Did you know that “Threenager” is a word? That it refers to the difficult phase some children go through when they’re three? It’s a phase when three-year-olds display all of the attitude, mood swings and stubbornness of a teenager, while still only being around three feet tall! Sounds fun, right?!? Well, I’m here to tell you that the Threenage Years are real, and this is how it all played out for my family and me.
I didn’t even know the Threenage Phase existed until my son was about 2 ½ years old, and I was lamenting that he had hit his Terrible Twos. Other moms with kids older than mine mostly looked at me with raised eyebrows, a slight smirk, and undeniable pity in their eyes and would say, “Wait until the Threenager stage hits.” Inwardly, I have to admit that I scoffed. My son wouldn’t go through a phase where I wanted to return him daily to wherever it is that he’d come from. Right? Um… not quite.
What to expect during the Threenage years
My son was around 3 ½ years old when it happened. Our lovely and pleasant mornings turned into this, with absolutely no warning whatsoever, Jekyll and Hyde style:
Me: “Alright, it’s time to get dressed and put on sunscreen so we can get ready for the day!”
Buddy: “No!!!!! I don’t want to get dressed ever, ever, ever, ever! I want Daddy! I don’t like sunscreen! It burns!” (with bitter tears all over his face, screaming at the top of his lungs)
Me: “I know you don’t want to take a break from playing right now, but once you’re dressed and ready to go, you’re going to have so much fun playing outside with your friends!” (using my usual singsong voice, which is honestly pretty annoying; telling myself to remain calm, remain calm, remain calm, remain calm)
Buddy: “I’m never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever getting dressed ever.” (runs to hide in the closet, closing the door and holding it shut tightly… I can’t help but be impressed at his strength when I try to open it)
Me: “If you come out of the closet and get dressed, you can have some marshmallows and watch TV while I put your sunscreen on” (I have given in, and am now drenched in sweat and in desperate need of a fourth cup of coffee. It is 8:16AM)
Behavior mostly “normal” as we are having a playdate. Other moms look at my son playing nicely, and think I must be exaggerating when I try to describe Threenage behavior. You see, their kids are younger than mine, so they’re not going through it. But I definitely don’t wish it on them!
Me: “OK buddy, after lunch I’m going to read you a nice story with your milk, and then we can both have a little rest” (which is nothing new, in fact we’ve been doing this very thing for about two years)
Buddy: “No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!” (buddy’s eyes dangerously close to spilling about twenty minutes worth of intense tears)
Me: “I understand that you’re having fun playing, but it’s important to get some rest so that you can have your energy when we play later on.” (trying to remain calm, breathing deeply, so very desperate to sit down and have ten minutes of quiet that don’t involve pretending I’m a Ninja Turtle stuck in a sewer)
Buddy: “I’m never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever napping again! I want Daddy! I want Daddy! I want Daddy! I want Daddy! I want Daddy!” (buddy now in full on hysterics mode, sobbing and pushing me away with his hands and feet)
Me: “I understand that you don’t want to nap buddy, but Mummy really needs a bit of a break right now. Why don’t I give you a chocolate chip cookie after you have a nice nap, and then we can play whatever you want all afternoon?” (feeling strange combination of hopeful and defeated)
Buddy: “Can I have two cookies, mommy?”
Me: “Sure, buddy” (anything, anything, ANYTHING at all so that you sleep!!!)
Buddy: “Mommy, I’m awake!”
Me: “OK, buddy” (sobbing uncontrollably into couch cushion, wiping wayward watery mascara off my cheeks, while simultaneously reheating my fifth cup of coffee from that morning’s long-since rancid pot)
Me: “C’mon, put your shoes on, we’re going to the park!” (singsong voice is back)
Buddy: “But I don’t need shoes! I hate shoes! You can carry me! Mommy take me! I don’t want shoes, and I don’t want to go to the park! I want Daddy!” (sobbing again, throwing me wounded looks as though I haven’t been caring for him day in and day out for the past 3 ½ years)
Me: “I understand that you’re feeling frustrated, but all you need to do is put on your shoes. And look! You can wear Crocs, so your feet can just slide right in!” (slight edge of hysteria creeping into my voice)
Buddy: “But I’m SO TIRED!!!” (tears and snot streaming uncontrollably down his face)
Me: (dialing phone) “Hi mom! Can we come over?”
I won’t bore you with any more details about our days during my son’s Threenage Phase, but suffice to say that the afternoons were no better than the mornings. And every morning was a slight variation of the above, sometimes a bit better, and often so much worse. I was a limp and boneless rag when my husband came home from work, and the phase lasted about two months in our house. It was not a very pretty sight!
Who knows why some of our kids become trainwrecks once the Threenage stage hits? I’m no expert, but I do know that as our children mature and develop, they are beginning to understanding more and more about the world around them, and their relationships with family and friends. They learn new skills and words every single day and are constantly changing. When you think about everything a three-year-old can do, and compare it with when they were a newborn, it is an absolute miracle. Does that make it any easier? Absolutely not! Does the Threenage phase make us love them any less? Absolutely not! Can I see myself doing all over again in another few years? Absolutely! I’m a mom, after all. I can handle pretty much anything you throw at me!