“It’s just a stage.”
How many times have you heard this, or said it to another parent, as children scream, bite or hit their way through their parents’ patience and creativity? Nighttime feedings are a stage, as are teething, the terribles twos (or threes) and potty-training. So too are the transitions from crawling to walking, from babbles to speech, and learning to dress oneself.
I have three sets of mommy-friends with kids the same age as mine: (former) neighbours, parents with kids’ in our daughters’ (former) daycare class, and (both current and former) blogger friends. Having had these friends since our children were in infancy, some even when we were simultaneously pregnant, is an amazing gift. When J and M suddenly make a 180-degree turn in behaviour, these are the folks I turn to for grounding. Just a couple of weeks ago, I sent out feelers to my buddies to find out if M and J’s sudden return to disobedience and near-tantrums, along with a sudden discovery of rudeness, was a developmental stage or a result in being uprooted from home. Apparently it was the former.
I think back over the past five years, and the years seem to fall into clear categories.
Year One was about survival and making sure the babies felt safe. We were all figuring it all out. While the babies figured out the use of their bodies, my husband and I were feeling our way through parenting and co-parenting, trying to muddle through life on four or fewer hours of sleep per night. There were moments of intense joy, intense exhaustion, and intense emotion all around. Our basic focuses were making it through the day, and ensuring that the babies knew that they were loved.
Age One was about exploration. I was far more confident as a mother, and the girls wanted to know about everything. I started doing more with the girls. Playdates were no longer merely opportunities for cooperative diaper-changing. We went to parks, museums, pumpkin patches, but J and M were equally fascinated by the grocery store shelves.
Age Two was about testing boundaries, but respecting them once they were set.
Year Three was the year of the tantrum. I’d heard of the Terrible Twos, but we went through the Terrible Threes. My friend April has an explanation for this that I whole-heartedly believe. She argues that the “terribles” show up when a child begins to feel powerless and has unmet desires. Our generation of parents tends to listen to our children from day one. We understand what their different cries mean. We tend to believe that you cannot spoil an infant. We interact with them constantly, and talk to them even though we know full well that they are unable to respond. We let them push the boundaries enough to keep them from feeling cloistered, but come age three, they want more. The exceptions that prove the rule, to my mind, are the “old school” parents, the ones who cannot or choose not to be at the beck and call of their babies. Every parent I know of that sort has dealt with the Terrible Twos, and not the Terrible Threes. The tantrums at our house were back-arching, leg-thrashing, ear-piercing affairs. Fortunately, M and J took turns with their outbursts, but I couldn’t have been happier when Age Four arrived.
Age Four was the age of logic. The girls’ assumptions were wonky beyond belief, but everything was intensely logical. They wanted to know the “why” of everything, but they accepted any rule, any request, any argument that had a logical explanation. I could have stayed a mommy of four-year-olds for a decade without tiring of it.
Age Five feels a lot what I expected Age Fifteen to be like. M and J have begun questioning our authority, talking back, disobeying, and being rude. Until a couple of weeks ago, they seemed to be under the impression that they knew better than us. We brought back the discipline techniques of the Terrible Threes, the timeouts and the loss of privileges, and their behaviour began to get back into line. Still, they’re not as eager to help around the house as they were a year ago. They love learning, so we don’t have to nag them about homework, but everything else takes multiple reminders. I don’t yet know how I will label this age. Time will tell.
What has been your favourite and least favourite stages so far? What stage(s) are your children at now?