As the mother of a child in the thick of the terrible twos, I have lots of chances to test and revise my strategy for dealing with her mood swings. The main thing that strikes me, this second time around, is how little emotional impact her tantrums have on me. With my first daughter, watching her thrash around on the floor in a fit of angst made me feel as emotionally unstable as she seemed. I felt somehow responsible for her emotional state, like if I couldn’t help her come back to herself, I was somehow failing both of us.
This time, I know it’s just one of those phases we’ll both survive, and that each day spent in it brings us a day closer to being through this particularly un-fun aspect of growing up. When I see the tantrum brewing I simply walk away, keeping my mood light and fun, and go busy myself doing something that I act terribly enthusiastic about. Most of the time, this alone will bring her from the verge of a meltdown. She really is a happy child at heart, and would always rather play together than suffer an outburst alone.
When she does go over the edge into that melodramatic place, I don’t feel pulled down with her. Instead, I’m able to feel sympathetic that she’s going through this, and grateful that these are the last terrible twos I’ll be dealing with. I can offer hugs, snacks, a stuffed animal to take out her anger on, or the occasional time out when she tries to hit or bite me or her sister, and never take any of it personally.
Second children really do have it so much better than first kids. As my step-sister-in-law once said, “First children get all of our fears.” It’s true, we’re so worried that first time around about screwing our kids up for life, or that we’re failing miserably at this whole motherhood game. They react, we overreact, they react to our overreaction. Second (and all subsequent, I imagine) kids get a different kind of mother. One who is grounded, less flustered, and not so hard on herself.
Hopefully, I can take some of these second-child lessons and still apply them to my first born. I’d like for her to look back and remember a playful, relaxed, fun mommy who always knew how to calm her down, and forget that stressed-out lady who used to take those typical two-year-old emotional meltdowns far too seriously.