I’m not a big fan of the whole concept of phases.
My son just turned 6, and let’s just say age 5 was no walk in the park for our relationship. I was holding out hope that when his birthday landed in September, some magical switch would flip and his Frustrating Fucking Fives would fade away. That hasn’t been the case, obviously, because nausea-inducing platitudes notwithstanding, there is pretty much nothing magical about having kids, least of all the arbitrary checkpoints provided by birthdays.
You’ll be surprised to learn that despite what I wished for when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, my son’s behavior didn’t suddenly improve once he turned 6 just a week later — which is a tragedy, because holy cow is he annoying me lately.
I feel bad saying it (but not that bad, because here we are), but kids are annoying. And right now, my son is annoying AF. He’s hyper at all times, he whines and throws fits about everything, he talks back, he never stops talking, he’s never happy, he’s never grateful, he always wants something else, something more, something something something.
It’s driving me batshit. And while I hate the concept of phases, I hope to god this is a phase. I would love for this to be a phase. It has to be a phase.
Why do I hate phases? For one thing, there are so many of the stupid things. They’re like those carved-out, made-up neighborhoods in New York City that real estate agents try to classify with some hip new term to give them an identity — and higher rents — when they’re really just the same few blocks they’ve always been. The term “phase” is often bent to suit any period of time during which your kid is acting up in a new, different way. The terrible twos, the threenage wasteland, the fuck you fours — every age has a nickname that attempts to, if not outright, dismiss then at least rationalize away bad behavior.
“It’s normal at this age!”
“He’ll grow out of it!”
“Mine did the same thing.”
It’s easy to understand why we lean on the concept so much. Despite my distaste for them, I do it too, and for the same reasons as everyone else: It’s so much easier.
Reducing your kids’ worst behavior to something as convenient and amorphous as “a phase” is an easy way to shirk your parenting responsibilities and sit back with a glass of wine, secure in the fact that your little hellion will inevitably eventually age out of whatever irritating phase he’s currently in and ease into the next one. Rinse and repeat. Just go ahead and relax because there’s nothing you can do about it!
It’s a lot more reassuring to count your kid’s suddenly rampant bad attitude or frequent tantrums as part of a collective experience that every parent goes through than it is to confront the potential reality that your child is a jerk and needs your guidance, and discipline, and parenting to transcend whatever he’s going through. Nobody wants to think their kids are jerks, and phases allow us to camouflage that possibility.
“Everything happens for a reason.” “This too shall pass.” “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” “It’s just a phase.”
A phase is a wish your heart makes, when you desperately want to find a way to excuse your kid’s terrible, annoying, exhausting behavior so that you don’t have to blame your genes, or your parenting, or your kids themselves. Sometimes it works, because sometimes your kids are simply going through the same growing pains that every other 2- or 3- or 4-year-old has gone through.
Of course, sometimes it is your genes, or your parenting, or your kids themselves. Sometimes it’s all three of those things, and in those cases something – besides pouring another drink – will have to be done. Because it’s not always a phase.
The trick is being able to tell.