How AA Helps Parent a Toddler

I’m not an alcoholic which might make how AA helps me parent a toddler seem strange. But it’s all about the Serenity Prayer.

…grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference…–Reinhold Niebuhr

I’ve been reciting this to myself for weeks. It’s not to keep me from drinking, but rather to help me make it through parenting a three year-old. My own natural tendency toward control-freakishness and impatience makes this stage particularly difficult for me to deal with. But I will persevere—he’s far too old to be dropped off at the fire station.

From the beginning of Zach’s second year—new sibling included—I was smug because all signs suggested that the Terrible Two’s weren’t going to be so bad for us. I tried NOT to be smug, and even when I failed my smugness wasn’t borne of maliciousness. Zach was E.A.S.Y. Yeah, we dealt with the occasional tantrum, including one that lasted—no lie—for 12 straight hours soon after Elliot was born, but he was a generally affable kid. I assumed (incorrectly) that this was the result of our stellar (ha!) parenting.

Well, I was smug. Then he turned three and exchanged compliance for defiance without apology—or warning. He tries to call my bluff every day—still not believing that I don’t deliver empty threats. Part of me (a very small part that only comes out while he sleeps) admits to being proud of his determination. Surely this personality trait will serve him well in his future.

wisdom to know the difference

Ah, the most important line. A thousand times a day I remind myself that I cannot control him (or anyone else), but I can control myself. I give choices when appropriate. Bad behavior delivers consequences; good behavior provides rewards. Our family’s definitions of good and bad are well-defined and consistent. Sadly, making the appropriate choices often requires applying logic and reason and well, we aren’t there yet.

Freud has a semi-famous theory about Id (instincts), Ego (pleasure), and Super Ego (conscience). My delightfully laid-back infant has grown from being little more than an Id-filled, baby-blob to a little person. A little person so full of Ego, that his eyes are brown with it. Eventually he will also develop his Super Ego and things will presumably get easier. Presumably.

The irony of being an adult in a life surrounded by three-year-old-Ego includes the realization that all this defiance and emotional lability also happens to be developmentally appropriate. Teaching a young preschooler to get control of those murderous feelings of rage (today prompted by me cutting a sandwich into rectangles and not triangles) is the most important/difficult job for me.

Hell, I sometimes struggle with overwhelming feelings of impatience and anger, and I’m well beyond my preschool years.

I am humbled.

With Zach, as a first-time parent, I had the pleasure of not knowing what was to come. I assumed I had thrown the right bait into the lake of genetics and landed a large bass. With Elliot I have no such illusions. Maybe second children move into the Ego stage earlier thanks to all of that older-sibling modeling. Maybe Elliot will revert to a laid-back kid when he’s three. Maybe I’ll get a punching bag for the basement.