This post was originally published on my PhDadBlog.
I’ve never liked the terms “Terrible Twos” or “Terrible Threes.” They feel too much like catch-all labels for a certain timeframe when a lot of parents seem to go through some similar-ish struggles with their kids. It makes it too tempting to just throw the label on one or more years of a child’s life as a thing that just happens – that you have no choice but to deal with – until it works itself out. I’m here to suggest a new label, not nearly as fun to say or as easily marketable: “the Terrible Transitions.” Bear with me here.
In my experience, parenting goes through phases. At times everything seems to be going well. You respond to your child’s needs and concerns in positive ways, they respond back in equally positive ways, and everyone’s getting along just fine. Then suddenly something happens and you just can’t get anything right in your parenting. There are tantrums, sighs, threats, punishments, tears…and we’re just talking about the parents here. None of your answers to your child’s questions or requests are deemed acceptable and there’s a sudden surge in behavioral problems. To make matters worse, none of your tried-and-true methods of pacification are doing the trick. This can go on for days, weeks, months. It’s hard to keep an accurate track of time during the terrible transitions because all that negative energy creates a rift in the space-time continuum that makes every second feel like a minor eternity. It’s a nightmare. It sucks all the life out of you. A dark cloud that follows you everywhere. I can’t be alone in this.
Anyway, once we gather enough energy from all the soul-sucking and truly take the time to reflect on and consult about the situation as parents, we always come to the same conclusion: our child’s needs are in a state of transition, and all the smart little parenting tricks, methods, and approaches we’ve been using up to this point are no longer relevant. His reality and corresponding needs have changed and we need to catch up. Fast. This requires patience, perseverance, flexibility, a lot of trial-and-error, and detachment. It seems like whenever these moments of transition come up, they usually have to do with the child gaining a little more independence and the parent struggling to let go of just a little bit more of the control they’ve had up to this point. But resistance is futile. We must adapt. Try new approaches, reflect on their pros and cons, develop even newer approaches, and repeat, repeat, repeat until you hit that collective family sweet spot again.
At least until the next Terrible Transition shows up.
We’ve gone through several of these with the soon-to-be-8YO, and I think the transition from 5/6 to 7/8 has been the toughest for me so far. It felt like one of the bigger developmental shifts in the kid’s life, from a baby/small child to a still young but slightly older child. I think you know what I mean. None of the babyish games work anymore, and my lame jokes now get – at best – a good-humored knowing groan or – at worst – a frustrated eye-roll. He’s getting bigger. And he really doesn’t need my help with as many things. Not as many things as he’d like to think, but definitely more things than just a few months prior. I finally got over those terrible transitions – which felt like they lasted for months – a few weeks ago and it’s been smooth sailing so far.
I think approaching a lot of parenting issues – such as a surge in behavioral issues – from the point of view of “what can I do differently as a parent?” instead of “what is wrong with my child?” makes a big difference in how I parent. At least when I remember to be conscious of it. And that’s the real struggle. That and making sure love is always at the forefront. I’m sure I’ll write more about this in the future.
What do you think, parents? Have you had any similar experiences? Agree? Disagree? Should I trademark “Terrible Transitions?” Or maybe the “Transitional Twos” and “Transitional Threes?” Sound out below.