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The Most Challenging Age

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Categories Age Brackets, Feeling Overwhelmed, Frustration, Mommy Issues, Perspective, Prematurity, Unique needsTags

The first year in a parent’s life is so challenging that we talk about it nearly every Tuesday here at HDYDI. You’ve heard of the “Terrible Twos“. So, what’s the most difficult age? Where’s the point where you get to tell yourself, “After this, it gets easier!“?

A quick poll of the HDYDI moms finds no agreement. The tales of struggle for those sleepless newborn nights are often just as harrowing as the three-year old tantrums, the four-year old follies, and on and on. The list is actually pretty long!

We’re not saying that life with small children is always a struggle, but rather that different families have different perspectives on what is “the most challenging age”. Kids are different, as are parents, and we shine (or fail to) in different circumstances. While the perspectives differ, the promising news is that it’s just an age–childhood is a series of stages–and these challenges will pass.

Here’s what some of the HDYDI moms have to say about the most challenging stages they’ve encountered.

Preterm Birth to 1 Year Old (Corrected) – Carolyn

If you don’t know me, you don’t know how the experience of preterm birth has moulded much of my life. Those who do know me can attest to the fact that the preterm birth of our twins right up to 15 months (12 months corrected) consumed my life and it was challenging to see and hear about even for those who were outsiders looking in on our rather unusual state of affairs.

Twin A ready for transport to Level III NICU
Twin A ready for transport to Level III NICU

The twins’ first few months were filled with many medical questions, some of which were put on the back burner, while we dealt with a newer, more pressing question to answer during medical disclosure meetings and consultations with the best of the best doctors. I quickly gained my honourary PhD in Neonatology. I was up for the challenge because I knew I was my babies’ main advocate during the long days in the NICU.

Twins' NICU "bedrooms" for 3+ months.
Twins’ NICU “bedrooms” for 3+ months.

Those early days and the activities that evolved became engrained in my brain. I may have been sleep walking the majority of that time during the very early days. Can you say, “routine”? Absolutely!

After our twins came home from their neonatal intensive care unit, we were faced with hundreds of appointments to attend in and outside the home. Somebody forgot to prepare me for the realities a preterm mom and dad should expect when it comes to bringing home tiny 27 weekers. While we were in the NICU talking about all the medical factors surrounding the babies’ lives, they didn’t mention anything about how much time was going to be spent in waiting rooms of doctor’s offices, hospitals, physiotherapists and speech therapists and occupational therapists…and audiologists…in that first year…Oh MY! It practically leaves me breathless just recollecting those long and busy days.

While chauffeuring my mini-men around in the mini-van to appointment after appointment, I was also a mom wanting to breastfeed her twins. When I would find myself in a waiting room at a hospital, with one or maybe two babies getting hungry, I’d talk to a staff member about where I could find a private nursing room, to be told there wasn’t one. Or I’d be stuck in a board room to nurse my babies sitting in an office chair with big clunky armrests! Those were the days. As much as I valued breastfeeding my babies, I was not a mother who wanted to do it in public spaces with random strangers surrounding me. Not my cup of tea. To each her own.

I missed the days many moms get during that first year, getting to establish a routine in their homes, sometimes sitting with their feet up for a few minutes to watch Ellen while they nurse their babies or attend to their needs. My daily routine was more comparable to an army drill, testing my skills and agility with getting twins dressed, big brother dressed, myself dressed, out the door and into the van without forgetting anything. Then there were days when it would snow on my parade.

Bundled up and ready for another run to a follow up appointment.
Bundled up and ready for another run to a follow up appointment.

Those were horrible days, but I didn’t have the choice to go back in and hibernate with my little cubs. We had to be somewhere and we were going to get there for our very important appointment. Come hell or high snow bank.

When I look back on that first year and a bit, which was two years ago now, I remember those days like they were just yesterday. Although that year was my most challenging year to date, I learned so much and truly value the life lessons the experience and my little babies taught me. It taught me so much about what it really means to persevere, to look fear in the face and tell it where to go!

Since then ages 2 and 3 have been a piece of cake. We’ll see what the future holds.

Age 1 – 2 (Toddler-hood) – ldskatelyn

While the first year proved a blur of feedings, naps, changings, sleepless nights, pumpings, doctor visits, and a complete upheaval from my previous life, I enjoyed my super cute girls!  They were innocent little babies incapable of really doing anything wrong and were so completely dependent on me.  I adored them.  They were perfect.

And then they started to walk.  And life was never the same again.

My girls were (relatively) early crawlers and walkers.  They were army crawling around by six months, even before they could sit up by themselves.  By 10.5 months Lisa was walking.  By 11 months her sister Alison was too. I find that the toddler years was the most challenging age.  While the tantrums, the lying, the attitude, and disobedience of my now three year-olds is challenging at times, it’s not all the time, and they are so independent now that it’s easier for me not to feel so stressed out.

But those toddler years, or from about 1 years old to 2.5 years old were rough.

And while my daughters were able to toddle and walk, allowing me not be carrying a child or two everywhere I went, it meant I had TWO little people often going in opposite directions.  I remember trying to walk in a straight line, holding both of their hands, being impossible.  One would walk faster, one would tug to the side, one would spin around in front of me, colliding into the other, leaving both crying on the ground.  Then I would be left pulling them both up to standing positions, which they seemed to no longer be able to do.  They may know how to walk, but it doesn’t mean they will.  And it certainly doesn’t mean they will walk to you when you ask them to.  It often meant the opposite, at least with one of my daughters.

most challenging agePlus, toddlers get into everything.  They don’t know what is safe or unsafe and absolutely everything ends up in their mouths.  They seem to think that if it’s on the ground, it must be picked up and handled, even nasty things like trash and cigarette butts.  They don’t know better.  Toddlers prove to be a source of greater anxiety for their parents.  They hurt themselves all the time, bumping into things. They pull everything off shelves, climb onto chairs and counters, knock over your safety gates, and much more.

My daughter Lisa from about the time she was 13 months old could undo the Velcro on her diaper.  And she was like a ninja with undoing it.  It often seemed no matter what we did, she would find a way to take off her diaper.  This often proved extremely messy.  I would have to clean poop out of sheets and off babies.  Diapers would be wasted.  And Lisa eventually taught her sister some of her diaper shedding ways.  (Stay tuned for a future post with all the fun we had with this).  And this went on for over a year. Most Challenging Age

Teething.  One of my daughters didn’t get her first tooth until she was nine months old.  This left lots of teething over the toddler years.  And every time my girls were teething it meant diarrhea.  And with Alison, it went everywhere.  It was horrible.  Combine that with Lisa’s diaper removing antics and it meant a lot of bathing and laundry.

And then there’s the messy mealtimes.  I wrote all about the joys of that in a past Foodie Fridays post. Finger foods are not really that simple or easy, and really just mean they are easier for little fingers to drop or throw around the room.  Or squish between their fingers, or mash into their hair.

My daughters didn’t say a whole lot of words for what felt like forever (age two).  Most of what I had the pleasure of listening to every day was crying, whining, and grunts, never knowing exactly what they were wanting.  While they began to understand what I was saying to them, I craved for the day we could actually have conversations instead of cavemen communications.

And finally there is nap time.  One nap or two?  In the morning or the afternoon?  One would be awake, the other asleep.  They might play for an hour in their cribs, before passing out, if they did at all.  It could be an hour in length or three.  And when it came time to transition out of cribs to toddler beds it opened up a whole new can of worms.  How do you contain the chaos if you didn’t stay there until they fell asleep?  And when they are napping regularly, it really just means your whole life revolves around their nap schedule.  And when they were taking two naps a day, it means your windows of opportunity are so very short.

I am glad that the toddler stage is past and that my girls talk (even though it’s non-stop), help, no longer require bibs, can walk themselves anywhere, are potty-trained, and we’ve figured out nap and bedtime (most days) in this house.  And they haven’t teethed in over a year. Three year-olds aren’t that terrible…

Age 3 – Sadia

Sure, I was sleep-deprived and frequently in the ER with my twins the first year, but I could hack it. Age One was delightful as I watched my little lumps of snuggle turn into strong, funny little people with a visceral affection for each other. I scoffed at the whole idea of the Terrible Twos; my girls were pure delight. Their observations of the world left me exhausted, but smiling. Nothing gave them greater joy than making Mommy or their teachers happy.

mandjcryingWhen we hit the Terrible Awful Horrible Titanic Tantrum Threes, I was completely unprepared. My sweet little girls turned into irrational demon monsters as they discovered their own wills and the concept of defiance. I didn’t recognize these back-arching, heel-drumming, kicking, hitting, screaming banshees. I became certain that someone was going to need to be institutionalized. I just couldn’t tell if it was going to be me or the children.

In order to prove to myself that it wasn’t just me, I began keeping a record of the causes of each day’s tantrums on my blog, boringly titled the Daily Tantrum Report. Here’s a taste:

October 23, 2009: [M’s] pants were too tight. She hated her socks. Her shoes wouldn’t go on fast enough. She wanted chocolate milk. (She actually had chocolate milk, but was too busy flipping out to realize what was in her cup.) She didn’t want today to be J’s turn to lock the door. She didn’t want the sun to be shining yet.

November 10, 2009: I asked [J] to wash her hands. She refused. I gave her a chance to change her mind under threat of revoking her right to wear a dress today. She dug her heels in. I dug my heels in. I tried to dress her. She kicked me in the gut when I knelt to pull her pants on.

A dear friend recently contacted me on Facebook in desperation. She remembered my tears from Age Three and my dire warnings of the horrors to come. Her darling boy turned 4 a few days ago. My friend wants to know when the Terrible Horrible Awful Threes would give way to the Fabulous Fours. I told her to give it a month. Given that our children have been on similar developmental trajectories and we share a parenting approach, I expect to soon hear that her son, like my girls, makes age 4 her favourite age. At 4, my children discovered the beauty of logic, albeit with a slew of strange assumptions that came of a lack of experience in the world. They discovered a degree of self-control and rediscovered patience. Three was behind us. Good riddance.

Age 4 1/2 – MandyE

I’ve always considered our girls to be well-behaved.  They eat well.  They sleep well.  And they’re really pretty predictable.

I actually commented to the pediatrician when they were two that they’d never had a tantrum…I was a little concerned that something wasn’t right developmentally.  The two-year old mark passed with no sign of “terrible”, and my three-year olds continued their exemplary behavior.  Sure, I had fussy babies from time to time, and they would sometimes challenge to see what they could get away with, but the vast majority of the time, the girls were even-keeled.  I credited the 1-2-3 Magic methodology, along with a structured schedule inspired by BabyWise, with my girls’ temperament.

However…shortly before the girls turned 4 ½, I started to experience some of those “terrible” challenges I’d read about.  They were defiant.  “NO!!!” was screamed at me more times that I could count.  They were doing blatantly wrong things, seeming to vie for attention.  While I haven’t (yet?) seen a throw-yourself-on-the-floor tantrum, I have gotten swiped at a few times.

Where did this come from???  I felt like I could hardly recognize my precious babies.

This behavior continued to varying degrees for a couple of months.  It was terrible.  I felt like I was walking on eggshells, wondering when things would flip from joyfully-engaged kiddos to nothing-makes-me-happy.  I hated the feeling on some days, when I’d be counting down the hours to bedtime, praying that the following day would be better.  I missed my sweet girls, whose company I’d always truly enjoyed.

In hindsight, I remember that I started to suspect there was some attention-getting behavior around the time the girls turned four.  I read the book “The Five Love Languages of Children”, hoping to gain some insight.  I did my best to play to what I think my girls’ motivations are – physical touch for A, and words of affirmation for B.  Things were mostly OK until the girls stopped napping over the summer.  Whatever the combination of being more emotionally needy (???) with a bit of missing sleep…it felt near-lethal at times.

Thankfully, the majority of our challenges seem to have passed.  The girls have adjusted to their new schedule, and I have augmented my discipline strategy.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is a difference in common “misbehavior” and sometimes-nasty attention-getting displays.  I continue to rely on the 1-2-3 Magic methodology, but there are times when I pull one kiddo off by herself for a few minutes to help her sort through her emotions and regroup in a more positive manner.

At age four, the girls are still babies in some respects, but they have more complex feelings.  They are able to communicate at a pretty high level, but their logic isn’t always sound.  Ultimately, I’m just grateful to feel like I’m mostly back on course with my girls.  And those challenging times make me even more appreciative of the free-for-all fun and super-sweet snuggles.

What has been the most challenging stage for you?

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Carolyn - Twintrospectives

Carolyn is the full time working, volunteering, keeping active, Canadian mom of 5 year old twin boys and a 7 year old boy. Carolyn was introduced to the world of parenting in a rush, with the sudden arrival of her 31 weeker firstborn. Two years later, her twin boys thought they’d show up their older brother and showed their little faces at 27 weeks and in just as much of a hurry as their big brother! In just shy of two years Carolyn experienced the NICU twice for three little ones. The biggest lesson she took away from their NICU experiences was a lesson in patience. Carolyn learned to slow down, breathe and focus on the things that mattered; her little boys, her husband, her family. Although her twins experienced many hurdles while working their way through the NICU and she took them to close to two hundred appointments in that first year, Carolyn took time to reach out to the “preemie” community, which spans the globe. The unusual experience of having preemies and multiples has opened up all kinds of unique opportunities Carolyn never knew existed until she started her family. Carolyn has joined organizations promoting premature birth awareness, multiple-births awareness, chairs Multiple Births Canada’s Preterm Birth Support Network, writes a monthly newsletter for the Network, blogs and guest blogs, all in the name of NICU, preterm birth and multiple birth awareness. You can check out her blog at Twintrospectives.

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