****DISCLAIMER**** I apologize, in advance, for the liberal use of italics, bolded font, and capitalization (and some words? I used all three!) in this post. When you have a three year old, you will understand.
People always warned me about The Threes. I watched two of my close friends go through it with their kids recently. It didn't seem that bad from the sidelines, but they sure talked about it a lot. I noticed their kids seemed a bit more oppositional, listening a bit less, perhaps a tantrum or two more than usual, but they still seemed pretty "normal" to me. I knew, however, that I had heard from enough people that Three Sucks, so there had to be something to it.
So, at about six weeks into The Threes, I can tell you what is so bad about them. Perhaps you can prepare yourself better than I did. Probably not. But at least you'll know you are not alone.
It's the fact that, almost overnight, your sweet, aquiescent toddler (okay, so Will was stubborn before, but it was manageable) turns into their own person. And they don't want to do anything that you would like them to, just because you want them to do it (even if it's fun! even if it's something that they would usually want to do!). And they want to do everything themselves from putting on their shoes to pouring the milk to going to the potty.
What's so bad about that, you ask? Well, in and of itself, it is a very good thing. Having his own opinion about things, wanting to do things for himself, increasing independence. . . it's all wonderful. IN THEORY.
In PRACTICE, however, it is very, very tiring because it is NON STOP. From the moment Will gets up until the moment he goes to bed EVERYTHING is an argument. And it's so wearing, when the arguments are about things like which specific spoon he wants to use for his oatmeal, which specific pair of underwear he wants to wear that day, which grocery store he wants to go to, and you'd better believe it won't be the spoon, underwear, or grocery store I had in mind.
As a result of this, everything takes longer than it should, because you have to plan for this opposition. Sure, it doesn't always happen, but it happens enough that I have to be prepared. I had our "leaving the house" routine timed to perfection and now that's all screwed up. And things that used to be predictable and enjoyable are no longer such, because in the middle of, say, the tubby, he is suddenly going to want a certain type of bubble bath that we don't have. So all of a sudden, he is tantruming for this bubble bath that I don't even know that they carry at Target anymore. And even if I did have it, right that very minute? I can't give in to the tantrum, so he can't have it anyway. BUT!!! If I buy that bubble bath the next time we are at Target so this won't happen again? Nope, it's not that easy. Because when I use that bubble bath, he will want the one that I used the last time but didn't replace. BECAUSE HE WANTED THIS ONE! Two tubbies. Ruined. And tubbies were one of my go-to parenting tactics before when a day was going off the rails. Nothing is sacred anymore.
AND? Everything is dramatic. Before, if Will wanted something and it wasn't something he was going to get, I could distract him. That no longer works. And if he tantrumed before, it was a brief affair that was usually over in minutes. Now, once he gets something in his mind (yesterday, it was that he wanted to go potty at a specific store that we passed on the way home), it is GAME OVER. And the tantrums will last for thirty minutes or more and they are intense, with him turning purple with rage and screaming to wake the dead.
I am also dead set that we NEVER give into a tantrum. So even if he is asking for something that I would give him if he asked nicely, if he asks rudely and then starts tantruming, he is not getting it. So a lot of his tantrums are even more ridiculous because I would have given him, for example, asnack. . . if only he had given me a chance to say yes!
I generally ignore his tantrums. For example, right now? He has been in his room for over forty-five minutes. He is screaming. Why? Well, because he wants to go to a friend's house and stay there while I "go to work". As that isn't happening today, he is very upset. Once he gets to this point, there is no going back. There is no putting him in the car and making him go do something fun, because he won't be or have any fun. And I don't want to reward the behavior. So, Emma and I are downstairs in her playroom, while he is upstairs. Screaming. He came downstairs about five minutes ago and seemed to have calmed down a bit, but he revved right back up when he asked to go to the friend's house and I said, "Not today."
And the sad part is that Emma and I are dressed and ready to go. We were going to go to the kids museum and I had hoped to sneak in a Target trip. He loves to go to Target and get a soft pretzel (well, he used to, not sure where Three Year Old Will lands on the soft pretzel), so it used to be a fun errand. But now, the morning is being wasted on this tantrum.
In addition to the daily struggles, sleep is also disrupted. All of my friends found that night wakings and bedtime struggles started (or got markedly worse) at three. At two weeks into three, it happened to Will, too. My solid sleeper, three hour a day napper, never fights bedtime. . .is now waking two to three times a night, fighting and/or skipping naps, and bedtime has become a struggle. So, we are all getting less sleep, which of course, makes the daily struggles worse. It's a rather disturbing catch-22. Because, as I learned back when Will was a newborn, sleep begets sleep. . . and a lack of sleep makes everyone grumpier. Despite his advancing independence, however, Will fails to have this little thing called reasoning down yet. So I can't exactly say to him, "Hey, buddy, if you kept napping and sleeping, you might just feel a bit better during the day. And I know I would."
The other day, I was talking about this with another friend. Her children are a bit older and I wasn't really around them when they were in The Threes. I told her that I didn't remember her kids being like this. She assured me that they were, but I wasn't around it enough to really see it. And, she added, that if it made me feel any better, she thought Will seemed "normal" and like a nice little kid. Which did, actually, make me feel better. . . for about five minutes, until the next argument came up.
So, I think to sum it up: The Threes are exhausting because they are non-stop. It feels like I am in the middle of psychological warfare with a three year old. Who is sometimes winning.