Self-care during the bad stages

I've been hearing from people with kids in the special rough patches of little-kid parenting, specifically those 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 and then almost-5 stages, when many children are just truly beastly.

I think there's this cultural idea that once you're past the first year, or maybe past the "Terrible Twos," that kids all get easy and any misbehavior is the result of bad parenting and what-the-hell-do-you-mean-you're-tired-you-have-a-three-year-old? But, wow, is that not true.

In a lot of ways, I think having preschoolers is more psychologically traumatic than having a baby is. At least with a baby you can recognize that things are off. Sleeping in 3-hour chunks, feeding another person from your own body, being responsible for another being that can't talk--those are all things that you can easily say are not the normal state of an adult human being, so you can cut yourself a break because you know this is just now. Youa re doing the job you're supposed to be doing for this baby right now, and it won't last forever.

Having preschooler, though, is mind-twisting because in a lot of ways your life is somewhat normal again. You may be sleeping all night (or at least in 5 hour stretches again) and your child may be spending strecthes of time away from you so you have a little mental separation, and at the very least they can tell you about immediate problems.

And yet the needs and wants and moods and independence and dependence and seething rage at your continued stifling influence over their lives!

Knowing it's normal helps. But being in an almost constant battle--for months on end--with someone you love more than anyone else but who can never take a step back is brutally exhausting.

I want to remind all of us to cut ourselves a whole lot of breaks when our kids are going through these rough stages. And also think about how our own rough stages seem to happen right at the times of heightened need for our kids, so it's a double accumulation of raw nerves.

I found it helpful to attempt to remember (not always successfully) that the stage wasn't the person. In other words, just because my child was filled with rage and rebellion and absolute resistance to any idea I came up with did not mean that my child was that way inherently. Instead, it was the stage talking. So I just had to tread water and attempt to interact with the actual kid, if possible, and just ignore the stage if I could.

One thing that I started doing was really looking at what made me feel competent and happy as a person and making a specific effort to do those things. Sometimes it got a little ritualistic (my coffee schedule, for example) and made my kids mad (surprisingly, they do not appreciate Busta Rhymes' "Woo Hah! Got You All In Check" like I do). But it was good for my job (many of my work tasks are things I feel good at) and good for my mental health, and I will do it again when we hit the next rough spot(s).

Are you cutting yourself some slack? Are you letting yourself be good at things you're good at, even if parenting doesn't seem like one of those things this month? If you were your best friend, what would you say to you?