When my children were really little – baby and toddler little - parents of older kids would smile benignly and say “Small children, small problems. Big children, big problems.”
In my sleep deprived, befuddled state that was about as encouraging as a telling a marathon runner they have 6 km, uphill, left to go. That is to say, it didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it made me feel that I was being a bit of a sap. We all know how difficult we were as teenagers, so I should buck up, right?
My eldest is only six, so I’m not speaking with the wisdom (and pain) of parenting the teenage years, but there are a few things unique to parenting small children that make it very hard.
When children are young they zap the life out of you
Firstly, there’s the physical exhaustion. There is nothing, and I repeat nothing like the bone-crushing experience of true sleep deprivation. I’m talking baby-waking-every-two-hours sleep deprivation. Hell, five hours sleep a night is often celebrated as a victory when your children are small.
Five hours sleep. That is how desperate things can get.
Parents of older children can quickly forget how hard that is.
Faced with the new challenges each age presents, we forget what it was like to walk around with our eyes hanging out of our heads. We forget what it was like to wake to the sound of a baby crying every few hours, adrenalin coursing through our blood stream.
Kids start thinking, talking, questioning and challenging in different ways, and in turn we think… “small children, small problems.”
As children get older, there's more time for you
This is not time as defined by our pre-child self. This is time as defined by a parent.
And as kids grow, they need you less. You don’t need to change nappies, dress, feed and water them when they can do it themselves.
In the early years it was impossible to squeeze in one yoga class a week.
Now, I can do a class once a week no troubles. Sometimes I even get two in.
I have time for the miraculous experience of “self-care”. When you have children under three self-care often equates to multiple cups of coffee and a block of chocolate.
Parenting is all about match-fitness
In the early weeks and months of looking after a baby the relentlessness can be overwhelming.
Accepting the responsibility of caring for a vulnerable being takes time to sink in. Just as they are new to the world, learning the basics, so are we. And that is a huge learning curve.
But like every new experience, the learning curve can be the most painful. It is where we make the most painful mistakes, and possibly criticize ourselves the most for not knowing better.
It wasn’t until my second child was born that I finally understood that parenting is a continual learning experience. It wasn’t a new skill I could learn in six months; mistakes were going to happen but we were going to be ok.
Here's how my life has improved now our children are older
I have a friend with teenagers who is constantly telling me that it will get easier. She’s been telling me this for the last three years and I can finally see that she’s right.
My son is almost four now, and it is much easier than when he was a baby and his sister was under three.
It is still busy, relentless in some ways and challenging – but now I have time to breathe. I sleep, sometimes without interruption. I can have a shower without worrying they will topple off furniture or eat the washing detergent.
I see my friends, have a long lunch every now and again, and dates nights happen regularly. All of this makes a huge amount of difference when it comes to how challenging parenting can be.
It’s hard now, but it will get easier
I’m sure that my children will continue to challenge me as they get older, but at least now I can deal with all of that from a much more solid base.
So if you have young children and it feels hard, it is. Don’t listen to parents of older kids telling you there is worse to come. Down that coffee, have some chocolate, and take a deep breath. One day it’s going to be a lot easier.
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