“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
That famous quote is from The Godfather: Part III, and is a reference Michael Corleone finding it impossible to escape the mob life and go legit, but it also easily applies to my life as a parent (except for the number three, because I just had my second kid and there ain’t no way I’m having a third!).
Before I became a dad, I was terrified of being responsible for a newborn. After I got used to that, I started getting nervous about the toddler years. Then, a few months into the walking and the talking, I starting stressing about the terrible twos, and then while I was hoping for my headache to subside, we slid into the tumultuous threenage years, which bled into the fuck-you fours…
Are you getting the picture here? It never ends.
My son is now 5 ½, and I don’t know what this phase is called, but I do know that most of the words I find myself using to describe his recent behavior probably aren’t appropriate. Not only does he increasingly have the intellectual and communicative capacity of an actual human being, he also still retains the limited emotional range and terrible coping abilities of a toddler. They say you have to take the good with the bad, but do I also have to take the badder, the baddest, and the ugly?
A few weeks ago, I got up and started getting my son ready for school. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of asking him to get dressed before eating his breakfast because we were already running late, and rather than say something normal and reasonable, like “yes” or even “no thanks,” he collapsed to the ground and started screaming as if he’d been shot. I went ahead and made him a bagel, which he typically enjoys (by “enjoy,” I mean, “which he’ll usually eat after only a little whining”) and I went down to shower. When I returned, I asked him if he’d eaten his bagel, and he replied, “I put it in the garbage” — which was true. It was there, atop the garbage, next to any hopes I’d had about things getting easier as he gets older.
This is the problem with parenting. Nothing ever gets to the mythical “easy” stage; nothing ever settles down. Every stage of your kid’s development brings something new to the table. For every exciting new ability your kid suddenly possesses, a terrible consequence comes along with it. The bad stuff doesn’t disappear — it just evolves. You take one step forward, two steps back.
I went from struggling with diapers and sleep-training and teething to struggling with potty training and wandering off to struggling with tantrums and whining to struggling with tantrums and whining to struggling with tantrums and whining…
Honestly, I feel like I’ve been stuck in the “tantrum and whining” phase for a long time now! My kid is almost 6, so when is he going to start acting like an adult?! (Meanwhile, I’m almost 40 and regularly whine and throw tantrums about my kids, so clearly the answer is never.)
We parents spend half the time bemoaning one phase and praying for it to end, and the other half the time wishing we had that last phase back because, oh my god, the new phase is even worse!
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
You want them to be able to walk and talk until they walk into traffic and talk back. You want them to become more independent and learn how to read and write until they start disobeying and can break your sophisticated spelling-based code. You think when they get older they get easier, but instead they just get smarter and more challenging. Their skills and abilities outpace their ability to handle their emotions or understand consequences. And if I remember my own childhood correctly, this doesn’t improve until well after the teen years.
The mature, healthy thing to do here is to suggest we all stop wishing each phase away and start appreciating the moment. Because despite all the stress and aggravation each phase brings, there is also amazement and wonder and joy. Unfortunately it’s hard to appreciate anything when my 5 ½-year-old is screaming about not being able to have dessert until after dinner.
It’s a tricky game of “be careful what you wish for,” to be sure, but I am more than willing to gamble on the next phase if it means these ridiculous tantrums will finally get phased OUT!
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