This article was originally published on June 4, 2011.
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 preschooler, 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.
- 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!)
- 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!
- 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!)
- 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 (think Facebook, 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!)
- 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.
- Older children wipe their own noses and rear-ends by themselves. This one is a pure, unadulterated bonus of having older children–enjoy!
- 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.
- 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!
Karin Brown says
This post struck home. I think about this all the time. I have 5 kids. My oldest is 10, my youngest is 1 and sleeping through the night. I realize this might be my only period of time when I have my evenings to myself. I’m sort of dreading my 10 year old entering young womens and the 7 year old starts scouts. Then the evening activities start and my entire family schedule will change, big time! So I’ll take your advice and enjoy the blessed moment I’m in.
Melanie Larsen says
This is a great article! I agree- the trick is really to find happiness in your current stage- whatever it is! Thanks for your insight!
I love having young kids, and I’ve heard so much lately how things do NOT get better. Yikes- I’m scared. Does it ever get better,(maybe being a grandma?) or am I long past the best days?? (pre-kids/ single days)?
Ingrid Sorensen says
This is a great article Allyson and SO TRUE! Gone are the quiet evenings. the simplicity. I always say, “Never a dull moment– even as much as I wish for one!” The days of 2 little toddlers and their relative predictability are over– we are in the throes of LIFE with 8 kids ranging from age 2 to 20! You are right on about enjoying life NOW because the “someday” won’t be what you think it is going to be, no mater how hard you try and plan for it.
Shawna Woodworth says
Thank you for sharing this very useful perspective with a young mother! I will relish those evenings with my husband and leisurely afternoons at the park. There are some parts of this life that I do wish would last forever!
Emily Ballard says
I am far too anxious to see our two-year old get older so we can graduate out of the “baby stage”. But realizing that time will also propel my eight-year old into a busier life full of activities helps me cherish the stage I am in now.
P.S. We have four young children in our family and one older, adopted son. When people talk about how many children we have, they often leave out our older son, assuming and implying that he is no longer a “kid” and therefore, needs less attention and parenting. Yes, he goes to work all day and spends most of his time away from home, but he is still requires plenty of parenting. And in the last couple of years, he has caused more tears and required far more prayers than the four young children combined!
oh joy! says
As a mother of four children aged – 5, twin 4’s and a one year old, I am now officially depressed.
LOL and sigh
Tired mom says
I agree. While I appreciate the reminder to learn to enjoy every stage of life, I found this article depressing and I have been sad all day because of it. I usually feel uplifted by reading things on Power of Moms, but not this time. Please write about the great things about each stage, not telling me that everything is going to be hard, hard, hard and I am doomed to this forever! Please encourage me through your words and articles!
Andrea Davis says
We are so sorry this made you feel that way. As a fellow mother I know the feeling when something I read affects me differently than perhaps someone else and leaves me feeling sad. We definitely do not want anyone to feel that way! Can I suggest another article that might make your day? Have you read: https://powerofmoms.com/message-to-young-moms/
There are many posts on our site about the joy that comes from raising young children. We hope you will find hope in those!
The Power of Moms Team
Brooke M says
Beautifully written, Allyson. Thank you for the perspective check!
Allyson this article is spot on! I could not agree more. With 2 kids in high school, one in middle school, two in elementary and one preschooler, we are knee deep in the challenges of sports, music, dance, school, learning to read, calculus, basic addition, community theater, church and scout schedules and nearly sleepless nights as older kids come home later, and leave for swim practice at 4:30 am!
Since you asked, I’ll share my thoughts on having older children too.
Once they reach high school the challenges change yet again. Driving, dating, ACT, getting their first job, college prep classes, running for office, working out with a competitive team (who’s goal is a state championship) before and after school, scholarships, the list goes on and on. None of these are easy for the teen or the parents! I promise you that watching them drive away on their own for the first time is enough to make a mother cry!
Learning to cut the apron strings a bit is harder than I thougth it would be, but to be honest I LOVE having having teenagers. I love sharing these special years with them! Chaperoning the orchestra tour, helping them get ready for prom, taking them driving for their required 40 hours of practice time, having their friends enjoy coming to hang out at our house, sending them on an international trip knowing they’re seeing the world for the first time, seeing them help their younger siblings with homework or friends or hair, watching them grow into young adults who make good choices because THEY choose to, there’s so much joy and satisfaction for me in those small things.
A word of warning from a mom who knows: high school is SO expensive! Registration costs, sports or cheer or drill participation and camps, team uniforms, admission to watch and ‘team parent shirts’ to wear when you see your child participate in sports or cheer or drill or music, music classes with their tours, required clothes and concerts, other class fee’s, private coaching or lessons, letter jackets, food, school dances, ACT, AP and class placement testing, a car (which was not optional for us), gas and insurance… everything costs more in high school. It’s just the way it is.
I feel blessed to get to experience so many stages of mothering at the same time. It’s not always easy, but I’ll be so sad once the little kid days are behind us. I’ll also be sad when the teenage years are behind us. To be honest, occasionally I wish I had a tiny baby in my arms again! There is much to be cherished at each of these stages.
To the mothers struggling to find time to shower between nursing and diapering and story time at the library, I have to agree that finding joy in the moment is so important, because one day you’ll turn around and your first baby will be ready to start her senior year and your last baby will be headed to kindergarten. I hope to remember the fun times more than anything else.
This sounds like what my mother has been telling me for years at the slightest complaining. I appreciate the kind reminder to enjoy every season. Your words always ring so true with me. I will do miss my night time.
Melanie V says
Currently, due to a medical condition, the pick up and drop off routine isn’t something I can do. Everything for the kids has to be close by or accessable by train or bus if they want to go anywhere. When I try to imagine what my life would be like if I DID drive, I start feeling very overwhelmed. Why? Well, we have 6 kids.
Even though I am missing out on the typical chauffeur-era of motherhood, we are doing other things we would have otherwise missed. For example, our third child, a nine year old son, started his own business with a neighborhood boy. They pull out stumps, cut down unwanted trees, and saw logs. Originally he wanted to do Kendo (Japanese sword fighting), yet there aren’t any training facilities nearby. So, he’s learning entrepreneurial skills instead. And I’m not being run ragged, yet I’m supporting them and coaching the two of them as they learn the necessary negotiation skills of being business partners.
It’s not what I would have purposefully signed up for, yet it’s good to be nest bound. Life is still amazing, it’s, thankfully, just a lot less stressful.
Mary Croxford says
Wow! I love this article and can relate so well. I am in many phases right now from toddlers to marrieds! Advice I would offer is to ENJOY your teens! They are so much fun! There are times when emotions will rise but don’t get sucked in. Resist the urge to lecture and become a better listener and validater (a couple of really great books to read are “I Don’t Have To Make Everything All Better” and “Positive Parenting”) Be consistent.<—–a tough one for me to learn but probably one of the most important lessons. Enjoy all these precious phases they pass all too quickly!
Thank you for this excellent article. Thank you for being empathetic to the young children phase of life and so articulately describing what is to come. I will miss my quiet nights! I love the season I am in, though, and enjoy every little phase that comes along.
Again, thank you!
This is a great article! As a mother of four children 9 and younger it sometimes bothers me when people tell me this phase is easy. I find my current stage to be very challenging where by oldest two have activities and school projects and yet I can barely make it through a 20 minute store run with my two toddlers. I really appreciated the perspective of this article. There is great wisdom in being grateful for the good in each stage.
Today as I was trying to shop for valentines boxes and cards for my older two my younger two were not having it. I felt really frustrated about the phase we are in where I feel like I can’t even go to the store with my very “active” 20 month old. I’ll try to remind myself to look for the positives in every stage! Thanks!
#6 needs to be amended – they also eat their buggers. Don’t think so? I know so… ugh! 🙂
But the comments are right – there is good and bad to every season, and if we can just look for the good, we’ll turn out all right! Thanks for a cute list of things my boys are doing now, at 11 and 14, that I never thought they’d manage at 1 and 4! Haha.
Suzette Perriton says
This article actually kind of made my blood boil. Ha! I could make a list of hot button topics that you no longer have to deal with when your children grow. I’m actually coming out of the little children stage and with each day that passes, I feel an internal sense of freedom. Please don’t get me wrong, I LOVED my little ones and will really miss all of it, but the one thing that does get better as your children grow is personal freedom. Leaving the kids home to go do something for yourself (or even just grocery shop!), having a bit of free time to get caught up on projects, having my body to myself, etc. Having older kids is very busy and emotionally exhausting, but there is NOTHING like the exhaustion of pregnancy, nursing, temper tantrums, lack of sleep, lack of freedom, a fight to the death just to get in a car seat (how would it be to just get in the car and leave?!), car pool, staying up late to wait for teenagers, school and after school activities in no way compare. As a mother of both ends of the spectrum (I have five children from teen to 2 years old), this article really rubbed me the wrong way. I can now walk outside my door and go for a run, or go to Walmart by myself, etc. There is a reason why many people don’t have more than two children and it’s because of the toll pregnancy, delivery, babies and toddlers take on the mind and body. There is a reason I knew five was my limit. It is a beautiful thing, molds us into the women we are meant to become, and I truly have savored every minute, even get emotional thinking back to the sweetness of it all, but there is no way I could say it was easier. No way! I think we do forget though. haha Even for the joy a newborn and little ones bring, it is the sweetest time, it is the hardest stage. I hope I never forget the feelings I had as a young mother and compare them to how I am now as a mother of teenagers. There is no comparison…sorry. I think you should rethink your feelings on the subject.
Allyson Reynolds says
Hi, Suzette. Allyson Reynolds, the author, here. I’m so sorry my article made your blood boil, but I think you read a different article tha I wrote! My main point was most definitely not to say that having little kids is easier than having teenagers, but rather to emphasize that mothers with young children shouldn’t hope that all will be peaches and cream in the future once their little ones become more physically independent. (A mistaken expectation I had.) I don’t know how many or how old your teens are, but I wrote that article about 6 years ago and my oldest child is now in college and I still stand by my words. I have great kids and a strong support system, but it is still hard to watch them go through things – things I can’t share here or with many people because it is private and personal to that child – and not be able to solve the problem with a kiss or a popsicle. That is not to say older kids are harder, but again, just to emphasize that it’s ALL hard and we should just plan to dig in and be ready to face it with as much love and bravery as we can as mothers. With a two-year-old still at home with you all the time, I can see how having all your children physically independent of you will feel easier, but in my opinion there is no amount of free time or having your body to yourself that could make having a chikd struggling with depression or substance abuse or failing grades or really bad friends or an eating disorder or porn addiction or any number of other difficult things feel easier than teething or temper tantrums. Both hard, but in very different ways. Pros and cons to both stages. That was the main point of my article. I’m happy it sounds like you have good kids and nothing serious is going on, but for a mother of a teen who may be dealing with some really serious things, it would probably make HER blood boil to hear another mom say having teenagers is so much easier than having little kids. It really does depend on the mother, the child (or children), and the situation. Hope that makes sense.