Being the father of two girls, ages three and five, I have successfully made it through the first few phases of fatherhood. People have always talked about the "terrible two's". It really makes me wonder if those people are blocking out the third year for their own sanity. I recently heard someone refer to that third year as the "trying three's". I don't believe that title quite does it justice. I had a lot of expectations for each of the phases of my girls' childhood. Most of them played out as expected, but the third year for my younger daughter is proving to crush those expectations. Don't get me wrong. I love both of my daughters dearly and even realize the reasons behind everything that is happening. I am merely stating that I think we need to come up with a better "warning label" description for year three to make sure parents don't inadvertently let down their guard once their child has their third birthday.
Almost six years ago, I read books, viewed websites, and even watched a movie about what to expect for new parents. I particularly remember the movie. It was called something like "the period of purple crying". It was an effort by the county and/or some medical agency to prevent babies from being injured by their parents due to shaking a baby that won't stop crying. It basically explained how a baby can cry so loud, and for so long, that you may unintentionally shake your baby in a fit of passion just trying to get them to stop crying. The video itself showed babies crying louder and harder than I had ever seen and proved to be quite terrifying. The plus side to having watched that video, once I had refilled my blood pressure medication, was that reality didn't prove to be anywhere near that bad. I realize that no two babies are the same, so I can't speak for everyone. I also know that I have the ability to sleep through almost anything, so my wife may have a different opinion about how much our girls cried. In the end though, I made it through that 0-24 month phase unharmed.
The terrible two's really didn't bother me too much either. After having spent the previous two years waiting for my girls to roll over, sit up, walk, talk, etc., I quickly realized that it might have been better to let that training go a little longer. At two years old they don't stop talking and they're always on the move. The relentless questions may have tried my patience, but I saw it for the learning experience that it was. Constantly being on the move and getting into everything under the sun may have kept me on my toes, but I saw it for the exploration and discovery experience that it was. I will admit that the talking back and temper tantrum skills were being practiced during year two, but I can see now that the refining and improving of the true, full-blown, tear out your hair tantrums was done during year three. They began their steps towards independence during this second year, but they wait until year three to really test the limits of their independence.
I am not a doctor, but just by watching my daughters, I believe there is a huge jump in mental abilities during that shift from two to three years old. Add to that the fact that my younger daughter has a big sister as a mentor. (That's proven to be both good and bad.) The three year old, now feeling independent, full of knowledge, and having a completed recon of their boundaries completed, make their first full assault. It starts out as an innocent test battle, knowing that they can still (possibly) flash their eyes and make a cute pouty face (melting dad's heart) and avoid any real punishment. In my current situation, my five year old has provided an effective boot camp for my three year old, given her a battle plan, and is standing ready to flank us if/when her little sister needs the support. She has also been toughened up by her big sister because they are at war with each other almost as much as they are getting along. My three year old knows my plan of defense and typical counter attacks. She often knows which step will be taken next. If she has the warning of losing a toy if she acts up, she will act up and then have the toy ready to hand over when I arrive to take it. She has proven to be a tough little cookie in this game. Fortunately, I am still capable of thinking a few steps ahead of a three year old (most of the time). Someone told us that a "strong-willed" child often grows up to be a great leader. I'm not sure if that's true, but she's definitely following basic guerrilla attack plans. Plan. Attack. Retreat. Repeat. Maybe I should teach her how to create a five paragraph order for her mission plan so she's doing everything by standard operating procedures??
At the end of the day, I just need to remind myself how smart my daughters are and that maybe this just means that they will be great leaders one day. Until then, I will just continue to attempt to harness their abilities and turn them towards something more productive. As I don't see that happening overnight, I will spend a little time thinking of a more appropriate name for the three year old to better warn others not to drop their guard after the terrible two's. Feel free to offer suggestions. Until next time....