Whenever mothers of young children bemoan their exhaustion and lack of time, you can bet that someone will snidely remark, “Wait until they’re teenagers. If you think you can’t sleep now!” I know. I’ve made such remarks myself. If I’ve ever said that to you, I apologize.
The fact is that every stage of children’s development comes with joys and challenges. The early years are physically draining. You have children literally taking over your body: nursing, being carried, crawling into your lap, hanging onto your legs. You can’t so much as use the toilet without making sure your child is safe.
On the other hand, little kids are so cute. I’ve always believed that’s evolution’s way of making sure moms don’t kill their young. Even when a two year old is in full throttle tantrum mode, he is so small and vulnerable that most of us don’t have the heart to be harsh. Of course, children’s vulnerability is also scary. I remember sometimes just gazing down at my infant or sleeping toddler and being overwhelmed by her complete dependence on me.
As children get older, they become a little more self-sufficient. You can sometimes even finish that cup of coffee you started before it’s completely cold. With said independence, however, can come more power struggles and sassy behavior. When my kids were school age, I used to joke that I never should have taught them to speak. In school, kids start to lose their innocence too, and issues with friends and bullies come into play.
Still, those milestones are so rewarding: first day of kindergarten, learning to ride a bike, even those school plays. I will never forget my kids’ third grade solar system play. One son was Neptune, and he played the role as a salty pirate. The other son was Jupiter, and he was a he-man with a muscle costume. My oldest child participated in the school talent show by singing “One Dark Night,” a song about the Great Chicago Fire.
I am currently deep into the teenage stage with two of my four children. With this stage come more grown-up worries about peer pressure, drinking and drugs, sexuality, academic performance, and getting into a good college. Battles with my daughter over getting her homework done or getting enough sleep, as well as late nights waiting for my 18-year-old to get home, are not the most fun I’ve ever had.
Yet I can have meaningful conversations with my teens. I can enjoy their bigger accomplishments that go along with their bigger size and age. I can let them be not only in another room, but in another town or even state without me. I can pursue my writing, exercise, piano, and other interests that fell by the wayside when they were younger.
What stage of childhood is hardest for moms? The answer is: all of them. No matter how old they get, how independent and successful, I will always worry about them and be there for them in whatever fashion they need me.