It feels like I’ve been having the conversation about whether parenting gets easier or not since my first baby was about six weeks old. The answer to this question was a preoccupation of mine from that moment on right through the toddler years and into the preschool years. At each stage, there I was, frantically asking, “Does parenting get easier? Does it?”
Here are some of the answers I was given:
“Little kids, little problems.”
“Easier? It gets so much harder!”
“Newborns are easy, trust me.”
Not helpful, right? And, as I have come to learn, not entirely accurate either.
Early childhood is f*#king relentless
I think that anyone who thinks that parenting only gets harder has forgotten about the relentless, mindless exhaustion of early childhood. The visceral feeling of knowing that you cannot possibly go on for a single other day, and the gut-grabbing punch of having to do it anyway.
My first kid didn’t sleep through the night for seven years. I was the mother of three little kids, had a full time corporate job in the city and I didn’t get more than three or four proper hours of rest in a row for seven years. How does anyone even get through that?
I remember, young mums, I remember.
I remember how tiring it was to have to do all the socks and all the shoes and all the jackets and all the seat beat buckling in. How most days you’d rather take the tick-tock loneliness of staying at home, rather than go though the whole leaving the house routine. And the sensation of being ‘all touched out’ because you hadn’t spent more than a minute that day without a small person wrapped around you.
The early years are so lonely
I remember how much I ached for conversation as I sat there watching Peppa Pig make fun of Mummy and Daddy Pig for the eleventy-billionth time and feeling oddly hurt. How much I love dancing, but not to The Wiggles, not again. I remember how I used to walk over to my sister’s house with the double-wide pram almost daily, because the 5 km walk gave me something to do and somewhere to be. Half the time the baby would be crying so I’d need to pick her up, the toddler would insist on walking and I’d end up pushing an empty pram along with my one free elbow, getting overtaken by snails.
“You’ve got your hands full there!”… and my legs, and arms and my goddamn brain too. Some days it felt like all I did was parent.
Then my kids grew and, yes, their problems grew with them. I swapped worrying about their health and growth and development for worrying about their happiness, education and future. The old adage is true, you are only as happy as your least happy child.
More mess, less burden
As the kids get older, there’s more mess and admin and washing times infinity. My youngest took a decade to decide that she’d stay in her own bed all night to a chorus of Hallelujah. All three still haven’t learned how to say please or thank you and I’m still wondering why they all think they can step over the towel on the floor rather than pick it up, but… it’s not harder.
I spent a decade plus toiling under rocks to create little humans who could be their own rock. Their bigger problems are just that: their problems. I’m here to listen and guide and soothe and advise, but ultimately they are big enough now to take responsibility for themselves. I still feel every hurt and bump and heartache, but the burden of fixing has been shifted onto my children’s mostly-somewhat-capable shoulders.
Oh, the relief to be able to share the load.
It’s a heavy load, no doubt about it. No one ever parented teens (let alone three simultaneously) and thought it was a lark. Some days I feel like I’m doing the shittiest job of the shittiest job.
Teens are a nightmare, but at least you sleep
But I’m rested. That’s a massive and important difference.
I’m parenting teens as myself.
My well-rested, time-to-myself self. When you’re parenting younger kids, they own you. Now they’re older, I get to walk away from them whenever I need to. Life’s hurdles seem so much more manageable on a full night’s sleep.
I’m able to sleep when I want to sleep and not when my kids decide it’s a good idea (finally!). Sure, I might lie awake some nights worrying when my kid will come home, but I also have my own life going on these days. Hell, even get to leave the house whenever I want to. Oh, and I no longer feel guilty for being a working mother.
I’m years into this gig so I’m basically just better at being a mum, better at being a human.
I feel like I’ve done the work when my kids were little and now we can face challenges together. The kids might frustrate me 10x more than they ever did as little kids, but if I need a break, I can just say, “I need a break, go find something else to do” and they go.
It ain’t easy, it’s just not harder
I’m not saying that parenting in the tweens and teens is easy. God no, it’s not.
There is no doubt that teenagers are bloody awful. Parenting teens is frustrating beyond belief and you feel utterly defeated: all these years, for this?
They’re mean and spiteful and arrogant AF. They have no interest in family, only in themselves.
Teens won’t do a darn thing you ask them to do and instead insist on doing stupid things they have no business doing.
As a result, we have some sobbing fights – the whole family. Wretched.
It sux balls alright, but I just don’t think it’s more exhausting, difficult or harder than the younger years. In fact, I think we’re not being fair when we dismiss the enormous difficulties that new mums and mums of young kids face. And tell them stupid things like “it gets harder, you know” when they are already at the end of their rope. How is that helpful?
Older kids are easier in so many ways
Older kids tie their own shoelaces, get their own drinks, buckle their own seat belts and even occasionally make the family dinner. They don’t hang off you all day every day – you can go places without them and they really don’t care. And every now and then you get a glimpse of what all your hard work has been about:
“Mum, do you think Peppa Pig’s parents are quite unrealistic?” Arabella asked me just the other day.
Did she notice the sun coming out from behind a cloud as she said it? Because it did. I thought of all those lonely episodes of Peppa Pig all those years ago and that sun was positively beaming.
Do you think it’s easier now the kids are older?