The Fuck-You Fours

4-on-fireA friend of ours noted that it’s not the Terrible Twos parents have to worry about, it’s the Fuck-You Fours. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The word “fuck” is not one you will see me use often on this blog, but in this case there’s really no other that quite does the topic justice, because lately pretty much everything Connor does seems like a gigantic Fuck You, Mom. I don’t think it’s a result of adjusting to a new baby; I think this is just the phase he’s in right now. And I don’t like it.

Let me pause to say that I hesitate to write this for fear it’s going to be taken as a post, accessible online for all eternity, saying I don’t like my child. But I’m pretty damn sure most parents go through this sort of phase with their kids sooner or later, so let’s just acknowledge that we all love our kids and get on with the rant, shall we?

Four is not a fun age. Two wasn’t bad, and in fact, while we had our challenges, there are many things about two-year-olds (or mine, at least) that I thought were just awesome. At the time, everyone told me three was worse, and while three had its own challenges it really wasn’t awful either. But four. Oh dear lord. Some days I want to lock him in the basement.

Connor has always been very much his own person. We learned early on that if he wanted something he would do everything in his three-foot-tall power to get it. And if he didn’t want it? You’d better have been prepared to have it thrown back at you. Something about this attitude must have worked for him, because as a four-year-old this is now very much his MO.

I’ve thought a lot about our interactions with him and whether we need to be taking a different approach. And honestly, sometimes we do. Some of his behaviour is because he’s bored, and some is because we don’t give him enough time with something, or enough warning that it’s time to stop something, or enough autonomy. And some of it is because he’s hungry. Or tired. Those issues are all theoretically easy to fix and, at times, practically impossible.

I will admit to not having done a lot of reading about parenting philosophy. I don’t have the attention span and I find too much “should”ing counterproductive. But a large part of it is due to having come across so much advice that I just don’t find useful.

Proponents of “gentle parenting” seem to be everywhere these days. I get the concept, and a lot of it I agree with, though the amount of condescension in much of it leaves me blinking in disbelief. (This gentle parenting article (Update: which has now been deleted – hmm…) is especially annoying. The first three paragraphs, which assume that some people either completely ignore or rudely yell at their children, make me really quite cranky. If there’s a gentle parent out there who has never lost her patience with her child I would like to meet her and find out what medication she’s on.) But some much-touted gentle parenting practices are downright farcical when attempted on a child like mine.

The classic “give him a choice” approach is a perfect example. This is how it tends to go in my house [not an actual conversation, but the typical outcome of many real ones nonetheless]:

“Would you like soup or a sandwich for lunch?”

“I want a hog dog.”

“We’re not having hot dogs today. You have a choice of either soup or a sandwich.”

“I want a hot dog.”

“That’s not one of your choices.”

From here his response goes one of two ways:

A: “Well, that’s what I’m having.” [Feet stomping, pout big enough for a bird to land on.]


B: Meltdown that makes Chernobyl look tame.

Giving him a choice is not a parenting or communication strategy that works.

I still try. It’s not as though, having been unsuccessful with this approach, I instead turn to dictatorial parenting. I try to determine what he actually needs (as opposed to what he says he wants). I work hard to summon my patience from the reserve tanks when my (admittedly limited) supply has run out. I try to remember that he’s only four.

But, oy. Four. I do love my child, and most of the time I really like him too. But to Four I really have only one thing to say:

Fuck you.




  1. Shit. And here I thought four was going to be Fabulous. I was told three was going to be a horror compared to two, and I thought, okay, I’ll ride the year out and we’ll get to Fabulous Four. Fuck.

  2. Oh God tell me about it. When you were describing that conversation about what to have for lunch, I remembered the time when he insisted on having juice, even though I told him several times that there was none in the house. And the whinyness? Ugh. I do feel like a lot of times he’s just giving me the finger.

  3. Oh I’m shuddering for you.

    Four is no joke.

    (But 5 is less than a year away, right? Should we keep saying that?!)

  4. Love it. maybe by the time four hits we are just too tired of all the crap that two and three gave us making four seem like our breaking point. I found with both of mine that once they started school and realized i wasn’t the only one making rules up for them, things got better. Thats all i got.

    • I like your theory! You could be right. And yeah, I can’t wait until he’s in school. Half days next year. That will be better, right?

  5. I call my parenting “If you don’t knock it the fuck off you’re getting a shoe up your ass.”
    I think that’s what’s wrong with society. Let’s baby the hell out of them. Let’s not show them that they can’t get what they want. Let’s not teach them about compromise.
    If i pulled that, I would have starved.
    PS. I think 4 is my favourite. The infant years I wanted to pull my hair out…and 2 years old.

    • I think I’ve forgotten what 2 is like. I now remember why the infant years are hard, but this one is easier than my first so I’m not complaining. There are lots of things I like about 4, but lots and lots that I don’t too.

  6. My oldest was a breeze until the Fuck you Fours hit and wreaked havoc on my sanity and parenting style philosophy and pretty much destroyed anything I *thought* I had learned up until that point.

    I thought he’d turn 5 and we’d go back to having more civil discourses tempered with common sense and less bullshit.

    HA! All of the attitude, back talking, assertiveness, etc that came with the 4’s? It’s on a whooooooole other, more sophisticated level now that he’s 5 (almost 6). He’s not “bad.” He’s just 5 going on 25 and is too damn smart for MY own good. I try all kinds of techniques..some days they break through his 5 yr old smugness, and we negotiate our way through the day, and he recognizes that challenging my authority as his parent isn’t cool….other days I just yell…or walk away before I lose my shit. I thought going to school would make it easier somehow, but he’s a model student there…at home is another issue.

    So for me, the Fuck you Fours became the Fuck you more Fives. Maybe when he’s 30 things will calm the hell down. Until then I have alcohol. I hope you and Connor make out better than we are!

    • Oh geez, yeah. They do like to make you feel like you know nothing, don’t they? I do suspect it will get worse before it gets better.

  7. A-frickin-men. That’s all I can say to this post.

    I adore my daughter. She is an awesome person and I love spending time with her, but the stubborn independence is infuriating at times.

  8. I’m not looking forward to this. At all.

    Hang in there. :)

  9. Ah, you are scaring me!! :) I am having major issues with my 3 year old daughter with the tantrums, everything has to be her way, the whining, & the constant need to be up my butt! Age 2 was great, age 3 has been difficult, & now as she will be 4 in march-I *thought* this was going to slow down & magically age 4 would be wonderful, I am now thinking I may be wrong :)

  10. This frightens me. I thought two was horrible but Four is worse?
    I also adopted the same parenting style as you. I can’t do gentle parenting for too long because my daughter needs to know that I am not her friend. I am there to keep her safe and to teach her about the world.

  11. Ah, yes. I am so there with you. I love my son, but this independence and attitude? Completely infuriating.

  12. I must say, I found four with my daughter to be AWFUL. So awful I threatened to not even celebrate my son’s 4th birthday when it came around! Surprise, surprise…he wasn’t as awful. But yeah, all my friends have hated 4 at one time or another.

  13. Jessica carter says:

    So my son turned 4 December 6th and I swear on the 7th he turned into a different kid. I have been telling all my friends that whoever said ages 2 and 3 are hard never had a 4 year old. I just saw this post and I was cracking up, I LOVE it and am glad to know I’m not the only one going through the fierce fours.

  14. Juliette says:

    My sons teacher told me to look this up, and so pleased I did, in the last month he has literally CHANGED back into his 2/3 phase but 100 times worse, I thought something was wrong, but ok I get it now, 80% of the time he is awesome but for that 20% and at the minute it is becoming more than less it makes me want to as you said “lock him in the basement”

    My daughter was amazing still is, although her attitude at the delightful age of 8 is starting to show through, however she is child you can reason with.

    Padded walls and boxing gloves I’m feeling!!!

    Good luck Mamas!!!


  15. O my word!!! This was just what I needed to hear! For the past three months I thought it was my fault that my perfect little angel is turning into a little monster! She is turning 4 at the end of the month and I am referring to her as Hanzilla behind her back (her name is Hanri)! Well, I was a difficult teenager once and that is the person she will be dealing with for the remainder of this year then. Hell has no fury like a mother that is tired of feeling guilty all the time… 😉


  1. […] four is a very special age. It’s in-your-face hard and great at inducing mama guilt. But it’s also precious, funny, and so worth […]