I will preface by saying that I wholeheartedly believe that fellow parents voice these expressions with sincerity after listening to descriptions of a certain parenting struggle. The parents who have passed the threshold of surviving some challenging experience with their child/ren say the words, knowing the change will indeed come.
The parents who are in the thick of a similar experience with their child/ren say the words, hoping the change will soon come. There are also the (very few) parents who have yet to experience some frustrating stage with their child/ren and thus, empathetically say the words, aware that they will one day be the recipients of such words.
With my eldest child about to turn ten, I know the phrases are truthful. Stages do pass. But do I find the words helpful? Not really.
With parenting, you never know how long a certain “phase” will last. When you’re losing sleep or trying to stay calm while navigating the stress that is brought upon by said “phase,” you most likely are not in the headspace to be comforted by the prospect of imagining a time when the stage is over.
Yes, you are validated that you are not alone. Yes, you are reminded that this “phase” is “just” a blip on the too-fast journey of watching your child/ren grow up.
But some “phases” will span a period of time that exceeds what should still be considered a “phase.” During that excessive number of months or years, parents exhaust every strategy to have their child graduate from that “phase.” So uttering “this too shall pass” could make the parent feel less than validated.
I am a person with anxiety. Having started therapy with a social worker at the beginning of the year, I can better verbalize my struggles. I need to believe that I am in control. I am plan-oriented. My mind works in overdrive. I have an inner critic who functions like an understudy, always ready to take center stage.
My youngest is in month eight of her potty training regression. My middle kid’s diet has consisted of the same dozen foods for almost five years.
Although I know they will eventually grow out of these “phases,” my anxious thoughts currently cannot accept the good-natured logic of “this too shall pass.” Instead, I am stuck wondering when. How much longer? The inner critic becomes the star, delivering sharp lines about how I haven’t tried hard enough to help them surpass this “phase.”
Rest assured, when people say “this too shall pass” or “it’s just a phase” to me, I follow it with either of the expected responses. Sighing “I know” or laughing it off in some way.
What would I like instead of these phrases? Words with more meaning. A conversation, asking how long the “phase” has lasted and what I have tried. Listening to understand the fuller scope. Offering not advice about what to try next, but a wider perspective. Reminding me about why I am a good mom or shifting the discussion to describe any of the other amazing parts you see of me or my kid not at all connected to this “phase.”