Oh, how naive we were. Two was a crazy thrill ride of tantrums, emptying her poop-filled diaper on the floor every day during the hot summer while I breastfed her sister, dumping milk sippy cups out on the furniture and other delightful behavior. You'd think that would have prepared me for three, but nothing could have, except maybe the book I just finished reading, now that my daughter is three months shy of turning four.
On a playdate a couple months back, my co-blogger Dana mentioned reading a book called Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy? I immediately laughed at the title and reserved it at the library as soon as I got home. It took me a while to get through it because I found it to be a combination of comforting and depressing.
It's comforting because it completely dispelled all my feelings of "I must be doing something terribly wrong for her to be acting like this." No, I am not doing anything terribly wrong, three-and-a-half-year-olds are, as the book puts it, "very hard to handle." (Italics are the authors', not mine!) Mom is the most important person in the child's life at this age, so that is also who they are at war with. Every daily routine (eating, dressing, etc) becomes a battle. Kids this age are known to play, as the authors put it, "the preschooler's favorite game of "I don't love you." My daughter says this to me daily, when being given a well-deserved time-out, or totally unprovoked. I'll just be sitting there and she'll say, "I don't love you at all, mommy." I always tell her, "That's OK, I love you no matter what," but I'd be lying if I said this didn't hurt.
The authors' main technique for how to handle a three-and-a-half-year-old is one of avoidance. They suggest that you put your child of this age with a capable babysitter as much as possible, because the sitter, being unimportant to them, is going to be able to get them to get dressed, eat and do all the other stuff they need to do without it becoming a fight to the death. As they put it, "Don't feel guilty, or that you are passing the buck, if you leave a substantial amount of your child's care to a sitter, since many at this age do best with someone other than their own mother."
JEEZ! That is just depressing. They have no suggestion for those of us who cannot afford a babysitter very often or who firmly believe that we as mothers are our children's best caregivers, regardless of how hard it is or how much some days suck. What then? Eat chocolate? Have a beer at naptime? Step into the garage and scream profanities for a minute? All of the above?
Thankfully, the last page of the book offers some hope, saying, "And for parents, Four is in most cases an age well worth waiting for." Man, I hope so. Because three months after my oldest daughter turns four, my younger daughter is going to turn two.