Terrible-Twos and Rise of the Threenager // Motherhood

My sweet Punky at 4 months old
Right now, I am struggling. Seriously struggling to deal with my two-on-the-verge-of-three year old. Every 5 minutes there is a meltdown. Every 5 minutes there is misbehaviour. Every 5 minutes I find myself talking to the air as I ask my toddler to stop what she is doing and she just continues on as if there is no sound coming from my mouth. I am struggling to help her control her emotions. And the thing is, I honestly don't know how I am supposed to do that when I can't even control my own.

I am finding it increasingly hard to stay calm and not lose my temper with the current behaviour that is being displayed. And the worst part about it, is that I can see my own inability to control myself being mirrored back to me in my toddler. I see the way she struggles to control her temper with her little sister.

Don't get me wrong, not every day is bad. We have some pretty awesome days, and some just good days. But the bad days? The bad days are really bad.

Sleeping has not been good either. It's either night terrors or simply just not wanting to go to sleep. It starts from the minute she goes to bed and doesn't end until morning the next day. She refuses to sleep during the day anymore, unless it's a Friday and she is exhausted after her weekly swimming lesson.

Punky at 16 months
This loss of a small window of respite in the middle of the day leaves my nerves frayed and my patience sorely tested come dinner time. The battle to get some kind of decent food in her is one I dread every single night. There is no rhyme or reason to what she may or may not eat. Something that she has loved and devoured two plates of last week, will cause her to wrinkle her nose, hang her head and say in a small voice "I don't like it."

Every night she is allowed time to sit in bed and read her books or draw on her magnet board for a bit before the lights go out. And every night once the light has been turned off the shenanigans begin. The constant getting out of bed. The excuses as to why she is out of bed. She needs a drink of water. She needs this toy or that. And even when she stays in bed there's the calling out every 5 minutes. "I need my covers on properly" she says as she lies there with her legs straight up in the air. And the one that's guaranteed to make me feel guilty, that always comes right after I've lost my shit, the tearful little voice saying "I need a hug."

I've come to dread the hour, sometimes longer, it takes for her to finally succumb to sleep and stop playing silly buggers. I dread this, and then go on to dread the mornings. From the moment she opens her eyes, it's a lottery as to what kind of mood she'll be in. Will she let me change her nappy or will she have a complete meltdown at the mere suggestion of it?
At 2, earlier in the year

I try to make sure that I am sitting down with her often through the day, just playing and hanging out and being with her. I also try to make sure she has times of independent play, because I believe that it's important for kids to be able to entertain themselves sometimes too. I scour Pinterest for new ideas and easy toddler crafts that she can do, because she is a creative soul and she loves colouring, painting, sticking and cutting. However even this can be a cause for friction when she can't do something herself, but won't allow me to assist, or when she starts throwing all of the craft supplies around in a dangerous manner, sending injury-causing missiles flying through the air.

I try to get us out of the house, even if it's just to go for a wander down the street and buy some milk. Or further afield to the park, the shopping centre, basically anywhere that is out of the house. We have fun. We hang out. We have a good time and we all enjoy each others company. The minute we walk back in the door though, its like the outing never happened, and battle-stations are resumed once more.

I try to talk to her and ask her questions about why she is upset or angry or frustrated. She either doesn't look at me or just keeps repeating the same thing over and over "I is sad Mummy", or looks at me with confusion. I'm pretty sure sometimes she doesn't even know herself why she feels the way she does.
The most beautiful almost-3-year-old I know

Every single day I worry that I am ruining her. I worry that I am doing the wrong thing by her. I worry and wonder if her behaviour is normal, is this the way every child her age acts and behaves or is it something more? Every day I wake up and vow to do a better job, I vow to stay calm, I vow to not let my temper get the better of me.

Every day I feel like I've failed. I am not the parent I wanted or hoped I would be. Every day I try my best and let's face it, that's all I can do. But at the same time, I also wonder and worry that I'm actually not doing my best, that maybe there is something more I should be doing. I know I shouldn't beat myself up about it, but it's hard, when it's been a tough day, to not lie in bed and wonder what I could have done to make things better. Wonder what I could have done to be a better Mum. I lie there and feel guilty for the way I've reacted to her beahviour. I vow to be more zen tomorrow. If I could just be a better, more calm and relaxed Mum, yell less and love more, then maybe she wouldn't have so many meltdowns and tantrums. Maybe she wouldn't struggle so badly in trying to deal with her overwhelming emotions. Maybe she would sleep better at night.

I wonder, if I could do better than I currently am, then maybe, just maybe, I won't completely ruin her for life.

Heaven help me when we reach puberty.

How did you cope with the toddler years? Do you think the worry about ruining our children ever goes away? Why did nobody tell me that being a parent, along with being one of the best things I've ever done, would also be one of the most confusing, emotionally draining, and confidence-crushing things I'd ever do?


Kylie Purtell said…
You are brave crafting with a 3yo - they are very independent souls and will want to do it there way, and just let me them, let my 3yo cut up stuff, put sticky tape everywhere and generally just muck about, when he gets cranky I help... As for not sleeping, as you know mine have never been great sleepers, my 6yo, who was a 3yo not so long ago, was up a lot, didn't really have a day sleep and was VERY determined. Please please please don't over think it, she is just frustrated because she can't explain to you how she's feeling, in fact she probably can't comprehend what she's feeling. Pick your battles, only a few, say yes more or make a joke when she's being super cranky pants, tell her she's making YOU sad because of the way she's acting.. not all the time but when the behaviour has got out of control. She might also have those big molar coming through,.. of be fighting a bug, or still trying to find her place with a little sister. It will pass. Just take question your parenting, you're doing a great job... and she won't remember what she did at 3yos any way!!! Hugs. And I feel your pain, I have 3yo boy who thinks he's 5! xxxx
Kylie Purtell said…
A while ago you wrote a post. I don't know whether it was here or on FB where you said that sometimes you just feel like running outside and screaming. I felt a load lift from my shoulders when I read that because I feel like that sometimes too and was ashamed of feeling that way. Being a mum is hard. It is just something you can't prepare for. As you say, what will work one week won't the next. My eldest, now four, definitely had her moments at the age of two and three. I remember one day in a fury she scratched my arms and face as I tried to hold her and calm her down. She was out of control and it was distressing for everyone. The poor wee things are trying so hard to control their emotions and figure out what they can and can't do. I've found that what worked with my daughter was the 'naughty laundry,' counting to three, getting down on her level and consistency. Always follow through on a threat. Don't give in. If you ask my husband I totally suck at this, but I am learning. I fear for what my 22 month old will be like when she reaches two and three as she is very willful. She is already starting on the 'no, I do it!' whenever I try to help her do something. I feel that as per usual I have rambled and not given any good advice. Just know that you are not alone, you are an awesome mum, you're trying your best, you love your girls, they love you and you will get through this. We all will. xxxx
Kylie Purtell said…
AHHHH!!!!!! I'm going through the same thing, except that mine is 14 months. I said to my husband, isn't this phase supposed to start around 2? Not now? Wasn't I meant to have some more delicious baby time? Nope, apparently not. I could have written most of what you did, things are so much the same here. I'm taking him out the baby play area in the Newy Museum today just to exhaust him, after my wax apt. haha! I'm like you - let's leave the house so I can feel like I am not going to have a tantrum soon myself.
Super Nanny says to not have any conversation with them when they get out of bed, to grab them by the hand and put them back in bed each time with out a word. I did that once when I was a nanny and it worked. Have you tried that? We are still using a cot so I don't know if it will work on my own child.
Kylie Purtell said…
Hats off to all mums. These phases of our toddlers are medal winning stuff. Hang in there and do all the things you are doing. I agree with some of the other comments, pick your battles and don't be afraid to use the tough love, no negotiation at all approach for things you value highly at the top of the list like sleep. They learn fast...Its hard and they get upset but in the end they don't remember and they always come back for hugs regardless. Cam has told me I pander to the kids too much sometimes, and you do because you love them. I still give my 3 yr old a bottle of milk after lunch to keep the peace somedays when tiredness is at it peak, nothing is making sense and he is annoying his sister to wits end...My maternal health nurse will tsk tsk at that but hey it works and order becomes restored. In the mean time Ive got a wine in the fridge...Come round and we'll knuckle it out together...Im sure it'll all fly over soon and never think you are going to ruin their lives. x
Kylie Purtell said…
You are doing fine!! Hang in there!! Roll with it. Don't back down. Choose your battles. You are not alone.
Kylie Purtell said…
You're doing the best you can "in that moment".. That is mumma doing her best. Perfection doesn't exist as

each day is a selection of choices no one choice will make or break a day or a child.

My boy is about a month younger than your radiant being. Although his behaviour isn't regularly at the level you are talking about here, he also has no younger siblings so the pressure on him to "just comply" is a lot less than with a child with siblings. That said I don't say it if it isn't going to happen(when I ask him to comply I expect it to happen).. I can just pick and choose a bit more when I let an activity slide by rather than try and keep us on a timetable :-) as I have found for me that is a strong nexus for me having a Mummy meltdown.

One statement I learned from a mother of three with a boy about a month younger than mine is when I feel serious resistance calmly announce "You can (insert non negotiable behaviour here) or I will (ensure it happens{i.e. clean your teeth for you)/pick you up to get to the car,pick you up to get to the changetable, put you in the pram, etc}). This has pulled my boy outta the tantrum spiral more times than I can count to this point. It seems that communicating that the end product is non negotiable but how it happens, is to a level, under their control (once they really grasp the concept) really seems to work a bit of magic with the 2-3's. In my case it often means my boy does whatever was needed under his own steam.. in hers more often than not she has to pick her boy up but it happens without the flailing, kicking and screaming that would otherwise occur.

I've also done a lot of work on demonstrating the breath in the clean air, breath out the anger/frustration technique of emotional management. If I'm getting frustrated I'll often have a little voice reminding me to "deep breath" and I do the same for him when he looses it. It took a lot of me being mindful and choosing to be very transparent when I was moving toward loosing it and verbalising the processes as well as actively doing them for it to click for him but it did.

Although craft is great I have found sensory play options can often be more autonomous, and I do it is king here, for my little one. Things like moon sand (outside only this stuff is revolting to clean), mixing food dyed water to explore what blue and yellow makes (raincoat required if it's cold they will get drenched), underbed box, only needed if doing inside, containing a baking dish of of dyed rice with spoons and scoops bowls etc for an extension add and some people, box houses etc. Mud pies, flower soup, food coloured shaving cream on the inside of the bath or bathroom tile wall are all possible calming activities that just might be options if craft just isn't working today.

You're doing great. Please don't take the above as any criticism of how you are already handling things it just sounded like your well might be feeling a bit dry and I though these ideas might spark some inspiration for you.

Best wishes
Kylie Purtell said…
Sounds all pretty normal behaviour to me! I am going through my 3rd lot of terrible twos at the moment and I actually find it easier to not take it so personally. The fact that you are thinking these things and actually blogged about means that you do care. No child's life was ever ruined by love, Kylie. Little kids have so many emotions running through their bodies at one time. Hang in there! You doing a fantastic job.
Kylie Purtell said…
It took me 3 kids to stop losing my shit & learn how to be zen, & even then I felt like is given up & was being too soft on them. We are our harshest critics, our own worst enemies. You know how you can tell you're not ruining her? Because you're trying. You're having these thoughts. And you're a an amazing person, therefore your daughters will be amazing people. Hugs xxxx
Kylie Purtell said…
First of all, you're doing NOTHING wrong and by the sounds of it you're going out of your way to create quality experiences for Punky. Really you don't fall short of frickin' awesome!
There is no doubt the threenanger business is so much more challenging than the terrible two's. Their manipulation is so much more complex and grueling. It drove me bonkers, especially because the behavior arrived just as I welcomed a new baby. Know that all Mums struggle with this difficult stage. I wanted to lose my shite every single hour. I'm so glad it did pass and he came back to his senses.
I think from memory we knuckled down pretty hard with giving time outs and we tried to administer them with little emotion. In fact the more blank we could be the better. I also used to just walk him back to bed silent and not talk or give him any of his requests at bed time. Eventually because he wasn't getting the attention he got bored and stopped getting up. On bad nights, we'd confiscate favorite toys for the entirety of the next day.

Make sure you are able to let off steam somehow every day whether it be having a glass of wine post bedtime, walk around the block, get on the blower to a girlfriend who will understand, have a hot bath etc etc. Never has it been needed more. Much love xxx
Kylie Purtell said…
Oh my God, I could have written this post! You are not alone my dear and I would love to offer you some advice but I'm just muddling along myself. Three is the shits! It's two but with attitude, terrible attitude and you are right sometimes they mirror back our our inability to control the emotions they bring up in us. I suspect we just have to wait it out and try our best, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. All power to you my dear. Oh and those photos - BLOODY DIVINE!
Kylie Purtell said…
I second the wine!
Kylie Purtell said…
How do I do the zen? Teach me zen master!
Kylie Purtell said…
Kylie, I remember the three year old year as the worst. Everything you said brings back memories for me from girls. I remember thinking many times that parenting just wasn't for me. The only advice I have is to take one day at at time, and once she is finally asleep stand there and watch her. See her chest rise and fall and she breaths, her soft lips quiet and her hair gently falling on the pillow. Fall in love with her again, and tomorrow is a new day. That's the only way I got through it! Hugs xxxxx
Kylie Purtell said…
I've been meaning to write here but argh Disqus and my phone are not friends I'll be honest.

I HEAR you. I have no advice. Those strong-willed kids hey? Personality + seems to equate to utter exhaustion in the parenting department. I don't know what to tell you. I have been exhausting Tom every day by taking big long walks...when we get home I time it so that Jeremy is due to nap and Tom hops onto the couch and watches in the night garden under a red blanket. Then once J is down I cuddle up with Tom and most days now he falls asleep. I feel frayed too when I don't get that little window of time when they are both asleep. I'm not sure how I will survive when their naps don't align. I really don't.

Hugs to you xoxox
Kylie Purtell said…
Haha, I don't know! I just put myself in their shoes. I remember they're good kids. I take deep breaths. I choose my battles :) x
Kylie Purtell said…
I'm with you here, Kylie. My third daughter is about to turn three and the defiant behaviour, frustrations and discovering expressing her emotions are all creating interesting times for us. It's hard because your child is changing before your eyes and you don't know if it's just growing up or if there's something you could do to make things easier. But your girl is just testing boundaries and discovering more about herself. She is still having fun times too - with you! Try not to be too hard on yourself. It can be a trying time, but you're not ruining her - far from it. She is in a loving family. She's just discovering the world around her in new ways xx

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