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Me Vs. Age Three

2014 April 13
by Becky

Age three.


So far, not my favorite.

Are there good things? Absolutely. Ethan is MUCH more independent, so much so that Stu and I refer to him as “easy” on a regular basis. But that word, “Easy”, is all relative. Does it mean he can wield a fork or spoon on his own? Sure. Clean up his toys after playing? Totally. Get dressed my himself? Yep. Sit in a chair at a table? Yes! Follow directions and know the rules? Completely.

But actually getting him to DO all of these things without a fight is typically a ginormous pain-in-the-butt-make-you-want-to-pull-out-your-hair experience. Quickly culminating in something like this:

ThreeYearTrouble2In this instance, I think I asked him to pick up the cards he threw all over the floor. Huge drama. 

Why does he give us trouble? Because he KNOWS he can make us completely crazy but refusing to do basic day-to-day tasks and loves the power he holds over us while we try to calmly talk him into doing them. I think it’s called “asserting his independence?”

Oh, and also apparently just because he’s three.

Yes, that’s right, I’m writing about how motherhood is making me a little nuts these days. Not something you see often out here on PFP, I like to keep things pretty light and positive. But after having at least three mommy-breakdowns after loooooooooong days with a child who refuses to behave in the most annoying ways, I’m waving a white flag of surrender.

One of those times, when I was exhausted and totally fed-up from one of our worst behavior days to date, the tears just started flowing during bed time…I couldn’t hold them back any longer. Ethan jumped on the bed next to me and laughed. LAUGHED!!!!!! Laughed at me unraveling and questioning every bit of my parenting ability.

It took me leaving the room at least three times—which led to him crying and begging for a book and song (which we couldn’t get to two of the times because he ran around the room or turned his light on and off rapidly while screaming like a little psycho)—after which I had to actually read a book and sing a song which is nearly impossible to do when you are so pissed off you want to scream.

And what book does he pick? The Giving Tree.

Oh the irony. Needless to say, I read through very fast and kept the emotional pauses and sappy tone out…I was in robot mode.

Stu arrived back from a work trip later that night (just in time to miss it all), and I told him the whole story…every detail of our horrendous day (which I now cannot for the life of me remember) because I was still in such shock that it even happened, and the next morning I was STILL mad. Mad that I spend every day thinking of fun stuff to do with this kid, getting him good things to eat, finding him beautiful books to read, pairing him with fun friends to play with, and he is rapidly losing any and all respect for me and our daily routine. It’s like when he doesn’t want to listen, I don’t exist.

Of course I got over it, he crawled into bed and snuggled up and said, “I love you mom”, and I melted. Putty in his hands. I hoped with all my heart that was a fluke day, one that wouldn’t be repeated. And for the most part he was better the rest of the week, still wearing me out with his need to negotiate everything, all the time.

Then our big Saturday began. This Saturday we were booked solid: soccer, the first day of the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market, and an Easter Egg Hunt at the Botanical Gardens. We went out prepared with snacks to get us happily through a very fun morning.

Soccer, surprisingly, went great.


We snacked and walked through the farmer’s market for a few minutes, played at the playground, talked to neighbors, then headed to the easter egg hunt. We were one of the many happy families walking up the ticket booths to claim our reserved tickets, smiling and excited for the Easter fun we were about to experience. And it was a blast.

We went from this:


To a total-disaster-melt-down situation in about five minutes. All over that little piece of candy Ethan’s holding so proudly in his hand.

A Swedish Fish brought our happy family day to an abrupt halt. He’d already had three piece of candy and our agreement, long before arriving at the gardens, was two. He started screaming “I WANT IT! I WANT IT!” right there, in the middle of the serene celebratory mood. In a matter of 30 seconds I tried:

  1. getting down to Ethan’s level to talk about the problem
  2. talking about the feelings he must be having, cave-man style, “You are so angry! You want that piece of candy!”, waiting for that Dr. Karp moment where Ethan gets that we understand his emotions and we have a heartfelt conversation about them, then hug.
  3. throwing out a consequence, “We will throw the candy in the trash if you don’t stop crying!”
  4. letting him cry it out…in the middle of the garden.

Diffusing the situation proved impossible. This all happened in front of dozens of families…most with understanding nods or looks of compassion. One lady called out, “That was us ten minutes ago!” It’s still so totally humiliating.

I don’t have a picture of it, we were so mad and astonished in the moment I couldn’t even begin to think about grabbing my camera (shocker, I know), but Stu picked Ethan up and carried him, kicking and screaming, out the garden gate, past the sweet ladies who checked us, the happy family, in an hour before, and made a bee-line for the car.

No words were said. Eyes straight ahead. Ethan screaming THE ENTIRE TIME.

I realize now we should have just let him cry it out in a less public area. Sure it would have been an insanely embarrassing ten or so minutes but I’m sure he would have stopped. And it sure would have made getting him in the car seat easier.

My sanity after these experiences? Nap time.


To anyone with a three year old who doesn’t nap: May the Force Be With You.

I have no idea what I would do if, after a morning of disobedience and dolling out more patience than my body can handle, I couldn’t count on those 2-3 hours of peace and quiet while our little animal recharges those trouble-making batteries.

Defying someone every 2.4 seconds will really take it out of you, I’m sure.

So I’m now immersed in some long-put-off reading that’s been waiting for me on my trusty Kindle. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, How Toddlers Thrive (thank you Julie for the recommendation), a re-read of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, and possibly 1-2-3 Magic.

I also headed out for some friend-therapy Saturday night and heard so many helpful stories and tips from the Super-moms with whom I’ve surrounded myself. My favorite, on the topic of giving consequences to kids who don’t care about consequences, was from my friend Jackie who said she would make her misbehaving son sit right next to her, holding her hand, for an pre-determined period of time. (I cannot wait to try this with Ethan). The whole night reminded me about the importance of getting out and conversing with adults after spending so much time with your toddler…I left totally revitalized (thank you Amanda).

Even if nothing “fixes” our unruly child, the effort and outside support helps tremendously. Maybe if I can FEEL like I’m on the road to fixing the problem, it will distract me until this “phase” is over. And when he’s good, he’s REALLY good. I almost forget the tough times when he behaves and listens.

I’m sure after reading this Ethan’s grandparents are SUPER excited to visit next weekend.

Common moms, lemme have it. Your favorite book or method, or story about your three year old. 

20 Responses
  1. April 13, 2014

    If you makes you feel any better, we didn’t see your walk of shame on Saturday.

    In general, we’ve found the odd years to be harder than the even years, and the half years leading up to each new age to be the tougher part of the year. Four and a half is our most challenging age yet for the youngest one. (She’s much more strong-willed than her older sister.)

    But yes, three isn’t a lot of fun. That’s why my hat’s off to parents that potty train their kids at three (so give your self some credit there!) – I had been warned and read enough to know that it was going to be a tough age, and my way was no longer going to be their preferred way. I opted for that golden time before two when they both thought I hung the moon and all my ideas were the best ideas ever.

    I personally think you did the right thing by leaving, although I know it wasn’t much fun. I have a very similar story to yours at the garden. Ella really was (and is) an easy going kid, with few exceptions. This was one of them.

    We were in the habit of walking in the garden at least twice a week – and we always went during the early, pre-opening hours between 7-9, before the crowds arrived. That early in the morning, the garden is full of gardeners and power walkers and lots older couples getting some exercise. Kind of like the early morning mall walking types.

    Ella was about 22 months old, and always sat happily in her stroller. She was newly potty trained and knew exactly where all the potties were along our outer loop. She had asked to stop in each one, barely going at all by the time we got to the one in the back of the Japanese garden. She went in, dawdled, came back out, went back in – several times, until finally I’d had enough and I put her in the stroller and ignored her requests. She threw a ridiculous tantrum, so loud and so bad that I carried her and dragged the stroller from the back of that place to the front, out the door (still screaming), into the car (still screaming), into the house (still screaming), where I put her into her father’s arms and said “Take her, she’s yours, and she’s ruined the garden for EVER for me.” And then I’m pretty sure I broke down completely and left the house crying.

    (You wouldn’t believe the looks I got from all those walkers, and the comments too! Oh my, I don’t want to stereotype here, but the older the walker, the nastier they were to me. As if I enjoyed carrying my screaming, kicking child 1.5 miles to the car. Mean people.)

    But (like you) I did all those first steps. Quiet reminders, firm but gentle. Temper tantrums in our house mean you get removed from the situation completely. It’s no fun for anyone, but it rarely, if ever, happens again in the same place.

    They do seem like ungrateful little buggers (or just forgetful – about how fabulous their lives were 5 minutes before you did something completely unreasonable like enforce a two candy rule.) But they will remember a lot of those cool things they did later, and so they aren’t for naught. It’s too bad they have to be little turds when you are in the thick of it.

    That was a pretty busy Saturday though – not jumping ship from Team Becky to Team Ethan, but I don’t think my kids could have handled all that at three. I still think half of Frances’ issues are over-stimulation, even at 4.5. She just needs to chill out and do her own thing without all the rules a lot, and then we’re all happier.

    Hang in there, you’re doing great. It’s totally normal (and healthy) to get annoyed at them. They are growing and learning and getting more independent, and they will drive you nuts in the process – luckily it makes it that much easier to send them happily off to kindergarten. :)

    Sorry for the ramble…
    Kristin recently posted..saturday afternoon in the gardenMy Profile

    • Becky permalink*
      April 14, 2014

      Why is it so nice to know I’m not the only one dragging my child out of the garden? And yes, the older the spectator, the meaner the comments. I got a few of those while battling Ethan in a Panera Bread restroom last week. I realize it must have been a huge shock to him that I’d ask him to go potty after HOURS of not going, but he handled it horribly. And the woman in there with me was awful. Dirty looks, exasperated breathing, muttering…I wanted to scream (while holding my thrashing, kicking child) “THIS IS BOTHERING ME MORE THAN YOU!!!!” People.

      Thank you for the support and kind words, friends are really what get us through these rocky patches…we’d all be screwed if we were completely on our own.

      Always feel free to ramble here…after all I had my Twizzlers to munch while reading this post!

      • April 14, 2014


        Also, I threw my fair share of tantrums this weekend. Healing sucks. And grownups act like children too.

        • Becky permalink*
          April 14, 2014

          You have SO many more reasons to throw tantrums. Your feet are like mini-mummies!!! And you are in pain!! What the heck is a toddler’s excuse?

  2. Breezy permalink
    April 13, 2014

    I read this site and it reminds me that even on my worst day I have it more together than these people. Hang in there sweetie!

    • Becky permalink*
      April 14, 2014

      OMG, I know parents searching the universe for Frozen dolls!!! Apparently Elsa is impossible to find. Hilarious!! Parents are insane!

  3. Linda Johnson permalink
    April 14, 2014

    Grandparent’s to the rescue!! Sounds good to me. I will be there the first weekend in May. I will take Ethan out for walks and help you out so you can get some R&R. Hang in there Becky and Stu.

    • Becky permalink*
      April 14, 2014

      We can’t wait! He’s so excited to see family I’m sure he’ll be on his best behavior…seems he’s like that a lot for anyone other than his parents. :)

      • Anne permalink
        April 14, 2014

        My observation from my 3 nieces/nephew is this: Children are always the worst to their primary caregivers, because they know you will never leave them and still love them and because you are the anchor point around which they define their independence, slowly expanding outward as they age.

        Aunts/Uncles and Grandparents on the other hand is not a sure thing, and therefore more likely to get listened to…

        • April 14, 2014

          Yes, very, very true.
          Kristin recently material inspirationMy Profile

        • Becky permalink*
          April 14, 2014

          You nailed it Anne.

          I actually did leave Ethan (for 8 minutes and I was standing less than five feet away out of his sight-line) last night after he refused to let me unlock the car door, and he was on his best behavior today. Maybe there’s something to these “scare tactics?” :)

        • April 15, 2014

          I have heard the exact same thing and I think you are spot on Anne!
          Jen recently posted..Letter P 3-part cardsMy Profile

  4. April 14, 2014

    Dude, you and I are living very similar three-year-old-bipolar infused lives right now!! You are so not alone and I think it’s helpful to know that b/c in the midst of these insanely dramatic tantrums, it’s hard to imagine anyone else screwing up as badly as you are – when really we are all grasping with the same struggles and not at ALL screwing up.

    I don’t know about you, but for me the hardest part about this latest “phase” is that it is the first one I haven’t been able to figure out in a few days and diffuse. So I feel helpless and also like I am doing it wrong, when really it is just the age and it needs to just run its course. So hard to let it pass and in the meantime not be shaken to your mothering core.

    My least favorite is Henry hitting or throwing something and then when I go through ALL the exact same steps as you (god love that Harvey Karp!) he just laughs at me and says, “I’m so funny!” All I can think is, “This must be how psychopaths start!!” But I’ve been reassured by many it’s normal….

    I would recommend this book called Parent Effectiveness Training – weird title, but has some good points about how to respond to issues and differentiating between Child problems (“I want that toy”) vs Parent problems (“I don’t like it when you hit me”). Interesting perspective and really makes sense.

    I can’t wait till 4….
    Jen recently posted..Letter P 3-part cardsMy Profile

  5. April 14, 2014

    PS thank you for writing this – I’ve been having a particularly rough week with Henry and his tantrums and travelling (to the point of wanting to cancel a vacation a day after it started) and just hearing another mom be in the exact same spot makes the crazy feel a little less crazy. Thanks!!
    Jen recently posted..Letter P 3-part cardsMy Profile

    • Becky permalink*
      April 14, 2014

      I’m so glad I helped you in a small way, your Instagrams always cheer me up too. I told another friend about this mornings porch pic (waiting for Henry to get dressed to see Mickey) and she told me a friend of hers left their Disney vacation early because of their three year old’s behavior. You aren’t alone!!! Henry’s a lucky guy to have a mom like you.

      Hope the vacation is…um…bearable? :)

      And I’ll be checking out that book, thank you!! Here’s to 4!

      PS: Is this behavior making you rethink home-preschooling? Those mornings away make for some nice mood-boosters.

      • April 15, 2014

        Ha! Glad I am not the only one who wants to leave the most magical place on earth because of a crazy toddler!! It is getting better as he gets settled in – though today as sweat was pouring off of him, he asked to wear a jacket and I thought yep, he’s an 89 year old man at heart and I just can’t change it….I must surrender.

        Re preschool: Henry goes to a Montessori school now 3 days week for 2.5 hrs/day, and I think it has been wonderful for his socializing and learning social graces. Next year for official preschool he will actually go 5 days/week b/c the school we fell in love with (another Montessori one back in Portland where we are moving in the fall) only does 5 days. I know I am going to miss him those AMs but I think it will be great for just these things, and I will be able to recharge!! What are you doing with Ethan next year do you think?
        Jen recently posted..Letter P 3-part cardsMy Profile

        • Becky permalink*
          April 15, 2014

          Isn’t preschool the BOMB? You did a great job at home though, kudos to you. :) And yay for moving to Portland!!

  6. Mary permalink
    April 14, 2014

    Ethan with the soccer ball picture is absolutely adorable. I stared at it for a minute solid with a giant smile across my face, wondering what he was thinking. He is TOTALLY into it!

    With respect to everything else, you are not alone, sister. Far from it – mommy melt-downs and parenting self-doubt included

    …when they’re good, they’re very, very good. When they’re bad, they’re horrid…

    hang in there. my mom says that it only gets better :-) xxoo

    • Becky permalink*
      April 14, 2014

      Your mom would know Mary!!! Does it even seem possible that our two precious munchkins, the ones so sweetly running around the playground together last night, can ever drive us completely insane with frustration?

      And yes, he was WAY into soccer (for about 25 minutes). I was totally shocked, since the week before he refused to play at all.

      As long as we stick together, we will make it!

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