Nothing in my life welcomed unsolicited (and unhelpful) advice quite like the terrible twos. Though tenderly given, the primary encouragement I received loudly affirmed, “Just wait until she’s three! Three is far worse.” The exact statement varied, but the big idea was clear: no one liked three and I wouldn’t either.
Two was hard, and it did, in fact, contain some incredibly challenging and truly terrible days. It brought big emotions, big challenges and lots of tears—for her and me both. But Two, and all the terrible it brought, was nearly overshadowed by the impending doom that supposedly was Three. It was my understanding that Three would bring me to my knees, and it would begin the inevitable breakdown in my relationship with my daughter. Three, the monster, was about to rear its head and devour my family.
But Three rolled up one gray, soggy summer morning, peeked its sweet little head into my room and requested a tattoo and a good cup of coffee to start her year off. I’d been prepared to greet Three with trepidation, armed with tools to take on the year before me—far more terrible than Two. I was ready for the hardship, the struggles and battles before me. I was, however, not prepared for the laughter that Three would bring to my home. I was caught off guard by all the joy that came roaring in with Three.
Three is laughter and stories and invitations into an incredible world of imagination. A world that’s filled with rich storytelling, curiosity, messy crafts and so many too big words. I won’t dismiss Three. Three has left me with some sizable breaks and bruises. It is hard. Perhaps it is even a bit harder than Two, but likely only because I already survived Two, and Three is yet to be overcome.
I’ve noticed how easy it is to romanticize the victories we’ve already attained. Just stand in front of the produce section at the grocery store until your child has a meltdown and wait for that first wise one to step up. At this point, I’ve already heard so many varying versions of “You think that’s hard? Just wait until…” You’ve heard it too. Wait until their attitude comes out full force, wait until puberty hits, wait until they’re a teenager. Then it will really be difficult. But it’s never a mom in the throes of a big Three tantrum whispering this to you next to the asparagus. No, it’s always someone who has already arrived on the other side of the exact place your feet are planted.
My mom survived eight rounds of Three. “You’re allowed to like your kids.” She said it quietly, gently, as I shared my frustrations and mixed emotions with her. “You’re allowed to enjoy this stage, even if it’s hard. It’s okay to laugh and enjoy it without wondering what’s coming next.” This wisdom, the words I needed, spoke life into my weary heart when I confessed feeling discontent with the stages I felt stuck in. Hers was one of few voices assuring me that I didn’t have to dwell in the worst parts of the ages my kids were in. Those words planted a seed of rest in a heart that was desperately desiring it.
Three is challenging. So is One, Two and, as you intimately know, each age and stage our children walk through. If I could relay back advice to my slightly younger self, I’d assure her that it’s okay to admit that raising little people is hard—regardless of what transpires this day. Regardless of the naysayers’ prediction of the hard to come, here and now is allowed to be hard as well. I wish I’d allowed myself the permission then to simply delight in the little joys of One without looking for all the signs of the next terrible stage coming.
I’d like to think that when I’m an old woman, quietly grocery shopping on my own, I’ll be able to observe a mother-child scuffle and simply smile in remembrance. Instead of extending my own knowledge of the potential gloom and doom on the way, I’ll offer a quick, “You’re doing great. It’s hard, but you’re doing it!” Because I know, despite the very real and very big challenges Three dragged into my home, it primarily brought laughter and curiosity.
Terrific, tremendous Three, I would never trade you.
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Stephanie Wilcox is a wife and stay at home mom to two delicious little girls. She fell in love with the written word at a young age and delights in the life pursuit of loving and knowing the Living Word. You are most likely to find her hiding from the laundry or outside barefoot with a book in hand. Find her on Facebook or Instagram.