Terrible, Terrible Twos.

Terrible twos. TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE twos. There aren’t any words. Except, hot damn, the terrible twos. A isn’t even two yet either! He’s just 20 months old, but the terrible twos seem to have hit our house early. This week has been the hardest of our parenting lives (even harder than 4 to 6 months old, when A woke 8-10 times a night). A started a new daycare last week, and since the second day of his new school, A has been INSANE. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but there are no words to adequately describe how insane A has been. 95% of the time he is at home (and awake), he is throwing a temper tantrum. I am not exaggerating when I say 95% of the time. This weekend, my husband and I looked at each other and just said ‘this is insane.’

Luckily, at school, this doesn’t seem to be his pattern at his new daycare. They say he is a pleasure when he’s there, and they love having him (hopefully this will continue!).

I do try to stick by my original post on temper tantrums: I name his emotion and validate it. But there are times when that won’t do anything to calm him down. This week is a perfect example. In those moments, we’ve taken to ignoring him. Disciplining through the terrible twos is an emotionally trying time—I have lost my temper a few times over the last week, I will admit. But I am so thankful I have a partner. When I just could NOT deal anymore, he would step in and I would go hide upstairs. When he couldn’t deal anymore, I would step in and he would hide. Self-care as parents is so important, particularly during weeks like this.

So, a note to myself: Take care of myself. Make a self-care plan. Rely on family and friends. Remember, everything passes. GOOD LUCK.

And solidarity to any other parents who are in the middle of the terrible twos.

Radical self-care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” –Audre Lorde

I’m not feeling inspired this week to write about social justice and parenting. Not sure if my mental energy is being sucked away by work or by the INSANE temper tantrums A has been throwing recently. Dammnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, he has been feeling cranky the last few days. Or he’s just testing his limits. Or he’s going through a developmental spurt. I don’t know, but it is a test of my patience. And a test of my whole ‘are temper tantrums social justice opportunities?’ strategy I put forth a few weeks ago. I want to seriously laugh-out-loud at myself that I called what A was doing then ‘temper tantrums’—they were more like a 30 second whine. Now he screams immediately if I don’t give him what he wants all the time (which I don’t, don’t worry!).

This is actually a perfect segue into what I wanted to talk about this week: how self-care can be an act of radicalism. The image of the ultimate selfless mom who has no time to think about herself is not a healthy one (though I’m sure it feels true sometimes). A few weeks ago, my friend invited me to a self-care workshop for moms. It was a nice 2-and-a-half-hour session, mostly because it was a non-judgmental space of moms recognizing the need for time for themselves. During the workshop, I made a few resolutions to myself about self-care: (1) that I would turn off my screens at 9:30pm every day (not going so hot with that one—it’s currently 9:51 as I’m writing these words), (2) I would hug my husband once a day (seems so obvious that I’m embarrassed to say it) and (3) that I would try floating. One of the other moms in the self-care workshop highly recommended floating (also called sensory deprivation). Essentially, you float in a salt water tub that’s heated to the perfect temperature so that you lose track of your body. The room is pitch dark and completely silent. I did end up trying it recently: one Sunday night right before A’s bedtime, I left him with his dad and went to float in a dark, soundless room (lol). I’m not sure if I’ll do it again, but I’m proud that I made time to try something new, just for myself.

Lorde’s quote is a powerful one. She obviously speaks from an intersectional perspective—her Blackness and her womanhood are wound up together. I’m not sure her quote exactly speaks to me as a White woman (nor should it), but I do believe that any one’s self-care is an important act of social justice. Particularly for parents. Particularly for moms. Not just because it helps us be better moms, but because we deserve that care simply because we are human.

 

Are temper tantrums social justice opportunities?

A is almost 13 months, so walk into our house almost any day and it’s likely you’ll see some sort of minor temper tantrum within twenty minutes. It normally only lasts 10-30 seconds, but it can be a theatrical treat: back-arching, nose-crinkling, fake crying. And this can happen in response to almost anything. Today, I didn’t let him chew on the bottom of my gross flip flop. How dare I!

As easy as it is to [half-] jokingly complain about these moments, I consider them opportunities to cultivate a critical social justice skill in my son: empathy. My in-laws lovingly make fun of one phrase that I’ve seemed to say to A every time he starts to fuss:

Are you feeling frustrated?

The response is an attempt to recognize and name the emotion that A is feeling in those moments. To manage a temper tantrum by acknowledging what he is feeling, first and foremost. To legitimate his emotions. I’m sure he really is frustrated that he can’t chew on my shoe, no matter how ridiculous that seems to us.

The way we talk to kids about their emotions—particularly our sons—is a one of those mundane, critical acts of social justice. Too often, boys are subtly (or not so subtly) taught to mute their emotions. Speaking to A about his emotions cultivates his emotional intelligence and ultimately models compassion for him. By saying You seem really sad right now!, I want to encourage him to recognize and honor emotions in himself and (later) in others. Particularly in the cultural context of toxic masculinity, I try to be cognizant of using “emotional vocabulary” with A—and to teach him not to be ashamed of expressing or recognizing his emotions.

I’ve recently started pointing out illustrations in books of characters showing a lot of emotion. It’s a similar idea: that small, mundane act encourages him to recognize emotions in others and build empathy for them.

Empathy is a necessary–though not sufficient–step in becoming a human being who cares about social justice. It teaches us to care about others’ emotional states, even if they don’t match our own. Empathetic people can still be racist, sexist, etc., of course. Blame human social psychology and all that in-group/out-group BS for that. BUT an anti-racist/sexist/oppression person inherently must be empathetic. It is a prerequisite, but not the only one.

*P.S. I don’t think this is a revolutionary approach by any means–lots of parents have being doing this for years. Still, I do think it is still helpful to consciously and explicitly state what might be an unconscious thought or practice.