If you’re after a post that about how in love with my children I am, this is not the one. There are plenty of those to come, but not today. This post is about the hard truths about motherhood, about how sometimes I find it challenging to like my daughter. Don’t doubt my love, I love her so much it hurts, but sometimes, there are days, where I don’t much like her.
The Sunshine Princess turns four next month, and I can hardly wait. I’m hoping that four brings with it some peace, some relief from the year that has been The Theatrical Threes.
I have found it difficult to write about the Sunshine Princess at three, because I’ve found it difficult to enjoy her at three. The Sunshine Princess was difficult as a baby, her first 6 months were harder than I ever expected. She cried all day-every day, rarely slept, fed continuously for hours, and was always unsettled and miserable. But three, well three makes those days enviable. It’s been hard to admit that I find this age and stage challenging, as I thought our hard times were behind us, especially after a wonderfully blissful toddlerhood. But at three, full of attitude, drama, and emotions that are too big for her, The Sunshine Princess has often been more of a storm cloud.
It’s ironic that the words I would most use to describe The Sunshine Princess are also words I would use to describe myself. Stubborn. Opinionated. Fiercely Independent. Bossy. And while I don’t doubt that these traits are what will help her grow into a strong, determined, hard working world changer, on a three year old, these traits are difficult to manage with kindness, patience and empathy. While I want her to be able to give a resounding “No”, when she’s a teenager learning to respond to peer pressure, I would also love to hear it used a lot less in my current household.
Parenting The Sunshine through the Threes has felt very thankless. It feels as though no matter what I say or do, she will do what she wants anyway. Parenting through the Threes has at times been exhausting and disheartening.
Three is what makes me sit with the Rainbow Princess a little longer when she’s asleep in my arms, partly so I don’t have to go and face The Sunshine, but mostly because I know I can’t stop her from growing, and what if at three, she’s exactly the same?
Three makes me understand why people use parenting techniques I’ve never had much belief in, like leaving the child in shameful isolation, or manipulating the child into obedience by counting to an arbitrary number. Three makes me understand threats and bribes and star charts and the desire to run away.
Three has been very humbling. Three makes me understand giving young kids foods you know you shouldn’t, and letting them watch more TV then you thought you ever would.
I often joke that we didn’t get the Terrible Twos, but the Theatrical Threes have more than paid my debt in terms of having a rough time with my oldest daughter.
Two was so very delightful. After her difficult babyhood, The Sunshine was the most adorable little toddler. Easy to please and eager to please, reasonable and receptive to compromise. The Sunshine at three is demanding, defensive, explosive and dramatic. The independence she fought so hard to achieve at two, her wanting to be allowed to do simple tasks like dressing herself, putting her own shoes on, picking her own clothes, setting the table, putting toys away and helping me with household tasks vanished not long after she turned three, when The Rainbow arrived, and The Sunshine relapsed into needing me to do everything for her. I expected it, with a new baby in the house, and the competition for attention, but I didn’t expect it to not return. Almost a year later and she still won’t dress herself, and yet fights me when I need to do it for her. She won’t pick her own clothes, but I inevitably pick the wrong ones. If I offer a choice between items she will then decide she wants to choose herself, picking something completely different, and often weather inappropriate, resulting in a tantrum that should have been preventable.
I feel like my parenting relationship with her is so much more complicated than it was when she was two. She is so much more complex as a person, and I am often so blown away by how intelligent and imaginative she is. She is wonderfully intuitive, and very capable; what makes three challenging is she is identifying now not just with what she needs, but also what she WANTS, and furthermore, what she wants as opposed to what I am asking. At two if I asked her to come and get dressed, she did. Simple. We made games out of getting dressed together, racing to see who could finish first, both of us proud of her newfound self dressing ability. At three when I ask her to get dressed, even after letting her know 5, then 3 minutes in advanced that it will be time to get dressed, I am sometimes met instead with protests, “I’m just playing!!” she’ll say, or, “I’m doing craft/colouring/shops/barbies” or any other hundreds of things except getting dressed. Whilst this seems typical of three, and I’m sure it is, it can make the days long and exhausting if I’m given this kind of response for every request, getting dressed, putting shoes on, brushing teeth, brushing hair, eating, etc etc etc. It’s not outright disobedience, and I don’t want to be the kind of parent who threatens their child into being submissive, I realise it’s just a frustrating part of this age, where she isn’t quite capable of seeing past what she wants, over what needs to be done, but my patience is certainly getting a workout. Most days, and most occasions we find a happy medium, and things run smoothly, the “when/then” strategy works quite well for us, but other days, I feel as though I am talking in circles, and talking non stop. And feeling my blood pressure rise.
Something that is difficult is that I have high expectations of her, based on the toddler she was, and what seemed reasonable at two, is now heightened, and sensationally dramatic, and, I believe, unreasonable at three. A tantrum over dinner being on the wrong colour plate at two, when she had little autonomy and was capable of very few decisions, seemed fair, and was easily calmed and redirected. At three, the wrong colour plate (after being offered a choice anyway) is The End Of The World.
I find I don’t give The Sunshine Princess the one on one time with me that I know she deserves, partly because with The Husband working away, and The Rainbow Princess not having long sleeps during the day, there simply isn’t much time where it is just her and me. But also, if I am completely honest, it’s because I don’t want to. She is so demanding of conversation, and so hard to please, that on the very little sleep I get due to The Rainbow’s disrupted nights, it’s just too hard. At the moment it feels like every thing I do by her is wrong. I’ve never got the right answer, I never have the right game, I can’t fix the right snack, I am just doing EVERYTHING WRONG. Oh, and she does NOT want to be my best friend.
Her imagination is beyond me, and I find it difficult to connect with her in imaginative play, which is troublesome for me, as I was myself an incredibly creative child. I envy The Husband who engages her with extraordinary pretend games about pirates, fairies, dragons, unicorns, volcanos and remote islands, with not a single prop or toy.
It’s extremely difficult to not take the behaviour personally, even as so many mums of little girls around the same age commiserate with me and assure me they are going through the same thing, because she doesn’t act like it with anyone else. At preschool, dancing, swimming and kindergym she is the youngest in her classes because the teachers assure me she needs to be with older peers, as her maturity and cognitive abilities are above her age. She’s described as intelligent, empathetic, kind, popular, creative and helpful. At the very least, it’s reassuring to know that I must be doing something right, even though it certainly doesn’t feel like it much of the time. And it’s frustrating that I don’t get to see this side of her as often as I would like.
Being the gentle and conscious parent I’ve always wanted to be has been challenging through the Threes. Sometimes it even feels impossible, that no matter how much I try, she’s too independent and stubborn to respond to what I want her to be, or act the way that I think she should. Sometimes I even feel like giving up, I try so hard to be calm and kind and patient and connected, and sometimes I wonder why I bother, when yelling and screaming seems so much more effective, albeit only as a short term solution.
She got her temper from me, her recent speciality is slamming doors and throwing things when her emotions are too much for her. She is so much like me that we often clash, that when we are both ready to explode, we do, and it’s hard to remember that I am the adult. When she storms to her bedroom slams the door, it’s hard not to want to do the same. It’s hard to find the compassion to calm her down, when I am boiling over myself. But it’s when I see my worst moments in hers, that I feel disappointed with myself, and am reminded that no matter how tired, frustrated and cranky I am, I am still the mother. I have the responsibility of controlling my emotions so she can learn to manage hers.
Fortunately, amongst all the tantrums and dramas, there are also many moments when she is so empathetic and thoughtful, so selfless and patient herself, reflecting the qualities I am working so hard to instil, that I am reminded that what I DO, more than what I SAY, is so important for her. That instead of telling her about the kind of person I want her be, I just need to BE that person. She has learnt compassion and kindness for her sister from me, she’s been patient and understanding and involved in helping me parent The Rainbow gently. I see it reflected when she plays with her dolls, when she breastfeeds them, when she wears them around in her doll carrier and when she instructs me to be quiet, because she’s putting the baby to sleep, and then gently rocks them in her arms before laying them down in their beds. Those are some of my proudest moments, when I see in her role play, what she must see in me.
I know that The Sunshine and I are in a vicious circle where the lack of my attention makes her behaviour worse, and her behaviours makes me not want to give her my attention, and am making a conscious effort to break it. When The Husband is away, The Sunshine often comes into my bed of a night, having woken cold/hot/thirsty/scared/heard mysterious noise/saw mysterious shadow, or any other of the 9537 reasons she wakes, and as we snuggle together in the dark, in her sleepy haze we chat about her days, her world, her games, and I feel so grateful that she is mine, and that the sweet girl I know she is is still there. It reminds me why I need to work hard with and for her, to help her learn to control the big emotions she has, so that they don’t affect her relationships with not just me, but with others.
I’m working hard to make changes in my relationship with The Sunshine Princess, and as The Rainbow Princess is getting older and can play independently for longer amounts of time, I am using strategies to use that time to reconnect with The Sunshine. It amazes me how much a few simple changes in our day affect her behaviour so wonderfully. But I’m also holding out hope that four brings with it a magical leap in development that makes her easier to reason with. Come on four! I will not miss the Threes!