You think I would know by now, after about ten zillion hours logged parenting these three kids. But it still takes me by surprise almost every time.
The past five days with my five month old have been rough. She’s been really restless in bed, waking up in the middle of the night chattering, whimpering and rolling around. She’s been fussy during the day too, clingy and needy. She has been teething of course (aren’t they always?), but there’s been something deeper going on.
I found myself up in the night rocking her, my mind frantically scanning over the events of the day: had I eaten too much chocolate? Had she gotten too much stimulation before bed? Was she restless due to shorter naps? Wait, when did she last poop?
This morning, when she awoke for good at 6 a.m., I brought her into the living room, away from the rooms of her sisters, in hopes they might snooze a bit longer. I laid her down on the carpet, where she immediately rolled onto her stomach and pushed up (which she could do before), but then she scooted over to me and pulled herself forward (which is new). She locked eyes with me, new noises spilling from her mouth, new confidence brimming from her hazel eyes.
Ohhhhhh, I get it. You were getting ready to change again. Hello, new little person. Goodbye, regression.
Almost every harrowing time I’ve had parenting can be boiled down to the simple truth that kids take two steps back before they take a big developmental leap.
My oldest daughter threw her first tantrums right before she started walking. She wanted to be carried everywhere right before she weaned. She was clingy and terrified in bed right before she started being able to fall asleep on her own.
At five she was nasty and rude, storming around like a tiny teenager, trying out every expression of disgust or derision she came across. I started to question whether I’d done a good job, worrying and strategizing about how to deal with her. And then, Bam! The monster was gone and my Kindergartner was trying to sight read, could write every letter of the alphabet, and suddenly she was drawing and staring at books for hours. She seemed stronger and surer of herself, happier and kinder with her little sister, gentler to the baby. Hello, new little person. Goodbye, regression.
A few months ago, my three-year-old middle daughter took a big step back. She wanted to be home all the time, and she wanted me as close as possible. She only wanted to wear footie jammies. She wanted to climb all over me, and some days I felt like I was going to suffocate between her neediness and caring for the baby. She wet the bed some nights.
Was it becoming a big sister? Starting preschool? Her older sister going off to Kindergarten? These are big things and I have no doubt that they played a role in her behavior.
But one day I looked at her and she was different. She was dressing herself in clothes again, asking me to give her space to play alone, begging for friends to come over and play. Gone were the hours of begging to cuddle, the constant need to touch me. Hello, new little person.
It’s funny, though. Suffocated as I felt at the time, I look back gladly on her last regression. The times I got to hold her and soothe her. I’m so glad I got to baby her, because she seems like such a solid little girl now. Goodbye, baby. I’m glad to meet this new little person, but I miss that baby too.
As a mom, I never want my kids to change. I mean, of course I do, but there’s this also some melancholy when I realize they’ve leaped.
Change is a constant companion to childhood, and for parents it is a cause to celebrate– but also to mourn, just a little.
If only we could realize what was going on when we were in the thick of it, regression would give us parents a chance to step back a little bit, to relish whatever bit of babyhood or toddlerhood is about to disappear. To hold them a little tighter and just bask in it.
I’m looking forward to an easier night tonight, to a fun and busy day with my independent middle daughter. I’m excited to watch my oldest daughter read and draw.
But the next time one of them starts going backward, I’m going to try hard to savor those moments, rough as they are. To say goodbye together before we embrace the change.
“I kiss you and kiss you, With arms around my own, Ah, how shall I miss you, When, dear, you have grown.”
― W.B. Yeats
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and co-founder of the local blog Moms Alive. She is mama to Ruby, 3, Quinn, 5, and Nora, 5 months. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, knitting and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.