kids

'How I overcame the toughest mental opponent I’ve ever faced. My 3 year old.'

We’re only three weeks into the new year but I’m going to call it anyway: I have peaked. I have already experienced my greatest parenting triumph for 2016. Hell, it’s up there with my greatest parenting achievements of all times.

It was a breathtaking victory. Sixteen hours on and I am still feeling buoyed by a deep sense of accomplishment. Inside, I am bursting with pride. With achievement. With glorious satisfaction.

Our three year old is the toughest mental opponent I have ever faced – in any field — and last night I prevailed.

“Our three-year-old is the toughest mental opponent I have ever faced.”

If you don’t live with – or care for – a fiercely determined three-year-old – I can imagine you rolling your eyes at this.

Before I had experienced it, I would have rolled my eyes at this too.

As first-time parents, my husband and I occasionally indulged in a little parental pride. Our eldest daughter liked sleep. She wasn’t one of those mythical newborns who sleep through the night from the very beginning, but from about seven months of age, she slept 7pm till 7am. Every single night. She still does.

Even as a toddler, she would point to her cot a bit before 7pm if she was tired and ask to go to bed early.

Anyway, the arrival of our second baby completely shattered any misconception we had that our eldest daughter’s consistent sleep pattern reflected some parenting nous on our part. We weren’t terrifically skilled parents: our child just liked to sleep.

Her younger sister, however, didn’t share that love and still doesn’t. Which might be easier to live with if she wasn’t also in possession of both a fierce will and logic-defying staying power. In the parenting arena this is strictly “black run” territory.

“We weren’t terrifically skilled parents: our child just liked to sleep.”

As a just-two-year-old, she screamed for 40 minutes on one memorable car trip because we wouldn’t let her drive. “BUT ME SIT THERE!!!” she repeated time and time and time again, at some volume, pointing to the driver’s seat.

Placating her was not an option. Explaining why her demand was unreasonable in simple terms didn’t help. Distracting her didn’t work. Singing, dancing, talking… nothing worked. Not a firm voice, not a soft voice, not sympathy. We had to ride it out.

“It’s going to be a long trip,” my husband remarked. “It’s going to be a long 15 years,” I replied.

Because the truth is that the car incident wasn’t an aberration. It was entirely on point, an anecdote that perfectly captures a day in the life of our delightful dictator.

To be clear, she is, without any doubt, completely and utterly divine. She is affectionate, loving, funny and the source of incredible joy.

In many settings, those who encounter her don’t believe our stories. We are frequently amazed at how this tiny person can so easily flick between divine and devilish.

She is a classic “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” poppet, until she is in the mood for a battle.

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At that point, she is maddening because when she’s up for a battle, it’s hell of a battle. The challenge is being consistent and calm in the face of it – which reads like it should be straightforward. BUT IT IS NEVER STRAIGHTFORWARD.

My husband and I are both in our early 30s. We hold down jobs and generally function with a modicum of competence. And yet we are both regularly paralysed with incompetence when it comes to our three-year-old.

Last night’s battle kicked off over something irrational. Her big sister was wearing a pair of pyjamas with pears on them. We only have one pair like that and they’re in a size 5. Our youngest is not a size 5 but she desperately wanted to wear a pair of pear pyjamas.

I explained we don’t have those pjs in her size. We went into their shared bedroom, looked through the pj drawer which confirmed we did not, in fact, have another pair of pear pyjamas.

This wasn’t acceptable to her and her reaction wasn’t acceptable to me.

It was at this point that my glorious inner-super-nanny emerged. It was time for time out, news that, it’s fair to say, was not warmly greeted by my already furious daughter.

But I was calm, I was firm, I held my ground and I won. It was ugly. It went on for 40 minutes during which time my heart and mind were locked in conflict.

The words of a family friend casually mentioned over the holidays were ringing in my ears. Parenting little kids is a benign dictatorship and we are in charge. Things won’t always go their way and that’s ok.

I attempted reconciliation at regular intervals. The conditions were simple: once she stopped yelling and would listen, I would come in.

“ME DO STOP CRYING!!!” “ME NOT YELLING!!!” “ME DO WANT PEAR PYJAMAS!!!!” were a few of the unconvincing reassurances.

My heart was breaking, but my head prevailed. I wasn’t budging until she stopped yelling.

Eventually, she calmed down. In a spoken voice, she said she was ready to listen. We had a very firm chat, a cuddle and then we moved on. We rejoined the rest of the family for dinner and we didn’t talk about it again.

Sometimes a firm chat and a cuddle is all it takes. Sometimes…

Come bed time, however, a simple sentence about us not tolerating any fuss, was all it took. She went to sleep without a single post-bed request. Not for water. Not for stickers. Not to inquire about exactly where and what we were doing. She went to sleep without any fuss.

And I went to bed feeling on top of the world.

If you can relate to this parental victory, then solidarity to you. If you can’t, I’d envy you if I wasn’t quite so madly intoxicated with love for my tiny terrorist. Because as hard as a strong-willed three-year-old can be, the sheer joy they bring about, is something else entirely.

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