My son is getting to that age. You know, *that* age. I was reading the other day that the so-called Terrible Twos can start months earlier than 2. Really? I hadn't noticed. ;) Not that I'm going to call them that. We've already made a deal in this house that they are going to be the Terrific Twos! Right? Right?!?!
I think that rather than this phase of toddlerhood being marked by any specific common behaviors among kids this age, it is more of a common stance, a universal test, a 'tude (although tantruming and the word "no" are common across the board I think).
This evening at dinner, he was shouting "no no no" to all the things I was trying to offer him that were dinner appropriate. Instead of eating, he wanted to just suck down juice for 20 minutes. At one point, I decided it was enough juice and that he needed food. So I told him this much, moving to take the cup from his hands (which he's always been cool with before) and he yanked it back from me, yelling "no" and batting at my arm. It was not crazy behavior for a child his age, but I was taken a little aback. I started out okay, telling him that it wasn't nice to talk to his Mama that way and reminding him that I told him no more juice and he continued to be rude about it. What's more, he wouldn't look at me when I was trying to deliver my message.
Luckily, my Mom was sitting there at the table. She always reminds my son, when he tries to get away with stuff with her, that "this is not Nana's first rodeo." And tonight I was really in need of a seasoned cowgirl.
Today's New Activity: Watch and Learn, the Mama Edition
I know that it is really easy to let stuff like this go. It wasn't SUCH a big deal, and the ordeal would be over as soon as I let him have his juice back. But as a Mom you just *recognize* when a moment seems crucial and when letting it go seems like exactly the wrong thing to do. Still, having recognized that, I was at a loss. I said to my Mama, "what do I do now?"
She looked directly at my son and said in make-no-bones-about-it voice I remember from my own childhood: "____________, that is not a nice way to treat your Mama. You say you're sorry to your Mama." Monkey paused and looked thoughtfully for a moment, then repeated "no." It seemed we were at an impasse.
Here's the thing: I know that every interaction like tonight's will color the way my son responds to discipline in the coming years. Every time I warn him and don't follow through, every time I let things go without correcting him, and every time I am tested and give in, I send the message that I don't mean what I say and that he is actually the one in charge. Jeeze, this parenting business is tough. I have always said that my worst parenting nightmare would be to raise a brat, and we are right here in the thick of when whether or not I will come to live that nightmare is being determined on a daily basis. It's not time to get lazy.
Still, it is very hard to discipline. Though as an adult I have had dozens of experiences (especially working in retail) when I witnessed parents going too easy on their bratty kids and wished they'd Mom-up a bit, I now understand all the reasons why it's one of the hardest things to do. It is most unpleasant to do anything that makes your children feel unhappy. It REALLY IS harder on the parents than on the children to see them in any kind of distress, especially distress caused my the parents themselves.
But I had to go with my Mom on this. As children my brother and I were always praised for our polite behavior, and I know that came as a result of my Mom never giving up in moments like these. How she managed to know the right thing to do when in her early 20's herself back then, I will never know. But I can learn from it.
I was almost ready to let the whole hitting-Mama-and-yelling-"no" thing go and hand over the juice at that moment, but my Mom was right. What if it weren't me but some other person he was treating like that? I why should it be okay with me either?!
"________," I reinforced, "you do not talk to your Mama that way. You say you're sorry to Mama."
Silence. "________, look at me."
I took his head in my hands and turned him toward me, looking him in the eyes with my best Mama Means Business look. "________, that was not nice to hit your Mama. You say you're sorry to Mama."
Biggest, cutest doe eyes ever in the history of the planet.
"Sorry Mama," followed by a ridiculously sweet smile.
I swear I want to weep just writing that. It is the biggest, most amazing sense of relief to have your child do the right thing, especially when a standoff is involved. Every moment like this, when he cleans up his toys as requested or has a food-throwing do-over and skips the throwing the second time around (for example), feels like a tiny "meets standards" in the performance review of 18+ year job.
I have a huge sense of gratitude for the parental role models I find in my parents--especially my Mom, since she takes care of my son while I'm working. Although my parents are both full of grandparental love and have super squishy soft spots in their hearts for my boy, they are not push-overs and they never undermine my parenting wishes. And more than that, they can see ahead to how the disciplining decisions made now will affect my son's future, so they are willing to do the hard stuff even when I'm feeling lazy or overwhelmed. I think it would be such a gift if all children could have this extra set of love and also tough love around in their young lives.