The (so-called) ‘Terrible Twos’

They warn us about them. And for good reason.

People warned me about them. They said that it would be inevitable, that a switch would turn on inside my tiny person, causing them to be troublesome and mischievous and wild and full of tantrums. On his second birthday, his sisters declared that he had now reached his terrible twos and would become demon-child overnight.

The dad and I disagreed. We are attachment-parenting, gentle-loving, hippie parents who babywear and breastfeed and eat organic and try to negotiate and converse with our tiny person, allowing him to make his own choices and develop a sense of his own self. We wander the outdoors and encourage the tiny person to make “stick soup”, gathering twigs and lupins and rocks for his creation. Occasionally we have moments where we swear under our breath in frustration—our level of patience certainly doesn’t always match our tiny person’s level of patience, or need for it. We have moments where we can’t understand his language capacity and words, and frustration abounds for us all as we try to make sense of his desires.

But on the whole, we had assumed that the age of two, like any other age our children are at, would be filled with varying stages of development, and we would do our best to navigate through it all in our own gentle parenting style.

We would handle it the way we do the growth spurts, the midnight feedings, the lack of sleep, the teething. We would handle it as we do with our older children — with love and understanding and compassion. And like all stages of development, how long could it last? How hard could it be?

And then…

Our little person continued being his lovely, compassionate, wonderful self and we continued to marvel at how easy he was. And then, a few weeks ago, at around the half year mark of his second year, he began to try new things. New limits. Testing new boundaries. Testing himself, and testing us, as his parents.

When our little person wants something, he wants it immediately. I have learned quickly that there is no point in negotiating with him, no point in reasoning with him or trying to converse. There is not a lot of success in offering different choices either, or in laying out consequences. He wants what he wants and he wants it now.

His growing brain is not capable of thinking of anything else besides the single task or object or desire that he has suddenly fixated on. As a parent, it’s frustrating: “Don’t step in the puddle with your socks, you’re going to get soaked.”

“Ok mommy, I won’t”…. he says, as he slowly steps through the puddle.

Cue tears, and screaming, because little person doesn’t like having wet socks. Get clean dry clothes, go back outside…and repeat. Holy sanity! (Where did that go again?)

 He is developing a sense of agency, free will, and self-awareness. He is beginning to test boundaries and limits.

A similar scene played out recently in Canadian Tire. We took him in with great trepidation as our last excursion had us leaving with tiny person screaming and flailing in the store because he wanted the motorized ride-on cars and trucks that the store decided to put on display as soon as you walk in. But here we were again, back at the store on a small errand. And two minutes into our store visit, he had escaped me, screaming about a cart he wanted, running back through the entrance gate only to set off the store alarm.

Again, there was no ability to negotiate with him, or reason with him prior to it all happening. It was futile. And so, frustration ensued, tears were had, and I won’t be taking him into a big store any time in the near future.

All of this, amazingly, is an important part of his development as a person. And it’s this fact that I keep reminding myself of. He is developing a sense of agency, free will, and self-awareness. He is beginning to test boundaries and limits. This is demonstrated when he suddenly began to tell me he wants to do everything “self”. Or, when he starts slowly walking away from me on the farm we live on, saying, “I going away now mommy… I going to play on farm… not with you…. just with me…”

He has no fear, no trepidation about being lost, and is set on testing these limits.

This stage—beyond the frustration—is absolutely terrifying. His independence knows no bounds or worries. And as his parents, it’s our most important job to keep him safe while helping him to develop this sense of agency in a way that doesn’t put him down or constrain his spirit. How hard that is sometimes.

 As his parents, it’s our most important job to keep him safe while helping him to develop this sense of agency in a way that doesn’t put him down or constrain his spirit.

There are so many times that I begin to lash out in frustration that he won’t listen, that he has dumped my coffee all over the table, that he is throwing wooden blocks at the window just to see what happens (“Don’t break the window!”) — and mommy loses it. It is so hard to be a gentle, hippie parent at this stage. And yet, it is still so very important to help his amazing, independent and adventurous spirit grow and flourish.

There is no escaping the moments of frustration; he catches me in my weakness every time. Harsh words, whispered expletives from myself or his dad — it all comes back to haunt us. Most recently he has taken to mimicking my frustration, as he stomps around the house, slamming doors and yelling “Fine! FINE! Fine! FINE!!!”

And so we try to explain to him about anger, about frustration and sadness and patience. So that as he mimics, as he stomps and storms, and as he cries about our not allowing a specific behavior, he is able to say, “I angry. I mad. I fustated!”

We try to turn our own frustration at this new stage into something more positive.

He is amazing to watch. Frustrating, yes. Exhausting, absolutely. But on so many levels, it is an amazing thing to watch a person’s sense of agency develop. To be able to watch their independence bloom.

It’s a privilege really. If we all manage to survive it.

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