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Turns Out, This Crappy Baby Phase Isn't Just a Baby Phase

Toddler boy standing up crying in his crib with airplanes on the wall behind him.
Photograph by Getty Images

The first year of parenting was tough enough—from learning the ropes of breastfeeding to dealing with sleep deprivation and postpartum depression. But every once in a while, my baby would totally lose his shit for a week or so, and I’d feel frazzled and frantic, wondering if I’d broken him.

When a mom friend shared an article with me about the “wonder weeks,” after we’d been sympathizing about our babies’ unpleasant phases, it all made sense.

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The concept of wonder weeks is that babies go through intermittent developmental leaps, and during these periods of growth they often exhibit changes—usually for the worse—in their eating or sleeping habits. They also might become more fussy, whiny, clingy and generally unbearable during these times.

Chances are, after the terribleness ebbs away, something good is coming.

Once I realized there was a reason—and a positive reason, at that—that my kid had suddenly turned terrible, it eased the pain of parenting through these times. Knowing that my son’s extra fussiness and cluster-feeding at 6 weeks old was because he was becoming more alert while also hitting a growth spurt, I relaxed a little, stopped worrying about him so much and understood that his little brain was developing. This wasn’t a problem I needed to solve so much as a necessary, if uncomfortable, stage of his development.

As my son got older, my husband and I got acclimated to this trend. When he was learning to walk, his already terrible sleep got even worse. He was a hot, cranky mess for a few weeks when he was 2.5, and just afterwards, his vocabulary exploded. Knowing this pattern of regression would happen just before a really exciting developmental milestone was comforting.

But as my kids both mastered walking and talking, and I felt like I was leaving the trenches of new parenthood, I forgot about the wonder weeks. I thought they’d gone the way of pacifiers and diapers—just another stage that feels immense while you're in it but is quickly forgotten in lieu of the next phase of parenting. I didn’t realize that the phenomenon of wonder weeks wouldn’t really stop as my kids got older. They’d just spread out a bit.

Last winter, just around his seventh birthday, my energetic boy morphed into a sulky teenager. He prowled around the house like a tomcat looking for a fight, short-tempered and miserable. I tiptoed around him for weeks, wondering if something was bothering him and causing his gloom.

Then, just after his black mood finally, blessedly petered out, I noticed my son could read chapter books.

Oh my God, I realized. That was a wonder week. I mean, it was more like a f*%!ing fortnight, but still.

Then, this summer, my daughter, who is usually a happy-go-lucky 4-year-old, went sour for a week. She cried over everything, refused to listen to anything my husband or I said to her, and just generally behaved like a rabid wildebeest. The next week? She returned to her chipper self—with a new streak of independence. With no warning besides that moody, unhappy week, she suddenly could get dressed on her own and began spending more time amusing herself independently.

Wonder week, I realized again.

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Just like when they were babies, knowing that my kids are going through some developmental surge doesn’t make all the stress of their unpleasant behavior evaporate. But it does remind me to be more patient, to accept the periods of difficulty instead of fighting it or trying to change it. Because chances are, after the terribleness ebbs away, something good is coming.

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