Real Life with Rita: Embarking on Life with a Threenage

Remember how I started the month reporting my One Simple Change update and how some of my adjustments with the kids had gone? I told you how surprisingly smooth it all was?

No more pacifier for Dot? No fight.
Two kids, one room? Sure!

Well, something then happened during the month of August. I think it’s a pretext to that thing I have heard about for years called “the threenager”.

I always heard of the “terrible twos”, but threenager was a new term I started hearing a few years ago, alongside noticing more and more people talk about three-year-old toddlers pushing the limits and sanity and patience of parents to a whole new level that two never saw. A year ago, my pediatrician (who has two daughters) explained it in a simple but sensible way: At two, a toddler acts out without any understanding. They are learning and trying to understand when things don’t go their way. At three, a toddler knows what they are doing and they begin to push to find out where limits exist–if at all.

Like every child, Dorothy has her traits and tendencies that make her difficult, but for the most part, she is a very agreeable child and aims to please. (Translation: I think I’ve had it pretty easy.) She doesn’t even like it when my facial expression changes to that of disappointment or concern. She will ask, “Mama, are you happy?” even when she just hears me directing a stern tone at Jake. But I am beginning to see her explore her independence and it is coupled with experimenting with trying to mimic what she sees in others. This includes actual people and things she sees on TV. I’ve always been particular about wha she can and can’t watch, but I am now finding fault with shows I was OK with for the past year.

For example,  Max and Ruby, an old Nickelodeon cartoon based on a book series, is super cute and something she’s always loved. However, I’ve found her mimicking Max’s tendency to use one word phrases repeatedly. He is the younger character and I suppose this is the extent of his vocab. In her case, it’s led to being less polite. Instead of asking, “Please, may I have more soup?” she will yell, “More!” or “Soup!” Mingus and I have been very committed to working on reminding her to use her manners and speak properly.

Even worse, the one word phrases have branched into two of any parents least favorite phrases: “No” and “Why”. She will even say “No” at times when her actions follow direction. While I’m glad she isn’t completely defying me, I still want to quickly correct this habit of rudely responding “No” to myself or anyone, for that matter. Both the “why” and “no” tend to be in whiney tones that drive me bonkers and continue no matter what response I give. (I have started using the “Because I said so” line frequently or even more simply: I don’t respond at all!)

The worst, though, is the disaster of nap time or bed time. She has never liked sleep. As an infant it was a constant battle. (She didn’t even like being cuddled or rocked!) Sometime after our early August vacation, she started defying bedtime. She goes through the bedtime routine just fine. She’s content to move from bedtime snack to books. She gets a little wiley by prayer time and singing, and that’s usually when Jon and I depart, but now she begs us to stay, comes out of the room a complete crying disaster.

Version 2

I am working hard to find a balance between accepting that she is moving into a new age and phase where questioning limits and boundaries is completely natural, but I also do not want to accept this as an excuse for her poor behavior developments. I also recognize that this little soul is extremely sensitive. She crosses quickly from A-OK to distraught and nearly unconsolable when she feels disappointment or disapproval coming down on her.

Additionally, I remind myself that she is not even three years old yet. It is easy to have unrealistic expectations for her when it is only a matter of months and she will be the oldest of three children. I have to realize that while I want her to behave a certain way, she is still learning much of what my expectations even are and her vocabulary is limited, so my reprimands and instructions are not always understood. In short, I need to keep my patience intact and not expect her to figure these things out without some guidance and attention.

I still consider myself blessed with the kind of child Dorothy is at this age. No one said any of it would be easy, but I am beginning to realize just how easy I have had it, particularly through the first 18 months of Jacob’s life. Despite having two kids so young and close in age, together they made it feel (more or less) like a walk in the park. These last few weeks have just been a wake-up call to the reality that Dorothy is just a normal child who is waking up to the reality of her freedoms and if I don’t put layout expectations for her behavior, they will spiral out of control.

For those of you who have been through this and similar stages with your kids, how did you move through it best?

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