My toddler and I have crossed over into ‘nuclear winter’ territory

If I knew the ‘terrible twos’ were coming, why do I feel so at sea?

Tanya Sweeney: ‘My cute, curious, affectionate, joyful baby has been replaced by a changeling’.

Tanya Sweeney: ‘My cute, curious, affectionate, joyful baby has been replaced by a changeling’.

 

Full and frank disclosure: bringing home a newborn baby felt like receiving a grenade through the post. Or coming home to find that your entire house had suddenly been placed underwater.

The whole experience was one part, “well, this is interesting and a bit weird” to several parts simmering, shaky terror. Fellow parents assured me, time and time again, that it gets better. “Once she gets a little older and starts getting a bit of a personality and saying mad things, it gets a lot more fun,” they assured me.

I never thought I’d say it, but I’m hankering for the relative ease of a baby sleeping for much of the day and shrieking only when they need a feed. Because, with a 22-month-old, we have crossed over into “nuclear winter” territory. I may be a more experienced parent than this time last year, but I’ve never felt more at sea. We are being outwitted, outdone and outmanoeuvred on an hourly basis, and it’s bloody exhausting.

It feels like it happened overnight and without warning, but my cute, curious, affectionate, joyful baby has been replaced by a changeling.The screams are soul-curdling, prompted by anything from a balloon not being blue to not being allowed to climb into the oven. The tantrums come on an hourly basis. Trying to get trousers onto this child requires the dexterity and determination of an Olympian.

She gets incredibly upset when I don’t let her bite down hard on my finger. She runs into the road, laughing her head off as I chase her, yelling. Our conversational cornerstones are “careful, now” and, when things inevitably go awry, “now, SEE WHAT HAPPENS when you don’t listen”.

Hostage situation

During dinner, our daughter climbs onto the table and stares down at us, daring us to confront her about it. The divilment that plays on the corners of her mouth and dances in her eyes is frankly terrifying. Night-time? Well, that feels like a hostage situation. Give me waking up every two hours to make bottles any day.

Naturally, I take the cries and the screams personally, like a one-star Tripadvisor review. “Doesn’t allow me to flood the kitchen or put the remote control in the bath. Won’t be returning.”

Honestly, I feel like I’m failing. Is it truly possible to remain level-headed in these situations? My partner – much less likely to erupt – often takes over, leaving me on the sofa crying tears of hurt and frustration.

In the last couple of weeks, the many times I received the hairdryer treatment myself as a youngster have resurfaced

I must have known this phase – euphemistically called the “terrible twos”, but should really be called “Armageddon, but in your house” - was coming on some level, so why do I feel so helpless and disarmed? Perhaps it’s because up until now, parenting has been largely to do with keeping her safe, fed, warm and entertained.

All simple, straightforward jobs: changing nappies, administering cuddles, pushing her on swings (to think my biggest worry was whether the bottle steriliser was working properly). Now we’re talking actual psychological warfare.

These days, I need to worry about more complex problems; stuff like discipline, and parenting styles. Not building a rod for my own back by being too strict or lenient. One misstep here, and what kind of person will she become?

Am I going to be a permissive parent, or a disciplinarian, or a permissive, uninvolved or authoritative parent (once I learn what they mean)? Permissive parenting, which involves being somewhat loving or indulgent, with few strict guidelines, certainly sounds appealing, but will it turn the little changeling into a fully-fledged nightmare?

First things first: I need to do away with the idea that things should be proper and orderly in the house. Kitchen sink look like the work of the Water Bandits? That’s fine. Random baked bean found in the bra? That’s cool, too. Going through more wardrobe changes in a morning than Celine Dion in a Vegas residency? Not to worry.

More experienced and sage parents have told me that distracting kids from meltdowns is a good idea, and that I should never give in if ever I do put the foot down. That tantrums and the stubbornness are all a normal part of development, which is a (very slight) comfort to hear. Plus, these are qualities will stand to her in the future.

In the last couple of weeks, the many times I received the hairdryer treatment myself as a youngster have resurfaced. There was the time my brother and I cleaned out the fireplace and ended up getting ash on the living room ceiling.

There was another time I stuck a knife in a toaster, then locked myself into the neighbour’s car. Most of the time, I wasn’t being “bad”. I was trying to be helpful. Or I was curious. Or perhaps feeling adventurous. If anything, the last few weeks remind me of the massive debt of gratitude I owe my own parents. And really, that’s what half of this parenting lark is about, right?

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