I’m at the grocery store with my two-year-old daughter. She is joyfully helping me pick out fruits and vegetables. “What a little helper!” an elderly woman says next to us. “She must not be in those terrible twos yet, huh?” I cringe and clinch my jaw, smiling politely.
We continue shopping, passing by an end aisle of bright and sparkle colored kid straws. “Mommy, that!” my daughter shouts out in excitement. “We already have enough of those at home,” I explain. She starts to cry and yet again another woman passing by remarks, “Those terrible twos are the worst, right?!” I chuckle uncomfortably.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I have had encounters like this. Honestly, I see the good intentions. Maybe these strangers are just trying to comfort young mothers, letting them know they are not alone and that things can and will get better. But we need to ask ourselves, is it true? Are young children really so bad that we need to label them terrible twos?
I am not saying that raising toddlers is easy, on the contrary it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I myself get frustrated at all that comes with it, but I will not let that be the filter for how I see my child or anyone else’s! They deserve more than that.
In The Emotional Life of the Toddler, child-psychology and psychotherapy expert Alicia F. Lieberman says:
“If adults experienced and enacted the full range of feelings available to an average toddler in the course of a day, they would collapse from emotional exhaustion.”
Life is hard. For all of us. Period. There are many things every day that can cause us, as adults, to become frustrated, angry, controlling, impatient, hurt or distant; to feel unloved, unwanted, unseen, or unheard. And we may think we deal with these things better than a two-year-old, but I’m not quite sure about that.
As adults, we have had years to learn how to cope with our emotions and feelings, but we haven’t always learned the right way to deal with them. I myself go to food when I’m sad and movies when I’m stressed; I cuss when I’m irritated, blow up when I’m overwhelmed, and seek control and use manipulation when I’m impatient or frustrated or hurt.
We may be good at covering our issues and pretending things don’t bother us. We may be good at hiding our feelings and not saying what’s on our minds. But just because we don’t wear every emotion on our sleeve like a child, doesn’t mean we don’t throw tantrums in our own ways.
I would dare to say that adults can throw more tantrums than the average two-year-old.
From my experience, young children have a way of revealing the tantrums that I myself throw every day.
I throw a fit when I am inefficient
I have a max of ten minutes before my infant son wakes up. I want to make the most of it by multitasking. I can bake snacks, start lunch in the instant pot, get the laundry out of the dryer and probably fold everything by the time the snack comes out of the oven. The sound of a chair being pushed across the floor interrupts my thoughts. My 2-year-old is coming to “help”.
She wants to put the broccoli into the steamer as I cut it, resulting in half of it falling on the floor and needing to be rewashed. She wants to mix the ingredients for the granola bars, causing a flour explosion and ending with a third of the mix on the counter and floor.
I go to the laundry room to get a towel and come back to a crazy combination of spices thrown all over the place. The snack is ruined, lunch is not ready, and the kitchen, along with my daughter, are a mess. And then I hear my son cry.
Yes, I threw a tantrum. It just wasn’t one that involved lying on the floor kicking and screaming. Although that would have been nice.
I throw a fit when I’m going to be late
Only 10 minutes remain before we are supposed to be at aparty. My daughter is trying to change her own clothes because she drew on them with markers. She won’t let me help, because she is a big girl and can do it herself. I leave her to get ready so that I can get my 1 year old ready.
I go to check on my daughter and she has laid out all her shirts and shorts in a line so that she can see them all before picking one. I tell her to just pick one. She says she has to think about it more. I grab a shirt and shorts and dress her myself. She is not happy.
I get my son in his car seat as my daughter grabs shoes. Again, she wants to put them on herself which of course she can do, but now there are only 4 minutes before we are counted as late. I can’t take it anymore. I put shoes on her as she screams. I carry her to the car and strap her in her car seat, again not letting her do it herself. I start the car and drive off with crying kids in the back seat and then realize I forgot the diaper bag.
Oh the tantrums I have thrown in the name of being on time.
I throw a fit when I don’t get my “expected” time alone
It’s 6:30 pm and time for the bedtime routine. Bath-time, PJ's, brush teeth, storytime, night light, cuddle time, bedtime. All going as planned. By 7:15 I should be free to do as I wish.
But 7:15 comes and goes as my hyper daughter asks yet again for another story…and another…and another. I stick to the routine and tell her there are no more stories for tonight. She just has to go to sleep now.
As 8 pm approaches, it is time for me to throw a tantrum. All the free time I fantasized about having is disappearing and I am not happy. I get mad. I forget love. I throw a fit.
Once she is finally asleep, I am done, exhausted, ready to sleep myself, never getting that precious time alone I so desired and longed for throughout the whole day.
Raising toddlers in not easy, but it is not because they are terrible. Maybe just as we have things to teach them, they also have things to teach us.
Maybe we have called toddlers terrible twos because they challenge us.
Children challenge our control, our neatness, our schedules, our priorities, and our baggage. But just as they are learning, so are we.
I probably throw a tantrum every day. I can blame this on my children being terrible twos. I can say it is their fault for not moving fast enough, for being too needy, for not letting me help them, or for not listening to what I say.
But the truth is, it is not a fault to desire to be seen and heard and loved. It is not a fault to practice doing things yourself. It is not a fault to want to help out. It is not a fault to be overwhelmed by life.
My tantrums get in the way of my children growing and learning in love.
Even when my daughter screams, “No” she is finding her own voice. And I want that for her. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that emotions are terrible or that she is terrible. But I do want to help her work through them, and that also means learning to work through my own emotions too.
Parenting takes humility. My kids are not the only ones learning. I have much to learn still. There is always room for some extra love and grace and understanding.
Hopefully, this thing called parenting will help us all learn to be better humans. And maybe someday I will stop throwing more tantrums than my toddler does.
Breanna Lowman 2020