Nothing prepared me for my first year of parenting – it was intense and overwhelming. I had the rookie desire to do everything perfectly. I ended up worrying every time something went wrong. In short, I was an exhausted stressed-out mess.
These days with both my kids almost in double digits, I can easily spot a frazzled new mom when I see one. I recognize her shell-shocked expression – I used to see it all the time when I looked in the mirror 10 years ago. I recognize her because I was her.
Recently, a new mom asked me a question I really hadn’t considered before. She was tired, overworked and didn’t have a spare minute to spend on herself, and she asked me if parenting became easier as kids aged. She was hoping it did because she was at the end of her rope, even though she loves her baby with all her heart.
Not wanting to give her false hope, I felt compelled to answer her question as honestly as I could. Here was my answer: It does, in some ways. In other ways, it gets harder. It really depends what stage your child is at.
Let’s look at some of the age ranges your child will hit and figure out the perks and challenges they create for you as a parent.
Parenting: The First Year of School
Once you’re over the sob fest you have when you drop your child off for his first day of school, you start to marvel, at least a little, over your newfound independence. You actually have a little time to yourself, especially if you’re a stay-at-home mom or a part-time employee.
So if you’re a new mom looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, you can cling to this — you’ll have more free time and you’ll get more sleep when your kids are at this age.
But when your kid does start school, get ready for a new challenge – all the sicknesses he’ll get. My kids were around a lot of other children before they started school so I thought they wouldn’t have a hard time with all the viruses and bacteria lurking in their classrooms. Boy, was I wrong.
I felt like we had unwittingly signed up for a Virus of the Week club. My life felt like the movie Contagion as I struggled every week to figure out what new virus my children were fighting and if it required, at best, a doctor’s intervention, or worst-case scenario, a trip to the emergency room at the local hospital.
In the first two months of pre-school, my daughter caught a cold, a mystery illness that morphed into pneumonia and a raging case of pinkeye. It was awful. Just when I thought I was getting out of the hardest part of parenting, I had been sucker punched by schoolyard illnesses, and before they happened to my kids I really had no idea how hard they could hit. I spent sleepless night after sleepless night sitting up with my daughter as she coughed until she could barely breathe.
Parenting: Third and Fourth Grades
These years are typically great ones from a parent’s perspective. The schoolwork isn’t too challenging at this point, so you still look like a genius to your child when you can help them figure out any answer on their homework.
Your kid still loves being around you too, and the kids at school are all fairly nice to each other at this age.
Their immune systems have beefed up, and you start to get used to seeing your child without a runny nose. They sleep better and they start to entertain themselves for longer periods of time without asking you a question every 5 minutes.
This is one of the easiest ages for parents to deal with, in my opinion.
Parenting in Junior High
Things start getting a little more complicated, both for your child and for you once junior high rolls around.
There’s all those pesky puberty changes, and the fluctuating hormones can cause some pretty intense situations and conversations. But on the flip side, some kids simply sail through puberty with no change in their attitude.
Junior high is when your child will likely start having problems with the mean kids that seem to infiltrate every school. Or worse, your kid might turn into one of the mean kids. If that happens, you’ll want to nip that in the bud, or you’re going to have some nightmarish teenage years ahead of you and so will the unfortunate kids your child is picking on.
On a happy note, junior high is when your child will be able to enter a lot of extracurricular activities at school. You might need to be ready for a whirlwind ride of juggling work, cleaning, practices, homework and games. It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
But, as busy as they are, this is a great age. Watching them grow a little more independent and develop their talents while still wanting to spend time with you is both gratifying and bittersweet.
Parenting Your High School Child
My kids aren’t at this age yet, but there was such a big age difference between my youngest sister and I that I already feel in some ways like I’ve parented a high schooler.
This is when I expect things to go from happy to scary seemingly overnight. Your children are teenagers now and soon they’ll be adults. You want to hold them tighter, but they want more freedom than you are prepared to give.
You’re going to probably have to admit at some point that you’re no longer capable of helping them when they get stuck on their homework, especially if they’re using Common Core math. That can be a blow to your self-esteem.
There’s dating, college applications, curfew battles and worst of all, driving. It’s the driving that terrifies most parents more than any other aspect of parenting a teenager. If you thought you had sleepless nights when they were younger, just wait until they get their driver’s license. You may never sleep again.
I think my kids’ senior year is going to feel like the end of summer break when you’re a kid – you’ve had a great run and wish it wasn’t coming to an end.
But that’s life. It moves on whether you’re ready or not. Remember that, new moms, the next time you feel overwhelmed. Each moment, even the hard ones, are precious.