Two teenagers and a toddler - recipe for chaos?
April 19, 2010 6:11 AM   Subscribe

How difficult is it to raise two teenagers and a toddler at the same time?

I was a toddler when my siblings were teenagers. My memories of early childhood are that everyone was always yelling, at each other or at me. I was punished (yelled at or hit) for doing stuff that toddlers tend to do - grabbing stuff, making minor messes, not wanting to go to bed. I remember being afraid and on edge all the time, because I never knew when the next yelling session would happen.

My mother claims that this chaos was either justified or inevitable, because her children all went through "difficult" stages at the same time. As far as I can tell, none of us were "bad kids". My sisters were ordinary teenagers - yes, occasionally cranky and hormonal, but they did well in school, didn't drink or use drugs, never got into trouble with the law. I suffered from severe anxiety later in my childhood, but I'm pretty sure I was just your average, wilful preschooler, and that I tested the rules because I was three, not because I was a bad human being.

As an adult, I'm beginning to believe that my family was abusive, or at least deeply unhealthy. The emotional drama continues today, and I'm currently trying to decide whether to cut ties with my mother permanently. But I know that parenting is a difficult job, one I have never attempted, and I'm willing to try to see things from my mother's perspective.

Does raising two teenagers and a toddler inevitably lead to chaos and constant screaming? If we were just bad kids, does that make the screaming and hitting justified? If so, should I be apologising to her for being a difficult child to raise?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total)
There's no such thing as justified hitting or screaming. That happens when someone can't control their temper. While obviously, teens can be infuriating for being teens, and a three year old might aggravate the frustrations by making messes, etc...there's still no reason to hit a child.
posted by Atreides at 6:21 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You have nothing to apologize for, IMO. You were just a kid. And willful or not, the hitting and screaming to the point where you were afraid and on edge all of the time (and later suffering from extreme anxiety) is abusive and deeply unhealthy. I said it before on the green, but your parents job was to protect you...not be the people from whom you need protection.

Whether you should cut ties with them now is entirely up to you.
posted by murrey at 6:21 AM on April 19, 2010

Broadly speaking, raising kids is hard. Toddlers are difficult and teenagers...good lord, don't get me started. I've got one now and it's actually worse (for us) than it was when he was a toddler. That said, I believe your mother probably could have gone about things better than yelling and hitting. The thing is, none of us are you and none of us are her. There could be any number of reasons why she chose to parent you the way she did. Your childhood is over now and any way you react to it now is up to you. I say that having been raised in a very volatile home myself. I realized I had to stop blaming my father for the way I was acting as an adult. Yes, he was horrible. No, I don't have to let that color every facet of my life now.

As for cutting ties with your mother, the best thing I did for myself was to move away from my hometown. Far away. Putting physical distance between myself and my father enabled me to put psychological distance between us, which saved my sanity in the end, I think. We have a relationship now, but it's on my terms.
posted by cooker girl at 6:30 AM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add: I'm not excusing your mother for hitting you; she was wrong to do that. All I'm saying is the way you react to your past now is up to you. You can either forgive her and move on, forgive her and never see her again, don't forgive her and move on, don't forgive her and never see her again, or just don't deal with it. But yeah. Sounds like an abusive home.
posted by cooker girl at 6:33 AM on April 19, 2010

I had a major confused "what?" when I got to the end and saw your final question. You certainly should not have to apologize for anything you've done as a toddler. I could see maybe apologizing for being a difficult teenager to raise, but toddler's and even older children lack the self-awareness of inter-personal relations to really be at fault and take ownership for their behavior.
As for the first question, no just having two teenagers and a toddler does not inevitably lead to any particular dynamic, that dynamic is not tied so much to age groups as it is to the personalities and group dynamics of all involved.
As for the second question, I'll skip the value judgments, but will question your premises by posing a thought that maybe the environment (screaming/hitting) led to the behavior (bad kids) rather than vice-versa? Or more accurately that it was a destructive cycle that fed upon itself?

The dynamic certainly sounded unhealthy, but I'm a bit confused about the focus on the toddler years since that would seem to suggest that things improved after your siblings became adults. On the other hand, the fact that you are contemplating cutting of ties with your mother implies the opposite, that things never improved. My best guess then is that your relationship with your mother is and has pretty much always been a bit rough, and that she is pulling out an excuse sprinkled with some guilt to shift the issue from her behavior to the wretched environment she was forced to operate in. If that's the case, please don't buy it.

FWIW, I currently have two teenagers, but no toddlers, but both were toddlers at a certain point, so it's not a big leap for me to imagine what it would be like to have a toddler in the current mix.

Best of luck.
posted by forforf at 6:39 AM on April 19, 2010

As the mom of a toddler and older kids (not quite teens) the thing that I've noticed is that I am just more tired. I'm not as young as I was when I had my first, so I've noticed I just don't have as much energy to chase after my toddler as I did. I'm only thirty, so I still have plenty of energy - just not as much as I did. If your mom was quite a bit older then maybe her energy level could have something to do with it.

I am not justifying anything. Your childhood does not sound pleasant, no matter how old your parents and siblings were. There is no reason for constant hitting and screaming. I'm just trying to give you another side to look at, you want to know about raising kids with that much of an age gap.

I think the best thing for you is to get some therapy, an outside influence to help you work through what happened. Cutting your family out is a big step, but may be what you need. I just think a professional should help you with this.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:44 AM on April 19, 2010

I was raised in a home with teenagers and toddlers at the same time. It was chaotic at times (6 humans, 1 dog, 2 cats, and some assorted fish -- guaranteed chaos), but there was no hitting. (A certain amount of voice-raising during arguments, but I think some of how upsetting/acceptable that is is cultural.)

There is a difference between someone shouting, "NO!" as you toddled to grab a hot poker, and someone screaming at you for spilling your milk. (The former being okay, the latter being someone having unrealistic expectations of behavior and punishing the child as a result.) Some toddlers are high-anxiety, and I have met a few people who remember their childhoods as being very "screamy" not because they WERE, but because they were very high-anxiety individuals even then. However, that doesn't sound like your situation.

In no situation are you responsible for apologizing for what you did as a TODDLER. It's possible your mother was massively overwhelmed and you may find it helpful to recognize she's human, she's flawed, and she did her best. (Which, apparently, fell short. But was still her best.) The fact that you say the drama continues to this day does make it seem like there was some dysfunction going on. (on preview, what forforf said in the 2nd-last paragraph there)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:48 AM on April 19, 2010

I think you probably already know the answer to this in your heart, but anyway...I was a toddler when my older sisters were teenagers and my parents did not hit me or yell at me--there was yelling, but it was my parents fighting with each other (they later divorced).

My mom's opinion is that it was harder to raise a bunch of small children at once than a couple of teenagers and one small child at once. Teenagers are at least old enough to help out with a toddler, so in some ways it could be easier.
posted by phoenixy at 6:48 AM on April 19, 2010

(uh, 2nd paragraph, or 3rd-last. Doh)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:49 AM on April 19, 2010

If you had murdered someone when you were child, you wouldn't be tried as an adult, you know. Our legal system, and our society as a whole, generally recognizes that children are not responsible for their behavior in the same way that adults are. They lack self-control, and they push the boundaries as part of their development and maturation. It's up to the parents to enforce boundaries in a healthy way.

What you did when you were a child wasn't even criminal. It was normal. You have nothing to apologize for.

When you were a child, you were not, and could not have been, responsible for your relationship with the adults around you. Now, as an adult, you can choose the kind of relationship you want to have with your family members. Hold yourself responsible for the choices you make now, and let go of what you did or did not do when you were little.

You don't have to forgive your parents if you aren't ready to. Forgiveness is a process, and letting yourself be angry and grieve for the happy childhood you wanted but didn't get can be a very productive part of that process. If you need to be mad first before you can let the past go, be mad.
posted by prefpara at 6:50 AM on April 19, 2010

As an adult, I'm beginning to believe that my family was abusive, or at least deeply unhealthy.

I don't think you're really asking if it was ok that you got hit and screamed at when you were a child. I think you actually want someone to tell you that it wasn't ok, so that you can can feel justified in feeling angry for being treated that way. It wasn't OK and being angry about it's fine.

When I started thinking about this stuff a few years ago, the hardest part for me was coming to terms with how not-normal my childhood was. It had never really occurred to me that the things that happened to me were wrong. One of the ways that dysfunctional families are dysfunctional is that they aren't able to recognise the ways in which they don't work. Certainly, my family growing up was rigid in the certainty that were were fine and normal and needed no help. It was impossible to challenge that idea when you lived there. Even challenging that idea when I was grown up took some effort.

You're trying to find reasons why your mother behaved that way. Of course there are reasons, but reasons are not excuses and they're certainly not justifications. Without a doubt, my dad's own childhood screwed him up and I probably wasn't the easiest kid. But he was the adult and I was a child and only one of us had a responsibility (and the resources) to deal with these problems. I can understand why my childhood was the way it was, but that doesn't make the things that happened any less wrong.
posted by xchmp at 7:11 AM on April 19, 2010

Our toddler brought out the softer side of our teenagers, the vulnerability and compassion that teenagers usually try to hide.
posted by LarryC at 7:13 AM on April 19, 2010

When I was born, my four sibling ranged from 14-21.

There was never any yelling and never any hitting, even when various kids went through various rough periods, sometimes simultaneously. Which isn't to say we weren't disciplined, or that everything was always rainbows and roses, but teenagers + toddlers does not have to = chaos (or at least not chaos in a bad way).

I think its rare for screaming to be justified, and even rarer for hitting. (I stop short of saying "never" only because I'm willing to believe someone could present me with a situation where i said "okay, justified" although I can't think of one myself). As a mom, I can certainly see where there are times that yelling and hitting might be the easy way out. And maybe, if you all were "difficult" children, she was exhausted and frustrated and worn out and depressed. But that doesn't mean it was your fault. The grown-ups should act like grown-ups, and if yours didn't, it's understandable that you're mad.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:00 AM on April 19, 2010

There aren't enough details in your question to really know 'was this situation unduly weird or not'.

First, I'm pretty sure I was just your average, wilful preschooler, and that I tested the rules because I was three, not because I was a bad human being.

Well, of course you weren't! You were three.

The reason I'm saying there's not enough detail is because TooFewShoes offers an important perspective. Was your mom overly crabby and were things overly chaotic? Yeah, maybe. Maybe she was flat out of energy by the time you came along, tired and crabby. Even if you were planned, maybe she'd kind of forgotten how hard it is to be the parent of a small child, or was surprised by how cranky it might make a person to have their authority constantly challenged by two older kids and one little kid. So: maybe she was just tired and cranky.

Then again maybe she was screamy because she drank all day and maybe she beat you, which is an entirely different thing.

I think it would be helpful for you to try to figure out what was going on in your mother's head back then, it might help to forgive both of you and allow you to move on.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:07 AM on April 19, 2010

I too was 3 when my siblings were 13 and 16 and our house was a functional zoo. There was a lot of yelling and some hitting, not always all directed towards me. My dad took my sister's bedroom door off because she slammed it so much. No one got burned with an iron or denied food or anything, but things could escalate easily. My parents were both older, too. My dad would have been in his 50's then, so I second most of all of the above re: energy levels, generation gaps, etc.

Also: Therapy! If you have a good connection with a therapist therapy can be super helpful. Proponents of child development theory would definately say being abused and anxious as a child has an impact on your adult behavioral/emotional regulation and relationships. Good luck. I bet 0% of any of what happened was your fault. All of my family relationships improved a great deal as we all aged and spent time apart.
posted by ShadePlant at 9:24 AM on April 19, 2010

Does raising two teenagers and a toddler inevitably lead to chaos and constant screaming?

Absolutely not. My brother and I were toddlers when our sisters were in high school/college, and I was never yelled at excessively or struck by my parents. There was the usual parent/teenager tension ("You can't tell me what to do!") and toddler misbehavior ("He hit me first!"), but the household was overall a controlled, stable environment in which to grow up. I have good friends who also have large age gaps with their siblings, and I am quite sure their homes were similarly stable and generally pleasant.

Parenting is always stressful; using that as an excuse to hit your kids is kind of ridiculous. If your parents were abusive, I'd wager it has more to do with their personalities than with the ages of their children.
posted by Commander Rachek at 10:52 AM on April 19, 2010

You were in a very unhealthy family dynamic and your mother justifying the action and not caring about your feelings proves it.

I wasn't really hit at home but I also saw heavy justification for mental abuse. I was never a bad kid---in fact, probably sheltered, naive, and too good of a heart. Never did drugs, stole, dated in my teens, did homework, got scholarships, few friends, etc. Never got praise for being a good kid.

Please seek therapy since this obviously affects you. I had to for three years from the abuse so I could understand, move on, and finally get some affirmation that it wasn't my fault, justified, and my parents were dysfunctional assholes. They're on their way out from this world. Now I can deal, separate the abusive statements (they still happen) and realize they're soon gone and cherish the little good I have left.

Post traumatic stress from dysfunctional environments is very real and needs to be addressed. Therapy helps me deal with my one year old. He's trying some days (testing my boundaries with listening). It helps me deal with my husband when he goes on immature, mentally abusive rants where I don't internalize it. Before therapy, I would have internalized his bullshit to the point of feeling suicidal. But since I did therapy before I met him, I only realize he's an ass and move on. I put boundaries and protect our son from being witness or to imitate.

Please seek someone to help you get through this. You didn't deserve to get hit. She couldn't handle the stress. It was your mom's fault and problem. Not yours or your siblings.
posted by stormpooper at 12:42 PM on April 19, 2010

Just to add. There is a huge difference in being stern with a raised voice in telling a toddler "sit down!" when he's climbing up the chair and going to fall and screaming profanities, being mean, etc. I'm guessing you heard the latter a lot.

It's not right. People control their own choice of stress management. If they can't, they have to recognize that and find help.
posted by stormpooper at 12:45 PM on April 19, 2010

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