, we will be seasoned enough to “come ready” and feel less throttled by the Big Emotions of a three year old? Do some children lean into “the threes” more than others? Will gender play a role? Is two with micro going to be more difficult for us than three with him simply because he is who he is? (I already feel as though micro at two is far more physical, fearless, and adventurous than mini was at the same age, though…am I just forgetting? Or was it a little bit easier because there were two parents to one child versus now two on two, and we are therefore necessarily stretched thin this go around?) Does it all vary by child anyhow, regardless of how many you have or what’s going on with the world? (I say this with particular attentiveness because the OK-to-wake clock we bought for our daughter was a game-changer for us — but it does not work for every family. I was discussing this with a mom friend who had no luck with the clock, and I observed: “Well, you know, mini is something of a rule-follower — like me! I think it worked because of that. She tends to like things with discernible signals, logic, etc. I would have also probably reacted well to it as a child.”)
That is to say, there are so many dynamics, inputs, idiosyncrasies, and conditions to contend with that I feel hesitant to categorically say “three was more difficult than two.” However. It truly felt that way, at least with mini. Corroborating this perception: it seems as though mini turned four and a switch flipped. Gone are the protracted conversations and outbursts when leaving the playground, or a playdate, or any interesting activity. She can be reasoned with. She can be relied upon to uphold and even remind us of the rules (“no talking with your mouth full, mama!”). She is downright helpful with her brother, alerting us when he is getting into something he shouldn’t and a serving as a fountain of knowledge for new sitters (“he only drinks milk out of these cups”; “he needs to be wearing a bib”; etc.). She may push back or whine or pout when she does not get her way, but I cannot remember her last tantrum (!). What a relief just writing that! I know, of course, that four will have its own trials and tribulations. I worry, for example, about whether children will be more judgmental about her eye patch as she heads towards five, and I think a lot more about the children she pals around with. I have seen her bring home new phrases and awarenesses that give me pause. A whole new world to contend with. I am already anticipating feedback along the lines of “but Kennedy is allowed to do this!” Still, for anyone struggling through the threes, let me be your ray of hope for the day: parenting my four-year-old daughter feels about ten times easier than parenting her when she was three.
When my children were very young, my mother had a habit of reminding me that, with infants, it’s often two steps forward, one step back, especially with sleep and feeding patterns. I have never been able to pause this fast and inconsistent footwork, even well beyond the newborn phase: some days feel easy, and others feel impossible. We make strides in one area — let’s say, table etiquette — and then all of the sudden mini is licking butter off her noodles one by one, with her feet propped up against the table, the very picture of defiance. (!?!) I look at her blinkingly, and I wonder whether any of the three trillion and ten reminders and rejoinders I have issued around the subject of table manners have been all for naught? We move from a relatively calm week where micro tampers with nothing in the apartment to a weekend where he cannot keep his fingers from any electrical cord in the unit. Then it’s back to neutral. Then it’s climbing tables. Then back to neutral. We remain, it seems, smack dab in the middle of that two-step-one-step tango.
In other words, everything is, truly, a phase and there are sub-phases and recursions and regressions within phases to boot. Raising my children feels anything but linear. So I suppose it remains to be seen whether three will prove to be one of the most challenging ages we will face with mini. Perhaps we will encounter a new bumpy patch at four and a half, or seven will be tricky, and God help me come the teenage years. I know enough from watching my parents gray while raising five teenagers to know that it is not an easy road. Beyond that, I have a hunch that by the time my girl is in her 20s, I will have all but forgotten the travails of threenagerdom, remembering instead her willingness to hold my hand; her wonderment at space and bugs and tiny little toys; the way she shrieked with joy while running through the splash pads of New York City; her obsession with blue; the flick of her ponytails as she sprinted ahead of us down the city sidewalks of Manhattan.
Cheers to anyone who is sitting there gobsmacked by a new phase. Sometimes it helps to be reminded that “this, too, shall pass” (as noted earlier, I can state with confidence that four feels much easier than three so far!) and sometimes you want to know that other people’s children lick butter off their noodles and tamper with electrical outlets, too. In either case: tonight at five p.m., I’ll be toasting to you in solidarity.
In the meantime, curious to know what you think about the idea that certain phases are just trickier than others as a parent? What say you?
+These lobster cover-up pants (under $100) are SO good. Sad I missed them in my size!
+More chic cover-ups here.
+Have gotten a lot of wear out of these distressed pull-on jeans. They wear like sweatpants but look like denim!
+Have received a number of questions about Baptism/Christening gifts. I love these personalized crosses (also have ones with Biblical quotes on them for less, and I also love the slightly more whimsical styles from Tricia Lowenfeld); a simple white Bible; and this children’s Bible and book of prayers bundle, which I think I have given to about six babies at this point.
+A couple of gifts to give to godchildren as they grow older that have a religious theme:
THIS MAGNETIC CHURCH SET (SAVED US IN MANY MASS SERVICES…)
+These popular $10 gingham swim trunks for boys are still available in nearly all sizes!
+How great is this red-and-white striped maxi?!
+The price on this 49-piece set of cutlery is absolutely shocking…would be great for al fresco dining! Love the mint and pink colorways.
+More great woven bags for summer here.