Is It Just A Phase?

Lessons in Parenthood: Week 4

There’s been a pattern running through parenthood. My daughter is pretty flipping wonderful. It’s almost bizarre. 99% of the time she’s what I would call perfect. I’m sure as her parent I’m slightly biased when I say that. That 1% of the time when she is far from perfect, I have 2 questions I ask,

“Is she tired?” and “Is she hungry?”

If the answer to either or both of these questions is “yes” then I give her a free pass. When I’m tired and hungry I feel like screaming and crying too, but I’m bound by social norms to behave appropriately. While I’m understanding of her meltdowns I still feel like sometimes I would like to have noise cancelling headphones.

Outside of that 1% of the time there’s an outlier. Every so often we go a few days, usually 2–3, of abnormal difficulties. This usually results in total exasperation and at one point I feel like exclaiming,

“What’s WRONG?!”

If there’s really no explanation then I conclude we are going through a phase. I used to get annoyed with people for using this term too often. At every new thing Olivia did they would just write it off by saying, “Oh, it’s just a phase,” to which I think, “No, it’s just that she’s developing.” Truly I think that going through a phase is something rare and out of character for your child. It’s something that can’t be diagnosed or explained by normal developmental benchmarks.

However, that indefinable “phase” can be even more rare. Writing behavior off as a phase means we don’t have a way to deal with it or address it, we merely have to wait it out. That excuses me from having to make sure I’m not contributing. What do I mean by this? When Olivia is a mess I also take a look at her environment and ask myself,

“Has something changed?”

Change can be hard for anyone, but for toddlers who visibly thrive on routine, a change can be catastrophic. Suddenly, to them, life is out of control and they haven’t hit the developmental level to be able to reason or understand it. In my opinion, this gets them another free pass. What’s a practical example of this? Luka goes on a business trip and is gone for 3 days, then he comes back and is busy with work for a week. Meanwhile, I have a project that is taking up more of my time than usual and our family time is cut short. It’s not at all unusual that after a spell like this Olivia has more than a few meltdowns. The amazing thing is that after we spend a full weekend, 2 days, totally together, she is completely back to her cheery, happy self. It makes me think about the importance of family, not just for us adults, but especailly for children.

After eliminating all these things, there can be an inexplainable phase. In my experience, a phase usually lasts 3 to 7 days. At most 10 days, but that’s really rare. It’s possible she’s going through a growth spurt. It’s possible she’s gone through a psychological growth spurt. I do have rules to her phases too. They cannot be harmful. It’s never OK to hit, I don’t care if it is a phase. She has to be respectful towards everyone, her parents, peers, and everyone else. Generally speaking though, I try to handle these stages of life with a great deal of understanding. It’s not easy growing up. It’s not easy going through major physical changes. I feel like going through a phase is like getting through a hurricane. You lock everything down and prepare to wait it out. In a few days the storm blows over and you can get back to life as you know it.

If you feel like your baby, toddler or child is going through a phase look at all the things going on in life and see if you can’t pinpoint it to something. You can’t always, but when you can it’s enormously helpful. Not only does it give your brain something tangible to go on, but it helps you think of the best approach to dealing with it. Godspeed, parent! If there’s one thing that’s certain it’s that we parents have been there and understand it’s not easy. In the airport I was standing next to a woman with a screaming 9–10 month old baby. She was anxiously trying to quiet her while we stood in line to board the flight. Our eyes met and I said, “Don’t worry. You’re not bothering anyone. We’ve all been there.” All of us parents at one point need a little understanding and some reassurance.

You can see my post on Medium.