I remember a conversation I had with a neighbor back when my children were toddlers. She had two boys, one in middle school and one in high school. I told her I planned to stay at home with my sons during their younger years, when they needed me most. I would go back to work when the kids entered elementary school and the demands of motherhood lessened.
Yes, I actually thought that. In my defense, though, I had not slept in 18 months, so I can only imagine it was a combination of sleep deprivation and self preservation that led me to the delusion that the demands of motherhood would ever lessen.
My straight-faced neighbor attempted to enlighten me. She told me parenting gets more challenging as the children get older. Teenagers, especially, need more intense parental involvement, although in a much different capacity.
Two years later I connected with a friend who has six children ranging in age from 1 to 16 years old. My boys were four, and again I spouted off my master plan. Again, I was quickly corrected. “It’s easy when they’re young. The REAL parenting comes in middle and high school. That’s when you really need to show up.”
Were these moms hazing the new kid? I thought back to when both babies got sick with high fevers at the same time; and then to that full YEAR they stayed on completely opposite sleep schedules, ensuring I would never get more than three consecutive hours of rest. It gets harder than THAT?
My young children were whizzing through phases every week, each one more diabolical than the next. Colic, crying, fussy eating, biting, potty training, stripping in public, separation anxiety—I took everything that came at me, bending and twisting like an acrobat from Cirque De Soleil ... while dreaming of the day my children hit puberty.
Kids in middle school can fix their own lunches, take their own showers, and fold their own laundry. High schoolers can bring in the groceries and put them away on the high shelves. They can use the oven, ride shotgun, and hold down their own fort if my husband and I want to see a movie. Best of all, they can converse with us, share interests and hobbies, and participate in our lives at a new level.
More difficult than toddlers? No way.
Fast forward to seventh grade and let-me-tell-you I have seen the light. And it’s coming from the IPhone my children are studying instead of their homework. All those chores I mentioned? Yeah, they can do them alright, they just won't; and they use their developing conversational skills to tell me all the reasons why not.
I look back at the pictures of my toddlers, smiling their toothless grins, and I melt. I flip the page in the photo album and, oh my goodness, is there anything more precious in this world than an eight-year-old boy? Those ages were a piece of cake compared to the hormonal bundles of attitude currently stalking my halls.
Parenting definitely gets more challenging as the children get older. I can’t believe I ever thought otherwise. At thirteen years of age, my children’s biggest hurdles are internal, not external. They have angst and relationship issues I can’t put a band aid on or kiss and make better. I see their wheels churning, sometimes grinding and smoking. I see their bodies stretching inches a day. Their bones are outgrowing their common sense. It’s like "Leave it to Beaver" meets "The Fly," with my sweet little babies morphing into alien creatures who crave otherworldly amounts of food, sleep and independence. Their lives and bodies and minds are hurtling at warp speed and somehow I need to guide them through the obstacles, a task so very different from changing diapers and pureeing peas.