I’d pace in circles for hours on end trying desperately to sooth my colicky baby, and I’d comfort myself, too, by telling myself that this time would pass quickly. I’d tell myself that in just a few years, she’d be independent and happy. That the hard part of parenting would be over.
As I’d change blown-out diapers at 2am with eyes barely cracked open, I’d tell myself that this exhausting phase of parenting would end before I knew it and life would be smooth sailing.
When my toddlers would cry at the drop of a hat and when they’d get that feisty look in their eyes and say, “NO! I DO IT!”, I’d take a deep breath and remind myself they’d be 4 soon. Four seemed like such a reasonable age. Four would be much easier.
I mean, we all go into parenting knowing that the infant stage is exhausting and that one day they’ll be teenagers who would seem to go out of their ways to make our lives miserable.
I think because of these stereotypes and assumptions, young parents tend to throw on their rose-colored glasses when looking ahead to the in-between days….those years between pre-school and pre-teens.
Well, I’m here to say something you young, sleep-deprived parents don’t want to hear.
It doesn’t get easier. It just gets different.
A different kind of hard.
This is not news. It’s not a profound revelation. It just needs to be said.
Instead of waking a million times at night for feedings and diaper changes, you toss and turn all night worrying about so many other issues–the stuff that looks cute and has a laugh track on Disney. Things like the quality of their education, drama with friends, stranger danger, and good god, those never-ending sibling fights.
Instead of picking bits of spaghetti out of hair, onesies, and high chairs, you’re constantly reminding them to do their schoolwork, clean their rooms, be nice, keep their elbows off the table, stop picking on their brother, wash their hands, don’t slam the door, do their chores, don’t run in the house…you get it. You remember it from when you were that age, right? Gaaaah, Mom is such a nag! Yeah, well, it’s your turn to be the nag. Even though it felt like your mom was just doing it for her own entertainment, you suddenly realize how it was all necessary. You wonder how in the world you’ll ever get these simple things through their heads before their wedding day. Put the seat down when you’re done. Why isn’t your napkin in your lap??
Instead of worrying if you’re introducing the right foods at the right stages, you’re wondering if it’s too soon (or too late) to have some of the “big talks” that you have to have along the way. You’re wondering what they’ve been exposed to when you’re not with them. What issues do you need to address right now when you thought (hoped) you still had months or years?
You’ll have a hard time knowing when to advise or intervene rather than bite your tongue and watch them learn the hard way.
You’ll reach for that little hand as you walk through the mall, but that little hand will pull away because they’re too grown up to need your hand anymore. Your older kiddo will lag behind a few steps so he’ll feel independent.
No, I’m not in tears from typing that. Hush.
The sleepovers shift from just being with the grandparents to a night or two at a friend’s house. You’ll worry about what their eating, whether they’re wearing sunscreen, and whether they’re using all their best manners.
You won’t be less tired. You’ll just be a different kind of tired. The kind that makes you want to throw your hands up. Or cry. Or run away for the day.
And, like me, you’ll dread (and simultaneously look forward to) the years we still have ahead of us. The older teen days and….ugh, those first few years after they’ve left the nest. I was a nightmare at that stage and I dread the payback.
One thing that won’t ever be different, though, is that those kids are your everything. Your heart will hurt. It will hurt a lot. Sometimes it will hurt for them. Sometimes it will hurt because of them.
Let’s not wish away any stage. Let’s not rush through any or rush into any. They’ll all be difficult and they’ll all be wonderful. Just breathe through it all and hug them. Hug them a lot.