Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
May 14, 2012

The past few weeks with Charlotte have been particularly difficult.

As a general whole, I do not believe in writing about hard days with Charlotte.  It makes me uncomfortable.  If my daughter reads this blog at age 16 and ever, even for a second, doubts that we love her beyond all measure or is offended by something I wrote about our relationship with her, then I guarantee that this website was a monumental waste of time and energy.

At the same time, however, it is important to me that this blog remain an honest representation of my experiences as a parent.  So when I think about the last few weeks, I simply do not know what to say.

Fun at the pirate park!  (When did she get so big?!)

I have been turning this new developmental phase over in my head and what I have come up with is this: Charlotte is showing us in age-appropriate ways (for example, she might scream loudly in protest or ignore my requests when they infringe upon an area of her life over which she greatly desires control, or she might burst into tears when she has difficulty finding the words to verbally communicate her emotions) that some of her needs are not being met.

She is not rebelling.  She is not testing her limits.  And I patently refuse to call behavior that is normal for a two-year-old (if perhaps inconvenient for me) “terrible.”  I have been explaining it to people by saying that I believe she wants more control over the day-to-day aspects of her life, but I think that a second truth to the matter that is immensely more difficult to handle is that as much as she may want more independence, she also NEEDS more consistency in our family life, more responsibility within our family customs and more stability in our daily routine.

Donald and I do not spank or use time-out.  We also try to keep bribes, threats, reverse psychology, and guilt trips to a minimum.  Nine times out of ten when we are dealing with a behavior that we want to “fix,” we handle it by talking to Charlotte.  Just talking.  If the talk is serious, we hold her in our arms or hold her hands in ours and make eye contact and discuss what behavior we would like to see, why we would prefer this behavior to other behaviors, and what her options are going forward.  We call it “time in.”  In minor cases, such as refusing to relinquish a toy at someone’s house, we might also divert her attention - although this is an increasingly ineffective tactic as she reaches an age where she’s capable of seeing right through our bullshit.

The time-in tactic almost always works for us.  And when it doesn’t, then we try again.  In extreme cases, we handle behavioral problems by isolating Charlotte and ourselves from a situation together for several minutes.  Then we find another activity to engage in and discuss what happened while we work together on that.  Gentle discipline is very important to us and it is not an area that we are willing to compromise at this point because we still feel that it is working for us.

Still, here we are.  Charlotte and Donald and I are all exhausted by the frustration, the disappointment, the miscommunication.  This is the first time in Charlotte’s life that we have not kept up with her need for more independence.  We both believe that this is how parenthood is supposed to go.  Over a period of approximately two decades, we will sometimes hand her power and she will sometimes demand it, and over time she will gradually come to run her life on her own.  The challenge is to find the balance: what is she ready for?  What is she not?  Where are we willing to compromise?  Where are we not?

I honestly believe that our struggle to find the best way to deal with this new development is in large part the result of our pregnancy.  Simply put, I don’t feel great right now.  I have less patience and less energy and this has enormously impacted the quality of care-taking that Charlotte receives on a day-to-day basis.  These are the days in Charlotte’s life when we begin to give her the tools to handle problems that will arise in her future with confidence, maturity, and thoughtfulness - and when I’m not feeling 100%, I have a hard time modelling positive ways for her to develop those skills.  I want to scream “PUT YOUR TOYS AWAY AND THIS WON’T HAPPEN!“ or “DAMN IT, STOP CRYING!“ instead of sitting down and empathizing with her when she steps on a Lego - and although I keep trying to stick to what Donald and I believe in, I’m sure that my daughter picks up on it.  Children are more perceptive than we give them credit for, I think.  There is no doubt in my mind that Charlotte knows when I feel impatient or angry and I think this only fuels her frustration and this is reflected in her behavior.  That behavior may be age-appropriate, but when it isn’t the sort of behavior we want (i.e. whacking a kid on the head with a stick because she’s angry), it becomes apparent that this is a difficult cycle to break.

Donald and I both have confidence that our family will come out of this with flying colors.  Even on the roughest days, we provide Charlotte with the very best that we can give her: our unyielding, unconditional love.  We try to be consistent.  We try to be patient.  We try to find an appropriate balance between standing firm and giving in.  We try to be positive role models.  At the end of the day, if our daughter comes out of this and says “I always knew I was the center of my parents’ world,“ then where we have failed in the rest of it is small fish.  But even with the optimisim that we will triumph through this phase and that the foundation we are laying is solid, right now I still feel a little defeated that this is going on at all.

A little defeated and a lot fatigued.

** Charlotte is two years and nine months old.  I am fifteen weeks pregnant.

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  1. By on May 14, 2012


    I think it’s important for you to document the more challenging parts of motherhood too since that will help your daughter realize that parenting is no cakewalk. While I love being a mother, I never realized how hard it would be and people don’t really talk about that. I am always asking my own mother about the challenges she faced as a mother of me because they help me relate to the situations I am facing with my daughter. Also, thanks for keeping it real for all the mom’s out there reading this. I understand your need to keep this blog positive, but sometimes it’s just good to know that everyone struggles at times (in between all that wonderfulness!).

    Also, this is is just a stage, so hang in there, it will pass!

  2. By Megan R. on May 14, 2012

    The behavior aspect of this age is so difficult.  There are a lot of “moments” during the week that we have some sort of issue to deal with.  Sometimes, it is literally as if someone stood there and flipped a switch and my daughter turns from a happy go lucky kiddo to a screaming tantrum throwing stranger.  That is the hardest part to deal with.  I have learned (through much frustrating and exhausting trial and error) that the most effective measure to take in our house is to mostly “ignore” (as long as no one is being harmed) and to continue to ask for an apology and calm talk in order for her to get whatever she might want or need.  It doesn’t always work, and it often ends up being a half hour of off and on crying / screaming / pouting…but it always ends just like a flip of a switch, too. 

    I think we all “like” to hear about these parenting difficulties because we ALL face them. 

    My biggest worry at this point, though, is that “all” of my friends have said that the age of three is even more difficult.  The reward?  They eventually turn four.  ha!

  3. By on May 14, 2012

    I can pretty much say “yup, uh huh, I know” to everything to wrote above. That sounds almost exactly like my son a year ago, when I was in the beginning of my second pregnancy. I told people over and over it wasn’t Jude, it was me, my inability to be as patient as he was used to, my desire to just sit and relax. We also don’t do hitting or time outs, so patience is key. As you said though, you’ll pull through and it’ll be fine. I have no advice for this stage, but if your child is a monster when your second child comes home, I might have a bit more advice for you… Lol

  4. By on May 14, 2012

    Also: a pirate ship playground? Awesome.

    And: I’ve been planting in my garden this weekend and the Mary, Mary nursery rhym has been in my head… So, it was funny to see your title.

  5. By on May 14, 2012

    In my very little experience raising a fairly calm boy is that all developmental phases (be it physical, emotional or cognitive) will happen whether we like it or not, and all we can do is ride it through. Of course we can make things worse by the way we react, but we can be doing everything right and it won’t change the fact that this little person needs to work something out and during that time they are difficult to deal with.

    What I find puts things into perspective is when I try to put myself in his shoes. What if I was in a bad mood, for whatever reason? What could someone do to get me out of my funk? Honestly, just be there and ride it out with me.

    Oh, and I agree with Kristin. I think sharing some of the difficult times is good for Mommy and even child (who will read it later). She’ll learn to appreciate how much time and effort you put into dealing with all sorts of situations that, let’s face it, all kids go through, not matter how angelic they are.

  6. By Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas on May 14, 2012

    Oh, those times are just exhausting, aren’t they? Right after our second was born, our three-year-old hit his hardest phase yet and on numerous occasions, by the time my husband got home I was in tears from the fatigue and dealing with meltdown after meltdown and behavior of our firstborn. Behaviors like intentionally waking up the baby when I FINALLY got her down for a nap or doing something dangerous while I was nursing so that I would stop and give him attention were especially difficult because they were affecting the newborns ability to get the sleep and mama milk she needed. All I can say is: this too shall pass. For the past year and a half these times have come and gone and come and gone again several times. It is so hard when you are pregnant, though, and so much energy is focused on growing baby.

  7. By Sarah Christensen on May 14, 2012

    Alicia K - Isn’t it awesome?  This is the small pirate park near us, but there are two larger pirate parks farther away too.  It’s amazing!  We’re also hoping to check out a park today that has an American Revolution theme - boats, cannons, etc.  I’m kind of interested to see what it’s like.

    But I’m also getting my blood drawn today and I’m notoriously horrible about that, so I might go home and crash instead and wait until tomorrow for the park excitement lol.  We’ll see.  I’m a total wuss about blood stuff.

  8. By on May 14, 2012

    I echo everything that’s already been said here.  My son is 2.5 and has developed some independence seeking behaviors that make me want to rip my head out.  Top that with pregnancy (6 months this week) and it’s grueling.  However, I do very very much agree that it’s important to document your challenges as well as your raves.  I don’t think Charlotte will condemn you for it but rather see it as her mom being real, expressing what’s hard and all that she and her father did/do to work through it.  Many would just push their kid in a room, scream and call it a day.

    I think it also behooves your readership to be able to see themselves in you and your relationship with your child. Not every day is sunshine and roses and beauty and frankly, there are many days lately where bedtime is a very welcomed time in our house.

    Like everything, this is a stage and I try to breathe through it.  Find empathy where I can and forgive him and myself for behavior that might not be acceptable nor appropriate.  Most importantly, I try to end it all with a hug and a kiss as best I can.

  9. By on May 14, 2012

    Happy Mother’s Day Sarah!  She’s getting a taste of REAL LIFE right now, and you are both there to support her through difficulties.  You are doing it now at 2.5, and you’ll do it when she’s 8, 18, and 48.  You are AWESOME parents…I am 100% confidant that Charlotte will always know how loved and adored she is.

  10. By on May 14, 2012

    Thank you for sharing.  I appreciate your honesty and your desire to stick with your chosen methods of discipline.  I hope to do something similar with my own kids (number one is on the way!).

  11. By on May 14, 2012

    2 seemed easier in that we could stop most tantrums by doing something random, like turning on the radio and dancing like a fool, or picking up a book and wisper reading it until she was interested and calmed down to read it. Right now we’re having a hard time with 3. She has learned our tricks and they do not work anymore.

  12. By Christy on May 14, 2012

    I found that when my daughter was a few months shy of three the shit hit the fan. She started to have tantrums and started acting out in ways that were totally new to us.  We did our best to deal with it, but I’m sure there were more then a day or two that I ended up feeling like the worst mother out there.  Anyway a month or so after she turned three we turned a corner and she still has her ‘I’m so big and independent that screw you and your weak rules’ moments, but overall she’s a much more level headed kiddo. I’ve heard from a lot of other Mom’s that this same thing happened to them. 

    I’m sure being pregnant and not feeling great isn’t helping, but you are awesome parents and will work it out.

  13. By on May 14, 2012

    I like that you do talk about hard days, but in just the way you did it. I respected you already, but it grew a little more today :)

    Uggh, we are going through the EXACT same thing. Saturday was a BAD BAD day. Since I am 10 weeks pregnant ( yay!!), I am exhausted and sick all day every day. You said it perfectly when you wrote this

    “We try to find an appropriate balance between standing firm and giving in. “

    That’s it for us. We know that he needs to grow and learn on his own, so we try to give in a little more then we used to.

  14. By Sarah S on May 14, 2012

    Hang in there! This can be a hard age and I have found (for me at least) that there is a direct correlation between how I am doing (tired/migraine/etc.) and the quality of my parenting. Some days it’s hard. There were days when I had a 1 year old and a 2.5 year old that I just had to throw my hands up at the sky and say “this is the best I got and I HOPE in the long run it’s good enough”.

    Just like no newborn makes it through the first three months without crying despite having the most crazy involved parents they can, I don’t think any 2-3 year old makes it through those years without “challenging” days. It’s just not the way it’s supposed to be. Parenting is a constant dance of give and take and learning.

  15. By on May 14, 2012

    I think it is good to share the challenging days, not just the easy or joyous ones. It’s normal! And while Charlotte-the-teenager might roll her eyes, Charlotte-the-mother will read your words and feel comforted that she’s not the only one who struggles through some days. And you will look back in 40 years and have the gift of a whole picture of these years that pass very quickly.

  16. By jessica claire on May 14, 2012

    Hey Sarah!  You know I’m a faithful reader but pretty much non-commenter most of the time, but I have to say, that you are doing a wonderful job with Charlotte.  You and I have different views on child-rearing in some respects, but I strongly admire your refusal to compromise your standards in what you will and won’t do as a parent.

    I do not give advice on subjects I know nothing about, but I do know this—if there is a moment where your parenting is less than you’d call ideal, just remember, while you may remember it, at this point, she won’t :)  All she has right now is an overall sense of you as a mom, and if once in awhile you tell her to just pick up the legos…I’m sure you’ll be forgiven :)

  17. By on May 15, 2012

    That age can be very difficult some days and like you, I believe a lot of it depends on my mood. And now in place of tantrums is usually attitude I had only thought teenagers were capable of. Either way, days can be difficult but it is all their way of working out the world.

    And I love that park! We’ll be there Friday! What other pirate parks are you talking about? Is Heritage Park the one you mentioned with the boats/cannons/etc?

  18. By Sarah Christensen on May 15, 2012

    Jeneva - Yep!  In Cerritos, I think?  We didn’t make it yesterday, though, so hopefully sometime soon.  Have you ever been?  I keep hearing it’s great, but we’ve never been.  It sounds like something Donald would like =)

    Have you ever checked out the pirate park near the Rosebowl?  I think that’s our favorite one.  I love that it has a year-round water feature and sand.  Charlotte spends hours just mixing the two =)  Have fun on Friday!  It’s a little gem of a park!

  19. By Sarah Christensen on May 17, 2012

    As a follow-up, I took Charlotte to Heritage Park yesterday and it was admittedly not as kick-ass awesome as I thought it was going to be…but I’ll probably take her again here and there just to change things up a bit.

  20. By Camille on May 21, 2012

    I read this article about how toddlers are developing their emotions and just don’t have the tools to process their feelings. It really helps to remind myself of this when my daughter is getting “terrible.“ And just remembering that in the scheme of things, the bad parts will be laughed at later, if remembered at all. :)





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