“It’s just a phase” is a lie parents tell each other (and themselves)

After my son was born, I remember being furious that no one had warned me about all of the intimate details of parenthood. Surprises kept popping up and I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult. If we’re being honest, I still can’t. I mean, I googled. I signed up for those weekly emails. I read baby books. I prepared myself in every way possible. But still, the most common phrases I heard as a parent-to-be were vague cliches like “parenting is so difficult” and “it’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.”

Now, I’m not saying parenting isn’t difficult or rewarding. And I’ve definitely depended on those old cliches time and time again. When my best friend had a baby of her own and she yelled at me for not warning her, I realized I had totally dropped the ball like all of the other jerks. It wasn’t that I intentionally kept anything from her; I had actually blocked out entire phases of the early days. Self preservation and all that. It turns out that becoming a parent makes you a big fat liar.

The biggest lie? “It’s just a phase.” Veteran parents love that one. And sure, it does have a shred of truth to it, because it usually is a phase. The inherent problem though, is that by saying something is “just a phase” you imply parenting gets easier somewhere along the line. But that phase is like a wave in the ocean. And you’re on the raft from Titanic. You aren’t Rose, nu uh, your kid is Rose and you’re Jack and you’re holding on for dear life and the damn waves keep coming. Sure, sometimes you get a reprieve. You catch your breath, relax your grip for a few seconds, you brag to a friend, “I totally got this!” Maybe, you take a shower and do a load of a laundry. You feel pretty proud of yourself. And then a whole freaking storm hits.

Your kid may never sleep through the night. At least not until long after you’ve given up hope of ever sleeping again and have completely forgotten how to sleep eight consecutive hours yourself. Crying still happens, even after your little bundle of lungs has words. A 6 year old screaming “I hate you” sucks every bit as much as the imaginary commentary you put to your newborn’s cries. At least they won’t remember the time they rolled off the bed, but your 10 year old will definitely remember the time you forgot to pick them up from school. Whoops.

And sure, the “clingy” phase might end and your kid might stop crying when you leave the room, but don’t think you’ll ever be able to poop in peace again. Meal time will always be a mess, and even the best of eaters will decide to be picky at times. (Don’t worry though, it’s just a phase. They’ll hate something else next month.) Suddenly, your kid will have opinions and wants and parenting will become a battle of wills! And my personal favourite: butt wiping doesn’t end where potty training begins. What the actual fuck.

Seriously, how do we survive? Oh, our kids are freaking adorable when they’re finally asleep? That’s true. Admitting to myself that I know nothing about parenting, but neither does anyone else, helps too. Seriously, everyone is making it up as they go along. But of course, I still defer to the experts because I don’t want screwing up to be on my shoulders! At least if I screw up, I can point to the expert and whine, “Well he told me to!

So no, parenting doesn’t get easier, it just gets different. No amount of reading is going to prepare you for what’s next. Parenting is on the job training; and sometimes, just like in the real world, your boss is a complete jerk.

So what can you do? Invest in wine. (The cheap wine, you’re gonna need lots.) Keep a stash of sweets. Surround yourself with people who get it, people who you can rant and rave to and know that they won’t think worse of you for it. Waste valuable sleeping time looking at pictures and videos of your kid to remind yourself how damn freaking much you love them. And tell yourself over and over that this too shall pass.

(But something new will be waiting around the corner to take it’s place.)It’s cool how we call it a “phase” as if parenting gets easier.

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When everyone’s an expert but you

Like every other excited  mom-to-be since the 80s, one of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant was buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting. And then I promptly vomited. (Metaphorically.) And when that was done, I did what every modern mom-to-be does, and signed up for Babycenter. Because you are failing at motherhood if you can’t match the appropriately sized fruit to your unborn fetus. It’s a miracle any child survived before we figured this out.

It was all fun and games until my kid was born. “WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING??!” I would ask my husband frantically. “I DON’T KNOW,” he’d yell back, “IT’S WHAT YOU READ IN THAT STUPID BOOK!”

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There. Fixed that.

This carried on for a solid year and a half. We’d consult the baby books only to have everything blow up in our faces. Milestones were usually wrong. Calming strategies were always wrong. And tips that were meant to save sanity? Well, who had time for those? We were just trying to survive.

I’ll never forget the Scientist’s 6 week checkup. He was in his infant car seat on the floor, the cover pulled off, and my husband and I were sitting in the chairs trying to look like good parents who had everything under control and had definitely slept for more than 60 consecutive minutes in the past three weeks. I thought we were doing pretty good until the doctor stood back while staring at the baby, moved her head back and forth a bit and asked, “Is he always like this? So alert?”

“Yes!” We cried, finally feeling validated. Something was wrong with him. She was going to give us the magical cure that took this super alert baby and turned him into one that slept like, well, a baby.

“Wow. Is he usually happy like this?”

“Well, yeah,” we admitted. “He just likes to watch.”

“Cool.”

She sat down to type a note in the computer and told us when we were due back for a regular checkup. No miracle solution. No “keep an eye out for…” Just “enjoy not sleeping!”

And yes, I’m wise enough to know that no parent gets sleep. Sleep is a four letter word in the parenting world. It’s a known fact that if a mother doesn’t throw a chair at your head when you ask “how’s the baby sleeping?” it’s because she’s too exhausted and physically weak to even finish fantasizing about it, let alone see it through. But this felt abnormal. We had a bed time routine. We prioritized sleep. We got blackout curtains. Used white noise. Blah blah blah blah blah. In short, we did everything the experts said to do. They were liars. And I wanted blood.

Unfortunately for my vengeance, one day it dawned on us. It wasn’t the experts, it was our kid. He wasn’t a regularly developing infant. In a day and age where the worst thing you can be is a parent who acts like your kid is a “special snowflake” we had missed all the signs. And they were big, huge neon ones that everyone saw but us. It was more than a party trick that our one year old could flip through a baby sign language board book and teach himself new signs. It was more than a little abnormal for him to recognize words like “zoo” and “hop” and “hat” and “dog” when he was still learning to say those words. When he started sounding out words around his 2nd Birthday and reading PD Eastman and Dr Seuss beginner books, we realized our kid was umm, a little snowflakey.

But still, experts say not to teach your kid too much. It’s all about play based learning. So we’d cave and let him pick out the educational toy at the store, but then we’d balance it with a healthy dose of picking boogers and brainwashing in front of the TV. Because you want your kid to be normal.

But see, he never asked for toys. He wanted flash cards. Math workbooks meant for kindergarteners and first graders. Anything that had numbers on it. That was his fun! So eventually, we stopped listening to the experts. If he thought it was fun to spell all day, seeing that he was eating and getting outside and exercising, what did it matter?

We started to encourage his interests a little more. Getting him to do addition with toy cars was a win win. Play and learning. The librarian would find out about his latest obsession and point out some great books for him to borrow. He became obsessed with space, so I took him to a local stargazing night. That lead to him learning about these things called elements and the periodic table. And then our life spiralled out of control (in a really amazing, unbelievable kind of way).

I’ve had to find a new kind of expert. An expert that can explain my kid’s intense emotions and behaviours. One that can explain why learning is the same thing as breathing to him. I’ve finally realized that sometimes our kids are different. Heck, mostly kids ARE different. And most importantly, that you have to weigh all of that expert advice with your gut.

So tonight, out of some morbid curiousity, I signed into my Babycenter account. What kind of fruit should he be the size of this week? (I’m kidding. Everyone knows you can’t compare 3 year olds with fruit. You use storm classifications.) Anyways, after talking about how it’s the perfect time to introduce my kid to what letter his name starts with, (which is age appropriate for sure, just not something we’ve talked about since before his first birthday.) I was greeted with this:

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The thing is, we’re having our kid tested soon. We’ve reached the point where he’s so far outside of the norm that we really do need an expert’s advice. If he wasn’t in school, we wouldn’t have a need. But he is. He started JK in September and while he has kind teachers and his school has an outdoor classroom that I was thrilled about, we’re realizing it may not be the best fit. While he’s gaining independence, he doesn’t want to read much anymore because “kids just look at books!” His grammar is starting to slide. And to be honest, while they make the phonics lessons fun, is it really in his best interest to force him to sit through lessons he already knows at 3? If he’s not learning something new, shouldn’t he be playing? Look! Babycenter says he needs new experiences after all. What’s first grade going to be like when he’s chained to a desk and learning things that he knew before his second birthday? My guess is, not good. But do we pull him out of school without knowing the whole story?

Sometimes as a parent, you have to eschew  the status quo. You need to ask yourself what’s best for my child? You have to stop being afraid of looking like an idiot for the sake of getting them what they need. You need to pick and choose your experts. But you shouldn’t have to be prepared for people to judge you. We’ve all been places we didn’t think we’d end up. And sometimes, you are the only expert you need.

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