The Final Phase Before Launch
This post was written by Todd Hansen, Programs and Experiences Director at Youth Frontiers. Todd is married with one daughter and lives in the Twin Cities area. He has worked at Youth Frontiers since 2005 and brings his skills in business, culture development and management leadership to the organization.
Parents have told me that some of the best advice they’ve received as new parents has come from me – “Everything is a phase.” I stand by this advice after 17 years as half of the parenting duo for our daughter, Griffin. Her sleep patterns, potty training particularities, the “I do it my own way” tantrums, the mandatory twice-a-day stuffed animal meetings, the desire to wear a Teletubbies outfit everyday, thinking that all boys are gross, the fear of driving and everything Dr. Who – all just phases.
It’s also been my experience that as soon as we had mastered one of these phases – learned how to avoid it, cope with it or distract from it – this beautiful child immediately left that phase behind and moved on to another. It’s like some cruel parenting video game where you’re constantly forced to move on to the next level and then are left with a pile of obsolete mastery.
What has not been a phase is my unwavering desire to help my daughter discover and develop into her best, unique self, so that she can successfully contribute to making the world a better place. However, this desire presents challenges to this father.
I remember very clearly holding her as a baby and having a gigantic paradoxical realization: I am going to spend the first 17 years of my daughter’s life working to make her the best thing in the world, someone everyone would desire to be near… and then I’ll spend the next 17 years making sure no one gets too close to her. The father-daughter relationship is a complicated one.
Soiling the nest is a natural practice where both adult and young birds defecate in their nest in order to tick the others off so that the idea of the baby bird leaving the nest becomes both physically desirable and psychologically possible for all parties involved. We can argue the psychology of birds in another blog post, but the point is: things can get rough on the ramp to launch.
This phrase immediately resonated with me and framed the experiences we’ve had with the unusual behavior that has seeped into this odd space between our child’s dependence and independence.
For some, it can play out in very dramatic scenes, but for us it has been more subtle. For example, Griffin rolling her eyes at… well… almost every thought my wife and I share or her general attitude that she’s already learned all she possibly could learn from us. For our part, my wife and I irritate her with our “ineptness” with technology or by talking about the restaurants we will visit and the fun activities we will do with our newfound free time when she is gone.
As a family, we have been recalling the phrase “soiling the nest” weekly and it’s been truly helpful in finding some grace as we work to understand each other’s sometimes hurtful words and actions a bit more.
But in the heat of the moment, when it’s hard and frustrating and tense, I just recall to another phrase and remind myself: “Everything is a phase.”