It used to drive me crazy when mothers of older children would say this to me. All I could think was how easy it was for them to say that when their children could bathe themselves, dress themselves, feed themselves, entertain themselves, get in and out of the car by themselves, wipe their own noses and rear ends by themselves, and–the motherlode–sleep all night and go to school all day.

How hard could it be to have your days to yourself to take care of your work and do your own thing, only to have those independent creatures come home and help out around the house if needed? I felt certain that when my needy, even helpless, babies and young children got a little bigger and more self-sufficient, every aspect of my life would be easier.

If I only knew then what I know now!

This post is nothing more than a perspective check for the mothers of young children who are waiting for that magical day when things will get easier and they will be happier–presumably because their children will be bigger. My point is not to say, “Just you wait and see! It only gets harder!”  My point is simply to encourage mothers in every stage of motherhood to try and develop an attitude of happiness and gratitude today instead of waiting for when their children sleep through the night, are potty trained, go to school, learn to drive, or leave home. Each age and stage has it’s own challenges and blessings. The trick is to learn to enjoy the ride.

First, let me just say that there is nothing “little” about the physically exhausting work of caring for an infant, or being pregnant and caring for a toddler, or simultaneously caring for a nursing infant, a pre-schooler, and older children who have after-school activities and homework projects. I’ve been through all of these stages, and still have a three-year-old at home with me all day long. It’s tough work, no doubt about it.

But before you get too excited about the freedom and ease that come with older, more independent children, I’d just like to share with you a few of the surprises I’ve found attached to all that so-called freedom and ease.  It has both humbled me as well as helped me to enjoy all the “lasts” of my sweet little three-year-old.

  1. Older children bathe themselves. Yes, but that can mean a couple of things. Either they aren’t doing a good enough job and you can tell, or they are in there so long you’re left with a cold shower. (And don’t forget to stock up on gobs of shampoo for that long, thick hair!)
  2. Older children dress themselves. And they have very strong opinions about their clothes. And fitting in matters. And their clothes are more expensive. And don’t even get me started on what is being marketed for teenage girls!
  3. Older children feed themselves. Do you know what this means? I don’t know about you, but even though I was raised on homemade wheat bread and garden vegetables, I had Bugles and a diet soda every day for lunch in ninth grade. And good luck getting everyone together for dinner when one child has soccer practice at 5:00 and another has dance class across town at 6:00. (There are reasons fast food chains thrive!)
  4. Older children entertain themselves. Kinda sorta. They still need quite a bit of direction so they don’t constantly default to some sort of screen. (ThinkFacebook, Wii, or texting.) The other challenge is that there’s a lot they are supposed to be learning and doing beyond simple entertainment. When children are small, they learn from their play, but as they get older they need to do more work around the house, homework, instrument practice and so on. Unfortunately, self-discipline doesn’t come naturally, so moms have the responsibility of keeping everyone on task. (This is a bigger job than it seems!)
  5. Older children get in and out of the car by themselves. And they get a lot of practice doing it . So much that you get to watch them do it for hours on end. Drop off, pick up. Drop off, pick up. Drop off, pick up. Repeat.
  6. Older children wipe their own noses and rear ends by themselves. This one is a pure, unadulterated bonus of having older children–enjoy!
  7. Older children sleep all night. Ah, yes. Sleep. The ultimate hot button issue at our house. It happened so fast I didn’t know what hit me: my husband and I lost our quiet evenings alone together. While they do sleep all night, older children (of the teenage variety) don’t go to bed at 7 or 8:00. They go to bed at 10:00 or later. Especially on the weekends. And instead of being woken up in the morning by your little cherub, you get the pleasure of waking up a grouchy, hibernating bear that has to leave for school at 7:30.
  8. Older children go to school all day. This one is the motherlode. But not in the way that you think. Once your first child starts school, your life will be swallowed up by bell times, homework, projects, spelling words, permission slips, fundraisers, book reports, open houses, state testing, class parties, star of the week posters, school fairs, school plays, school concerts, book orders, volunteer requests, and last minute reminders from your children that you have to run to the store for some vital necessity due tomorrow.

The biggest challenge for me? The busy-ness of life is after 3pm. My internal clock wants to start winding down around 5pm, just when things are starting to ramp up. You’d better believe I try to finish all the errands, cleaning, laundry, phone calls, paperwork, household business and shopping before 3pm, because that’s when the real work of the day begins! Gone are the days of leisurely trips to the park, making dinner while tired children watch something sweet like Winnie-the-Pooh, and quite evenings spent alone or with my husband.

But the biggest blessing? Watching my children develop into the people they are going to be. I can already talk and laugh with my teenage daughter like I would a friend. Like I said, it’s a whole new set of challenges and blessings.

So carry on, mothers of young children! The work continues in it’s various forms and colors and it’s not letting up anytime soon. But the sooner we can choose happiness and gratitude amidst the demands and challenges of motherhood, the better off we’ll be.

QUESTION: If you are the mother of older children, what do you find are the biggest challenges as well as blessings?

CHALLENGE: Decide today to embrace each stage of motherhood in all it’s glory!

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