When you're going to have a baby, people always tell you how bad the new born phase is. The sleepless nights, stinky diapers, spit up, and crying. All just the worst. Then they tell you about the toddler phase. The terrible twos and newly coined “threenager” stage. This phase is full of tantrums, potty training, sass, never ending energy, and a million questions a minute. They also warn you about the dreaded teenager phase. This includes all the sass and tantrums of the above with the added joy of hormones. There is a little gap in there, the years between 5 and 8 where you think you’re safe. You think “what a magical time this will be!” But if you’re like me, this will be the most challenging phase of all.
The baby phase was a struggle. I love me some sleep. Through some sort of biological magic, your body can function on the smallest amount of sleep with a new born and you can wake in the middle of a dead sleep at the smallest of sounds. “What was that? Is the baby choking? Did she just poop and smear it everywhere? Burglar? Cat smothering the baby in her crib?” You can keep this tiny human alive as well as yourself, and sometimes even manage to shower and get a load of laundry in. Pretty miraculous. So many times around the 4 month, I would sit and cry and missing sleep and praying that tonight would be the night that she would go to sleep without me rocking her for an hour. You always have so many concerned people around you, yet it is such a lonely time. You feel like you have lost yourself and become nothing more than a maid to this new, adorable, tiny overlord. But it gets better. You power through and are soon rewarded by the blissful sounds of first giggles, first words, first pitter-patter of tiny feet walking, and first “mama” and “dada”. You made it through the first two years, somewhat unscathed but wildly changed.
Then the toddler phase comes in like a wrecking ball destroying everything you think you had figured out. You stand there in Walmart watching your beautiful child throw the tantrum to end all tantrums and wonder to yourself “how did I become this parent? Where did I go wrong?” What got me trough the whole ordeal is remembering that this is normal. My child is being overloaded with new knowledge, feelings, freedoms, activities and thoughts every day. Its overwhelming. Its a bit scary. Its ok. What I learned was its ok to feel. To be emotional. My toddler taught me that through her feelings and emotions. We worked through it together. I quit smoking during potty training and my daughters “I like to slap mommy in the face phase.” We made it out alive, together. We have a special bond now. We snuggle often and love each other dearly and I believe that nothing could tear us apart.
Enter what I call the Pre-Pre-Teen years. When school starts, but before the hormones take over. I send my sweet, caring, kind-hearted little angel to school and BAM! Peer pressure, social status, cliques, bullying and playground antics are abound! My honest little girl is now full of shit. My kind-hearted angel is now joining in with the clique in making fun of the school janitor. My little snuggle bug is quickly replaced by this loud, obnoxious, slightly annoying being that now doesn’t tell me anything and is rebelling at every turn. When her friends come over, its like watching Dr. Jeckyl turn into Dr. Hyde. She turns into a different person. Trying to make herself appear grown up. Trying to gain some sort of acceptance through constant competition with her friends. When she is home I feel like I am just constantly yelling at her. Constantly giving her shit. Most of the time I hear myself scolding her and wonder how we got here. When did this happen? How did we grow so far apart? Am I a bad parent? Am I screwing her up? I hate this. Why am I like this? Why is she like this? What happened to US?! So many tears. So many fights. So many regrets. Then our second child came along and everything just spiralled out of control. I felt like I was losing her. Every night was a fight. A fight to eat, a fight to sleep, a fight about anything. One day my husband and I were at our wits end and just sent her to her room. We had tried being mean, being nice, giving freedom, taking away freedom. We were at a loss. I went up to talk to her and there she was, crying her heart out over her scrap book. I asked her why she was crying and she pointed to a photo of the two of us together on vacation, snuggling and smiling. She said “I miss this.” Then it hit me, she is as lost and confused as we are. It reminded me of the movie “Inside Out” where the old islands of personality fell away, but was replaced by the new more complex ones. I pulled her into my lap and we sat there and cried together. We reconnected, but in a different way. We had changed. After that I realized, my baby was growing up. She was struggling to gain independence and freedom and I was trying to hold on. I was holding on to control. I wanted to know everything that was happening and going on. I wanted things done my way or not at all. But she wanted to do things her way. Spread her little wings. So we started a chore and reward system. I let go of the reins and let her try things her way, afterwards explaining other ways she could try next time. When she wants to help me with something, most times I let her. No matter how painful it is for me to watch her struggle and not help until she asks for it. This time the important lesson I learned from her was that again, everyone has emotions and everyone has bad days. But it is what we learn from them and reconcile those bad days and regrettable moments that count. Its ok to lose your shit. Everyone does (don’t believe them if they tell you otherwise!).But after, once you have come back to your senses, you must calmly explain why it happened and reconcile your outburst. It won’t be the last thats for sure. But teaching my child this is important to me. She knows now that she can be sad, angry, frustrated, and upset. She can have her moment of emotions. Once she has calmed down, she can come talk to me about what is troubling her. I value this so much. This is our new bond. Trust, honesty, and openness.
We have reached gentle waters together, weathered the storm….for now. I still find the loudness and obviousness of this phase annoying. But that is on me. Its normal in this phase. Just gotta deal with it. Like all phases. I feel we are prepared for the next one and I hope that we have built a strong base so that we can tackle the next challenges that come along.
I wrote this not as a “how-to”, but as an “I have been there.” We all struggle so much with each new phase and each new bump in the road. There is such a pressure in our generation for perfection. It’s unreachable. Unobtainable. We are not perfect, we should never expect our kids to be. I have learned so much about myself from raising my children. But the most important thing is that we have to be easier on ourselves. Parenting is hard. Life is hard. But if we have some patience, hope, compassion, and love then we can make it trough each hurdle. Hopefully emerging stronger than ever before. To quote Ralph Also Emerson, “it’s not the destination, its the journey.” Parenting is a journey. Try and enjoy the ride where you can.
My hope is that this article reaches someone who may need a boost or even just to know that you are not alone in your struggle. Which is your least favourite phase? What have you found hardest about your parenting journey?