During the good old days of having an eighteen-month-old, I remember hearing other moms talk about the tantrums of their two and three-year-olds. These were moms I really admired and I know how kids can be, so I never judged them. But I did think my child would have significantly fewer tantrums. I mean, we were so in tune! We had made our home and life child-friendly so we weren’t constantly saying “no.” We were preemptively preventing tantrums! I figured his tantrums—if they even came—would be so much less intense. I would rise to meet the challenge with patience, and because of this, a tantrum would never escalate.
I laugh at that now. I had no idea how opinionated (and loud!) a little person could become. I have now experienced intense shrieking in public, thirty or more minutes of standing in one place and screaming at home (despite what I do), and the overwhelming exhaustion at the thought of another day when tantrums start as soon as he wakes up. I’ve found myself crying in the middle of another of his tantrums, gone many places for advice, and felt totally incompetent as his mother.
I’ve said before that though Liam isn’t the type of child I was (according to my mom I was pleasant, easy-going and a good sleeper), he tends to embody how I really am. I don’t often show that side to the world, but I, too, am intense about things. I feel things deeply and become easily frustrated. I sometimes feel that Liam embodies the teenage me or the real me.
This season of life has been really hard with Liam and with myself. Some days are wonderful. Some days are awful. I often miss having unlimited time with just Liam, but then other times, I have a hard time being around him. I feel guilty but also exhausted.
There’s not really an end in sight, but I’m finding strategies. I finally read Raising Your Spirited Child, and as much as I don’t like saying, “My child is just really intense/spirited/demanding” everything I read fit with my son. A lot of it was encouraging (like realizing that we subconsciously knew what we were doing when we refused to sleep train him and just went with his needs). It gave me lots of new strategies. I also gleaned strategies from The Whole-Brained Child. Both books encouraged me to acknowledge his personality (and aspects of my own in his!) and realize that he is just more intense, louder and more persistent than I was expecting. These qualities can be excellent, and I have to take the long view.
The hardest part of parenting for me is those moments when I parent out of fear. I look at where we are and think, “Our child is going to end up spoiled” and then start immediately trying to fix things. I start to doubt whether concepts like talking through his emotions and avoiding spanking will work. I end up becoming intense and easily frustrated as I live out of my fear. And I hate this. Thankfully Jon and I usually balance each other out so when one of us says, “Is he on the path to becoming a criminal?!” the other one says, “Remember, he’s just two years old!”
One thing that helps is a concept I read in Fit to Burst. The author, Rachel Jankovic, talks about how we should be constantly laying gold dust in the lives of our children. She says,
“…our opportunities to bless our children are often most present when we least feel like it… You are talking on the phone with a friend when a discipline need arises. You could ignore it, or you could get off the phone to lay a little gold. You might be tired when someone wants to tell you a witty story again, just to finesse the delivery. You could sincerely listen and enjoy them, or you could blankly nod.”
She goes on to say,
“The goal is that your persistent investing in them, bestowing on them, and loving them will be so pervasive in their lives that it will simply become a part of their being.”
Right after I reread this section in her book, I was confronted with a horrific poop mess all over Liam’s room after his quiet time (instant application!). Instead of being harsh, I was able to be gentle and come up with a strategy for the future (and it helped to have my mom laugh at the mess right along with me and show up at just the right time).
I have to remember that motherhood is not going to just get easy. We are called to grow into more Christ-like people, so the challenges I face as a mother are as much for my sanctification as my children’s. I’ve been trying to come to terms with this lately. I’m not going to reach a point where I have it all together and every day progresses perfectly smoothly. This may happen from time to time in little bursts, but that’s not the goal. The goal is that we all understand Christ’s love better and that we grow into people who serve and love as he does.
My son’s tantrums are part of my sanctification as much as his. I’m not going to be the perfect mom. I have had to—and will continue to have to—apologize to my child, and this is not a bad thing. I am not my child’s perfect Heavenly Father; though my love may point to God, I am not God, and my failings as mother will, I pray, point him to God just as my successes will.
I don’t see the tantrums ending completely anytime soon. Our goal right now is to help him master himself and deal with his own huge emotions. I want him to have healthy ways to deal with frustration and anger and disappointment. I am trying to see the bigger picture, as well as where we may be in a year. What will help him be a more pleasant, happy three-year-old? What strategies can help him next time he feels this way? How can I model the Gospel to him in this?
I’m also learning to admit my own weakness. Some days, I’m exasperating him unnecessarily just because I’m tired. I’ve noticed lately that if I act like he’s a burden or express my own frustration at his neediness, it can start the whole day off wrong. Even if I’m exhausted and he wakes earlier than I would like, I am trying to be cheerful and happy. I try to be goofy and sing songs when I’m feeling frustrated. Sometimes it helps to just admit to Jon that I have little patience with Liam on a particular day.
I keep one of my favorite pictures of him as my phone background so even when I’ve seem more of his yelling, red-faced side, I know that’s just one part of him. I read my old posts about him and watch videos of him from this time last year to see how far he’s come. I try to meet his needs cheerfully rather than begrudgingly, not expecting him to understand that I’m extra tired because I’m taking care of two. And like my sister always tells me, I remember that it’s okay for him to see that his actions and attitude can make me frustrated at times too.
I can't wrap this post up neatly because we're living in the middle of this right now. Some days feel nearly impossible, and though I'm finding little things that help, it's still just hard. I'm counting little victories and trying to remember that he's still little, too, and his world has been totally rocked in the past few months. And despite all the tantrums, he really is the best little boy, and I'm so glad to be his mama!
P.S. If you also struggle with that fear that kids these days are just going to hell in a hand-basket with technology, weird parenting techniques, materialism, etc., check out this encouraging and informative article.