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Coming to Terms with The Terrible Twos

I’ve had a really long week this week. It’s probably not the longest week of my life, but it’s in the top three. As a result of the events this week in my life, and events leading up to this week, I’ve really had to think hard about parenting. Not just MY parenting, but how I was parented, and how I continue to be parented. Yes, I’m an adult, but I am still my parents’ child, and their actions and decisions still very much affect me.

There was a quote on Modern Family this week that really struck a chord with me:

We like to think we are so smart, that we have all the answers. And we want to pass all that on to our children. But if you scratch beneath the surface, you don’t have to dig very deep to find the kid you were, which is why it’s kind of crazy that we’re now raising kids of our own… I guess that’s the real circle of life. Your parents faked their way through it. You fake your way through it. And hopefully you don’t raise a serial killer. -Phil Dunphy (character)

I think we all reach a point in our lives when we find out that our parents aren’t perfect or that they didn’t (and still don’t) know all the answers. Maybe that is when we really start becoming adults… when we realize that we don’t necessarily want to make the decisions they made or live our lives they way they lived theirs. Or maybe some people know this all along and I was just really naïve.

I always hated the term, “The Terrible Twos.” What an awful thing to say about your own child! Then my own kid started reaching the age when The Terrible Twos really begin, which is before they even reach two years old. I think Gavin was around 16 or 17 months. Up until that point, he was happy-go-lucky. He woke up smiling. The only thing he asked for was love and food. It was a relatively easy relationship. Then he started developing an opinion on everything. And it wasn’t the same opinion as mine. Suddenly, we were butting heads, but he was still my sweet little baby! I used to have patience of steel, and then I found myself just getting mad. Getting mad at a 1-year-old who didn’t know any better. How could I be mad at someone who I knew wasn’t trying to piss me off on purpose? It wasn’t his fault, but I was still mad.

I had already read some books on discipline like The Discipline Book by William and Martha Sears and Playful Parenting by Larry Cohen. Then I read The No-Cry Discipline Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort. These books gave me a lot of tools to work with to keep things running smoothly. The authors tried to ease parents’ minds that our little angels are still angels at heart, and that I’ve done nothing wrong and neither has my kid. One of the best things I read was a Q and A written by Dr. Greene about The Terrible Twos. One thing he says that really hit home for me was, “It is perfectly normal for him to reverse a decision as soon as he has made it, because at this stage, he even disagrees with himself.” That was one of those moments when a light clicked on in my head, and I felt like I had some insight into what was going on in Gavin’s head. I also like that Dr. Greene refers to The Terrible Twos as, “The First Adolescence,” which is a label that immediately makes me want to be more forgiving of my toddler. Dr. Greene’s article is an article you want to read if you have a child in the midst of The First Adolescence or will be there soon.

We have a Christmas tree up in our living room, and we’ve told Gavin multiple times that he is not allowed to even go near the cords and outlets associated with the Christmas lights. He’s done a really good job, and when one of his toys ends up over there, he will point it out to me so I’ll get it for him. Then, last night, after a particularly rambunctious evening followed by my particularly hard week, Gavin decided he wanted to fall asleep on the couch instead of in bed, which was fine with me. I said, “Okay, but we need to turn off all the lights.” Gavin has his own stool so he goes to each light and flips the switch. I was getting some blankets out and doing some other things, and Gavin went towards the power strip with the Christmas tree lights. When I instructed him to turn off the lights, it didn’t even occur to me that he would reach for the Christmas tree lights. In my mind, those are in a different category, but in Gavin’s mind – lights are lights. Thinking that he was just continuing to be rambunctious, my husband and I both thought that he was just going to mess with the lights and outlets. We both raised our voices at him and poor little Gavin stopped immediately and started crying (ugh, it brings tears to my eyes just to write this! I’m such a wimp).

Crying wasn’t the response I expected. When he knows he is doing something bad, he usually just laughs about it or moves on, but this time, he was really upset. So I went over to him and said, “What is it baby? What do you want over there?” He pointed to the power strip containing all of the outlets. I thought maybe his ball or other toy was over there. Maybe he was trying to get an ornament off the tree? “What?” I said, “There is nothing down there. You aren’t allowed to touch that.”

He kept pointing and trying to communicate with me and then finally it clicked. He was doing EXACTLY what I just told him to do. He was turning off the lights.

“You want me to turn off the lights?” I asked.

“Yeah! Yeah!” he said.

Gavin as the angel on top of our tree.

Poor little guy. I gave him a hug and turned off the Christmas lights and we snuggled on the couch and he nursed to sleep. I got to zone out and catch up on my favorite sitcoms. My head finally got a break after everything we had been through all week.

I realized, Gavin hasn’t figured out yet that his dad and I aren’t perfect. He truly thinks we are perfect. He thinks we know all the answers and we always do the right thing. So right then I decided that since he holds us in such high regard, the least we can do is assume that he always means well. If we first assume that he means well, maybe we won’t jump down his throat for breaking the rules, especially when it is OUR fault that he broke the rules. If we assume he means well (and really, he always does) and that he does have a good intention for everything he does, maybe at the very least, his dad and I will respond in a fair way. That’s probably all any kid needs, young or old, is for their parents to treat them fairly.

Gavin tells me almost every day that the angel on top of our Christmas tree is “Mama.” And while this age can bring a lot of frustration, it also brings a lot of love. Sure, Gavin was a sweet little baby, but he’s also a sweet little [almost] two-year-old. He can hug me on his own free will, he can run to me when I walk through the door, and even though he doesn’t talk a whole lot, he can even let me know that he thinks his Mama is as perfect as the angel on top of our tree.

Someday, he’s going to find out that I’m not perfect. In the meantime, I’ll try to do what I can to let him believe that I really am. I will treat him fairly, give him the benefit of the doubt, and I’ll assume that he means well. There is no doubt that I will make mistakes every day, but I can try to do the right thing. I can put him and our little family first. I might not be able to control what my parents do, but I can control what I do as a parent.

Regarding The First Adolescence, Dr. Greene writes, “This phase is difficult for parents; it is also hard for children. When children take a stand that opposes their parents, they experience intense emotions. Although they are driven to become their own unique persons, they also long to please their parents.” It actually gives me some peace to know that my toddler isn’t trying to make me mad on purpose. After all, I can relate.

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Published in Parenting