Threenagers will ruin you

Threenagers will ruin you

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Anyone who has raised a child is familiar with the behavioral ebb and flow of “phases.” Nap regression, separation anxiety, the terrible twos (or terrific twos, depending on how good you are at diluting your own worldview) and countless other “growth periods” all come with the territory of parenting.

Thankfully those periods are almost always what more experienced parents remind you they are: Just a phase. They’re normal elements of development, and they often go by quickly enough, at least when viewed through the lens of hindsight. However, today I decided to tape Hindsight’s mouth shut and lock him in the basement because I’m dealing with a “phase” that is so next-level difficult that there is no way in hell I will ever look back on this time and say, “It wasn’t that bad.” Because it is bad, and there's a standing invitation for anyone who tells me it’s “just a phase” to join Hindsight in the basement.

I want to preface what follows by saying that my wife and I are proud of our 3-year-old. She’s brilliant. She’s imaginative. She’s strong, and she’s beautiful. We’re blessed to have a child that is so wonderful and healthy. But, internet, if we’re being honest here, there are times when we’re not proud. There are times when if the world knew what she was capable of, Jerry Springer would resurrect his talk show solely to get her on the air, and she would single-handedly breathe new life into his career.

"Today's Final Thought is to never have children."

In fact, Jerry, Maury, or Howard, if you’re reading, I’m now taking bids to get my Threenager on the air. At least that way my wife and I could get something in return for being her emotional punching bag day-in and day-out.

“What’s a Threenager?” you may ask. Well, a Threenager is a very specific and very special phase of adolescence. It’s SO special, you guys. A Threenager is 3-year-old who acts like a teenager but with slightly less capacity for reason and logic. A Threenager has the same sense of entitlement and desire for independence as a teenager, but without the social maturity to sense judgment from the world around her. Where a teenager might hold back on screaming at you at the top of her lungs in Wal-Mart, a Threenager will carry that scene out the door as you drag her upside down through the parking lot.


The behavior of a Threenager is controlled, ironically, by her inability to control her emotions. A Threenager has no scale of anger, frustration, excitement or disappointment. There is no zero to 10. There is happy and every opposite of that, and that switch flips faster than you can say, “Clean up your — ”.

You know those basic human tasks you need your child to do to progress the day? Get dressed, use the bathroom, not spit filthy bath water in your face? Well those are the stupidest ideas a Threenager has ever heard. The second you ask her to do anything, the conversation turns more hostile than a Facebook debate about whether it's appropriate to shoot a hole through a confederate flag with a gun you bought from Obamacare reimbursements.

This is the stage of parenting where I assume bribery becomes commonplace. Dealing with a Threenager, you may no longer find yourself asking, “How can I turn this into a teaching moment for my child?” but instead, “What’s the easiest way to leave the house without prompting a neighbor to call social services?” The latter typically involves promises of rewards upon demonstration of proper behavior, which is probably not the best tactic, but there really is no “best tactic” at this stage. The best you can do is whatever keeps everyone’s sanity in that moment. If that’s promises of ice cream, so be it. You can go back and smooth out the behavioral wrinkles later.

Just to be clear, Sandra, this is NOT a reward for riding the dog.

However, even though raising a Threenager is hard, I'd be remiss if I didn't say this: As challenging as Threenagers can be, they can be equally amazing in their emotional intelligence. I’ve spent many paragraphs describing what makes Threenagers so difficult, but it’s actually the same thing that makes them so special.

Threenagers act out of emotional instability, yes, but they also act out of their own blossoming sense of independence. What they say is truly a product of what they feel. Whether it’s out of anger or happiness, what they say and how they act is genuine. When they tell you that they “didn’t miss you AT ALL,” their emotions are guiding them to say that right to your stupid, bossy, idiot face. But on the flipside, when they look at you unprompted and say, “Daddy I really, really, really, really, REALLY love you,” that’s genuine too.

And despite my venting here, I’m going to hold on to more of the I Love You’s than the Didn’t Miss You’s until this passes. Because it’s just a phase, and it will pass. At least that’s what they tell me.

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.

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