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My Three Year Old Frenemy

I'm having trouble writing lately, for reason in addition to the lack of time to write. Perhaps it's a bit of writers block, but I don't think so. I have plenty ideas, things I want to write about and even how I want to write them. But I am having a hard time actually typing them out.

I think I know why, but it's really hard to say out loud/write and publish. But I'm afraid it's a hump I have to get over by actually just putting it out there.

I've been extremely frustrated with my daughter.

Yes, she's amazing in so many ways. Of course I love her and am constantly thrilled with what she can do and how she does it. No doubt her spirited personality traits will help her go far in life, since they are especially powerful traits for an adult to have.


But those traits are EXHAUSTING for a parent to deal with. She's always been so CONSTANT! Since she was born, she's needed constant attention, constant supervision, constant entertainment, constant vigiliance. After 3 years and almost 4 months of that, I'm just run down and feeling slightly depressed.

Even after all the books I've read, after pouring through the Raising Your Spirited Child book, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, after using positive labels, after time warnings for transitions and counting to three and providing options and enforcing consequences have all become second nature, it's still simply freaking HARD.

Even if the Pookie wasn't such a contrast in temperment and behavoir (for now, though that could all change as he gets older), even if I had enough time to recharge my inner introvert, even if she wasn't in the Tyrantical Threes, we will always have to work with her intensity, persistence, sensitivity, independence, high energy level and all the other spirited traits she has.

Even when she's not in a period of disequilibrium... But oh man, when ISN'T she in a period of disequilibrium?!?! When I recently started reading Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy, by Ames and Ilg, I was frustrated by the beginning which talks about how great things are when the kids turn 3. Oh, we had maybe a week of things being pretty good. And since March, we've maybe had a week here, a few days there. But overall? We went straight from disequilibrium of the Twos into the same for the Threes.

I'm reminded of something Londo said sometime in the first or second year of the Pumpkin's life. I was talking about either going through or preparing for a sleep regression, when he responded, "How can we call it a 'regression' when it's always like this?" I couldn't really argue with him.

There are certainly degrees of how frustrating things can be. There are even times of things being smooth and easy. It's just that those times seem so short and far apart.

So my daughter has a frustrating personality. It's something I think we're always going to have to deal with. I don't WANT to call it a frustrating personality, which is why I usually refer to it as "spirit." But every now and then, it's time to call a spade a spade. And my daughter? She can often be frustrating, either because of the energy and effort it takes to parent her or because of work it takes to deal with the fight she puts up over simple tasks and the tantrums she throws over goodness knows what.

I feel like my life with her is always going to be insanely hard work and often frustrating. And that is depressing me. Or maybe I'm depressed anyway, and simply focusing on this. I can't be sure, except it's summer and that's usually when I'm at my happiest.

I don't need to go on and on about how much I love her and just how awesome she is, do I? You all know that, right? I just need to let out my frustrations in this post.

Now I'm not sure if I feel better for having written this or worse.


Shelby said…
I think it is wonderful you wrote this post. I had a session once with Sharon Silver, the mommy mentor, who encouraged me to write things down such as this and then to forgive myself. Of course it is tiring. Of course it is frustrating. I am there myself. One of the things I like in those Ames books is that the real life situations give you advice such as, get a babysitter and get out of the house for a little bit, because everyone needs to recharge, to be better parents.
Susan said…
Oh, I know what you mean. DS is very, very persistent and not very cooperative. We're trying to work on learning to clean up toys and it's like so so much more work to get him to do it than it is to just clean it up myself. I have to cajole, threaten, etc. to get the slightest bit of help. Yes, he's a total joy in so many other ways, but man the stubbornness is a killer.
electriclady said…
If it makes you feel any better, we have also not found the "3=awesome" promise held out by Ames & Ilg to be true. It was like a switch flipped the minute BG turned 3 and man, it's been HARD. Three-year-olds are, frankly, a**holes. ;-) And BG is overall a very mellow kid--with a more spirited child like P I'm sure it's doubly hard. I'm hoping that we're just 6 months off the usual schedule and 3.5 will be a dream. And I'm hoping for that for you too!
Katie said…
A lot of my friends refer to "threenagers". *hugs* mama!
Cloud said…
Her strong will is likely to be an asset in the teenage years- I suspect that it will make her less likely to get in trouble just by following the crowd.

Three year olds are hard, that is for sure. I think yours may be especially hard, but you'll get through this phase and things will keep getting better, a little at a time.

Whenever I get frustrated by some defiance my daughter throws up and/or how I handled it (usually not as well as I'd like), I like to think back and realize how far we've come. Yeah, we're still having tantrums, but they're over new things! That's progress, right?
mom2boy said…
I thank you for writing it for the commiseration aspect and also I tend to think it's easier to deal with difficult thoughts once they are out in the light rather than stuck in the shadows of our minds.

It is exhausting. And you have two. And you have one that is not as demanding. All that adds up to a certain amount of frustration.

We have all the same struggles in our house. Resistance every morning to getting out of pjs into clothes, resistance every night to get out of clothes into bath into pjs, brushing teeth, random fits of high pitch screaming, etc. Whoever said kids need consistency should have mentioned that it doesn't mean they like it or cooperate just because the same situation is presented over and over and over again.

Hang in there! You are doing great!
Kristina M said…
I think God paired her with the right parents. She does take significant amounts of patience and you are doing fabulously with her. I admired how well you could maintain your cool most of the time.I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by her by the end of our visit Sunday. Two adults isn't enough to rangle 3 kids three and under.
Charisse said…
Aw sweetie!! I so, so, so understand. I have this vivid memory of trying to drag Mouse along on errands after preschool one day, and her having some kind of a moo-cow - I mean, a *full.on. moo-cow* but I have zero memory of what it was about...and we were in front of this cafe with her screaming her head off and refusing to even budge for like 15 minutes and this guy came out and said, "hey, can I get you something from inside?" and I gave him this questioning look and he smiled and said "I have a 3-year-old too". And that helped me, so I'm passing it on to you.

I know everybody says 3 is better than 2, but for our highly verbal, spirited kid 3 was much harder. She never had so much the classic 2-year-old frustration of not being able to express herself (though 2-year-olds can be tough even without that), but the 3-year-old frustration of realizing you don't actually have any power in the world? She was NOT. INTO. THAT.

Not to keep dangling the carrot in front of you, but it really really will get better. Because you just have more options with a spirited 4-year-old who has decided to be a pain in the ass today, and even more with a 5 or a 6. And they really do start to learn, somewhat, to not take every little thing out of your hide.

So guess what happened yesterday? Mouse is at daycamp right now, at an all-day outdoor camp with no indoor base and it is effing FREEZING in SF as is traditional in June. We always share a cookie after school/camp/whatever, so yesterday morning when I kissed her goodbye I showed her the 2 homemade cookies I had in a bag in my pocket and told her we'd have them together about 5:30. Well, the cookies fell out of my pocket on the train to pick her up and I didn't notice until I got there. She had been outdoors in fog and wind for 8+ hours, having a great time, but she was very tired. And she started crying and saying "mommy, I've been looking forward to that cookie, I NEED that cookie, I can't walk to the train without it". But if you can imagine, this is not screaming-crying tantrum stuff, this is whimpery, whiny, talky big-kid crying. BUT, there's no cookie, and there's no way to get a cookie until we get out of Golden Gate Park, which is about a 1/2 mile walk. And Mouse is pushing 60 pounds at age 6, so she's got to do it under her own power.

Well, you know, she was pissed and she stayed pissed...but I told her she had to make an effort to stop the whimpering and I'd help. And we did some deep breaths and that helped a bit and then we could go. And we walked all the way, 1/2 mile in the gusting wind, talking about it in semi-normal voices (er, mostly - some crying breaks)...and then talking about other things too...until we made it to the nearest Starbucks (and coincidentally a bathroom because of course she suddenly desperately had to pee in the middle of all that). And then she got warm and snacked and peed and said "mommy, maybe you should put the cookies in a zippable pocket tomorrow, can you please?" and that was that.

And honestly, that's the ickiest evening we've had in months (without counting sickness).

So hang in there my dear!! Don't throw her or yourself off any bridges, tempting as it may be, and as always email me if you want to commiserate. Hugs!!!
Anonymous said…
oh sister, you are singing my song. thank you for writing it. sometimes it feels like, even with the Spirited Child info, what am I doing wrong & why is nobody else dealing with this???? I feel like we're mostly in disequilibrium too.

and I LOVE the kid, he's awesome & bright, and I know all his tenacity will serve him well, but a dang break would be nice. as we approach 5 in less than 2 weeks, I'm seeing glimmers of more cooperation & maturity.

not to freak you out, but the 4 year old book "Wild & Wonderful" was funny b/c at the end, they say something to the effect of you may be concerned about juv. delinquency at 4, but at 5, your concern may be that they're behaving too much. I'll believe that when I see it!

you're a great mom w/a challenging, great kid! thanks for writing.
Lisa F.
paola said…
Whoever said (can't remember if it was Nietzsche or Homer Simpson !) 'what doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger' must have had a 3 year old, or a 3.5 year old. Honey, you are a better Mom for having your spirited daughter. Having had an easy kid the first time, I firmly believe, having Zoe has made me question my parenting skills and therefore (try to) improve on them.
caramama said…
Let me start this by saying thanks to all for the sympathy and commiseration.

Last night, we were having a great time getting ready for bed, until suddenly she was throwing a crazy tantrum. The ensuing battle royale climaxed with her biting my arm. Hard. So hard, there is still a swollen bruise this morning. Of course we made up (after my time out and her time out), and she went to bed easily after that. And this morning, she told me she didn't like me at breakfast, but then blew me kisses when I left the house. URGGGGGG!

@Shelby - I need to keep reading the Ames 3 yo book, cause I need some of that practical advice. I also should probably listen to Sharon's seminar again. And again and again...

@Susan - Oh, the stubbornness! For us, it's so unpredictable, too! One minute, she's excited to clean up, the next she refuses.

@electriclady - They really are a**holes, aren't they? I know for sure we aren't a real 6 months disequilibrium/6 months equilibrium. My girl honest just spends more time more often in the disequilibrium. I hope your 3.5 is smooth sailing. I hear it can happen!

@Katie - OMG, threenagers! That's such the perfect term! We are constantly wondering how we reached the teenage years already.

@Cloud - It's very true. We are having tantrums over different things, and that's got to be a step up. It's GOT to be! And I do think her strong will and all her other frustrating-in-a-child traits will be wonderful traits in an adult. We just all have to get her to adulthood alive!

@mom2boy - It's got to be better to get these thoughts out in the light, I totally agree. I'm glad I wrote about it. And OMG, so true about "needing" the consistency doesn't mean that they "like" it! I think you're doing great, too!

@Kristina M - Thank you! It's actually nice to hear that you were feeling a bit overwhelmed by her by the end of the day last weekend. It's kind of nice to know that it's not just me (and Londo).

@Charisse - How nice of that guy who also had a 3 yo! Our 2s were rough, but I'm feeling like the 3s are even harder. You described why exactly! And that is an amazing story about the cookies. When you first said they fell out of your pocket, I thought "oh no. That's going to be a terror to deal with!" And although it was rough for her, it sounds like she is learning to deal with disappointment and her emotions! I'm so impressed!

@Lisa F. - EXACTLY! But are you saying the 4s are going to be tough too? Maybe I just need to resign myself to the fact that every year is going to be tough. I just had hoped that some years would be easier than others. I had hoped it would start at 3... I mean 4. :-(

@paola - I know you are going through it with the 3.5 yo! And I appreciate your perspective of having an easy kid for your firstborn. You are right. She is definitely making me stronger/a better parent. But sometimes, I want to be a lazy parent!
Anonymous said…
There are times i've cried to hubby, in all honesty: I don't like my son. I don't like him! He's been a PIA since he was inside me, he was a hard baby, a jerk of a toddler, and a constant strain as a preschooler. I'm tired of fighting, demanding, cajoling, and i can see where my own mom let her youngest son pretty much run rampant: she was old and tired and didnt have the heart for this constant %*(#. There are periods of 4 or more weeks where every day my heart physically hurts, i get anxiety symptoms, just by hearing him call my name. He wakes up bitching, he breaks things and rules left and right all day, then bitches when i put him to bed.. then gets up screaming a couple times a night, then rinse and repeat. I worry his insanity will make him socially undesirable as his peers wont put up with his shit. I cry about all these things... then kiss it to God, pray for strength, and get up and keep going. You learn that the small breaks in the clouds are going ot be your only rewards and learn to covet them. When things are good, be sure to mention that: "Hey!! We had SUCH a good day today, didnt we?? No yelling, no spanking, no time outs.. i love hanging out with you like this!!! I hpe we can be like this tomorrow too!" They take note of that.

The biting is unacceptable, of course. B/c i'm your SIL with all kinds of unsolicited advice: You might want to reconsider a smack on the butt in those cases, especially if you don't do corporal punishment for anything else, just a single smack can make quite an impression. It worked for G and M both but that was like 9 months (G) and 1 year (M). "You hurt me, and you need to know what hurt feels like". it's not too complex an idea for preschoolers to grasp.

M and I (and I) have had a good couple days here this week... and when things are going this well, i actually end up "loving him more" than I.. because like the little girl with the curl, when he's good, he's really, really good.

You can do it, lady!!!!!!!!! start putting a nickel a night in a jar, and when she turns 18, take your well-deserved vacation to whereever! : )
Charisse said…
@caramama, it is a process!! I'd say 2 years ago I would have been very pleased if, in the cookie situation, she had simply kept moving somewhat, screaming her head off or no. But in the 4s, a lot of the screaming became whining; things that were whine-worthy at 3 became "aw, momMY-Y" at 4. Whining is incredibly annoying, but it doesn't jangle your panic nerves the way screaming does, and it's somewhat more amenable to argument, so I feel like it's a step in the right direction, you know? Good luck, you really are an awesome mom!!
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry dearie...that does. not. sound. easy. (This is your childhood friend, by the way.) And I'm going to write the following pretty ungrammatically.

So, I don't know how you handle your day to day interactions but sometimes I wonder about our culture's idea that every emotion is acceptable. And how we're pushed to raise our children in a way which constantly empowers them and strives to create their independence.

I wonder how good it will all turn out in the long run. I feel pretty damn rambly on paper as I haven't actually honed out these ideas I'm having but you should call me sometime.

Maybe there's a different alternative you could try with how you interact with her. An alternative which might also be more compassionate and empowering to yourself.

I've been reading a few child psychology research papers online and it is pretty damn amazing how some parental behavior and examples really doesn't lead to the outcomes we parents think it would logically translate to.

For example, I was reading one study which showed how the more generous a mother was with her child the less generous that child would be with other children. I.E. the mothers example of generosity didn't translate......but i need to read more before you can quote me on that.

Raising a "spirited" child, I wonder how that word got chosen in this culture. Like what does it mean exactly. How would other cultures label a "spirited" child and interact with him or her.

This probably isn't helpful at all as I am merely mulling aloud. But I'm just wondering what alternatives you have for interactions. And no, I'm not referring to spanking (although actually, multiple studies show how spanking can lead to good and more social behavior in some cultures rather than scarring as it does in our white middle class one).

anyways, ramble ramble ramble.

call your childhood friend sometime. summers are off for me.

tlc backwards
Anonymous said…
I'm a newer reader so perhaps you've gone over this before. Have you looked at Out of Sync Child? My 3 year, 3 month old son is all you wrote about and it turns out that at least some of his behavior isn't just his personality but sensory seeking behavior to compensate for being out of kilter with the world. We've started OT. No changes yet but I'm hoping... Just a thought!
Karen said…
I've gathered enough from your writing to know that your daughter is a handful. And from those same posts I know that you're one of those Super Moms who just do what you have to do to deal, and do it gracefully. You're my hero like that.
Melba said…
Coming in late to this one caramama. The other posters all had great things to say about this. My Rosie is a handful, and we have the tantrums, she's determined/stubborn/independent. I don't know if she's easier or harder than your Pumkin, but that doesn't really matter, at least you can find comfort in the fact that there are so many people who have the same frustrations as you and here we all are reading your blog and we GET IT. Its ok. You're doing awesome. This gig is freakin' hard.

@Charisse - your story made me laugh, I had a similar one. In the grocery store lineup, massive tantrum and leg-pulling-nagging-screaming for a box of smarties. Me saying no. Then ignoring the screaming mess of a child at my feet. All the while the guy behind me is giving me a funny look. In my head I'm thinking he's giving me the "please shut your child up" look. I'm at my wits end, about to abandon my cart and drag her away to the car, when I clench my fists, close my eyes, take a deep breath... and when I open my eyes he says "its ok, don't give in." So when you're getting the look from strangers during a tantrum, sometimes it's a look of understanding and support, not annoyance.
Ruta said…
Oh three... Three was awful. I got smug, because my daughter at 2 wasn't so bad - it must have been my awesome parenting ;) - and then 3 came and bit me in the ass. The out-of-left-field tantrums, the not-sleeping, the constant cranky, the nastiness towards me - it was hard, really, really hard, and I often didn't like her (loved her, of course), which made me sad. I have to say that, while 4 can have it moments, 4 is so much better that it is like night and day. Almost there mama!
hush said…
Thank you for telling it like it is! I get it completely and support your efforts to avoid going apeshit on the little lovely. No worries if you do. The best mama IRL I know who no one would ever suspect of anything less than saintly magical rainbows of love for her babes confessed to me that 2.5-4.5 was a total shitshow for her and she almost pulled a Runaway Mom - as in she had an actual escape plan and considered abandoning her family! That's kind of badass, actually.

They are lucky they are cute, right?

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