Thursday, September 8, 2011

Terrible Twos, Terrible Moms

I apologize for the lengthy delay between posts, but my summer was surprisingly busy. For the first time ever, I got a short story published in a literary magazine, and just a couple of months after that, the same story won first place in a writing contest sponsored by my hometown's arts/culture newspaper. This means my parents, friends, and former teachers all get to read it. Finally getting published after years of feeling like a phony has felt good, to say the least, and it has given me the kick in the pants I needed to make some serious progress on the novel I've been a slave to since 2006. The downside of all this acknowledgement of my "real" writing is that it's left me with little time and energy for working on this blog.

There's also been another problem keeping me from getting anything done outside of nap time:  Han has entered the terrible twos, with a vengeance. Voices are raised, objects are thrown, and unreasonable demands are made. And not just by Han; I can be pretty terrible, too. I find myself on the verge of full-blown rage way more often than I would like and the stress is eating away at my insides (thank FSM for Pepcid). Now, I was a preschool teacher for quite a bit of my twenties, and I have plenty of skills and techniques for acknowledging his feelings and correcting his behavior. I've dealt with kids who were far, far worse (including one who I'm pretty sure was a sociopath) and have rarely been goaded into losing my cool. But it's different when it's your own flesh and blood. It feels more personal somehow. The one you love most in all the universe, the sun around which your planet orbits, is being a complete and total asshole to you. That hurts.

I did a cursory internet search for "terrible twos" to see if I could find any reasonable advice for how to help me get through this developmental period. After all, I'm a person too, and being abused constantly is aggravating and demoralizing. How do parents cope with the shitty behavior without feeling shitty themselves? Unfortunately, my search only yielded information that focused on the child's feelings and behavior. Don't get me wrong; this is important information that a lot of parents may not know, particularly if they were raised in a "traditional" household. Any strategy that minimizes physical punishment and enhances a child's understanding of right and wrong can only be a good thing. But it would be nice if we parents could acknowledge how crazy our kids can make us without feeling like we've failed at something.

Most of the Supermom types, the ones who make the rest of us feel like failures whenever possible, seem to use a strategy of phoniness and repression, at least if this blog post, Terrible Two's? Not!, is any indication. This mother emphasizes being "polite" when your two-year-old starts acting up. For example, if her little snowflake doesn't want to share, this mother-of-the-year would say: "It's hard to share, isn't it? You want to keep the toy all to yourself. Do you see how sad Anna is that she can't play with it too though? Do you think you could both use it so you could both be happy?" Do you know what her child hears? I do: "Blah blah blah? Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah? Blah?" Or maybe just that muted trumpet noise from Charlie Brown TV specials, the one that stands in for all grownup speech. The point is, this lady's talking to herself. This sort of lecture is far more likely to have an effect on any adults watching than on an irrational, possessive two-year-old.

Another example this bastion of motherhood uses is her kid throwing a fit in the checkout aisle because she wants candy. Once again, this saint among mere mortals knows exactly what to say to diffuse her little angel's wrath: "I know that looked like neat candy, but now we're going to be having supper and do you know what we're having for dessert? Ice cream!" or "I know you wanted that but we're not going to buy candy today. I think pretty soon we're going to be passing the fishies though! Do you want to see the fishies? Yeah?! Which colors are your favorites?!" Sorry, but no way, lady. I'm calling bullshit. I've been dealing with a similar issue every time I go to Target and we pass the toy aisle. When Han sees the awesome shit that he could be playing with, he loses his mind. He starts trying to lunge from the cart, and when that doesn't work, he flings his pacifier and Bevo (his stinky little lovey companion) onto the floor and shrieks his lungs out. Not cool. I could waste a lot of breath explaining how, "We don't always have to buy a toy here and I know we did last time but this time we just made a mortgage payment and we have to stick to the budget and hey, you want me to get you some ice cream later, huh? Do ya?"  Or I could just pick up his Bevo and paci and keep walking. When he stops for breath I say firmly, "It is not okay to scream in Target." Then I hand him his shit back and he shuts the hell up. His little freakout gained him nothing.

People always watch these little interactions, I've noticed, ready to judge mommy's actions and respond with either a brisk nod of approval or a condemning shake of the head (often with some pursed lip action). You know whose opinions I don't give a shit about? That's right, those people's. Because ultimately, Han and I are the ones who are going to have to live with the parenting choices I make, and the pressure is huge enough without everyone judging my performance against how they think I ought to be acting. I think if we could acknowledge how the terrible twos make us parents feel, and how close our children can push us to the edge of sanity, it might be little easier to keep our cool, to make the right decisions and vent the anger appropriately (like maybe talking to each other about it) instead of pushing it down into a hard little ball somewhere deep inside.


  1. I never reason with toddlers. Granted, I always tell my kids WHY what they are doing is total bullshit, but I am a disciplinarian. Mama don't take no mess. I yell, I shove them into their carseat if I have to and I send their asses to the corner. Then we have a nice chat about the what and why afterward, when they calm down and are more apt to "reason."

    I am not saying I am right or my way is the best at all. And I don't care how many organic eatin', Montessori schoolin', baby wearin', parenting manual readin', self-proclaimed "mommies" gasp in shock when I tell them I spank my kids (there are strict rules for it).

    It's the moms who are trying to play therapist with their nutty two year old that have the WORST behaved kids. I've watched quite a few of them grow up.

    (off soapbox)

  2. I'm up on that soapbox with you! I can't stand over-indulgent parenting. It leads to narcissistic, entitled brats. I think it takes courage to stand up to those Supermoms and admit that motherhood is rarely "polite" and that children need firm, consistent boundaries. I'm sure your kids will appreciate it someday, even if they think you're mean now!