I remember, as a teenager, recognizing something about myself. Although I had always considered myself shy, I felt very comfortable and confident around two groups of people: the very old and the very young.
In college, I again recognized my strengths (and my weaknesses) and decided to major in Early Childhood Education. I have always had a special touch with little kids. I feel comfortable around them and they feel comfortable around me.
As a young mother, I felt like a natural. That’s not to say that I felt like everything was easy. Hardly. I was tired, starved for adult interaction, and often frustrated that my cleaning efforts seemed to be destroyed within minutes. Young kids are hard work, and EVERYTHING was new.
As much as I have always loved my kids and my role as a mom, by the time my oldest daughter was ready for half-day kindergarten, I was ready for some space. I had three kids 5 and under. Every time I walked out of the house, I inevitably heard the words, “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” And I did. My hands were always full, and they continued to get more and more full as the next few years passed. By the time I was 30, I was the mother of 5 kids 8 and under. My arms were always full, my lap was always occupied, and I thought my job was so hard.
I recall dreaming of the day when my kids would go to school. I imagined all of the things I would accomplish with all the FREE TIME I had, without having my arms full of kids and diaper bags and sippy cups.
I have always craved personal space. I thrive when things are quiet and when I’m alone. Little kids took a lot out of me physically, but at the end of the day I was willing to give up a few things – like my desire for personal space and peace – because I knew what I was doing was worth it.
And I knew I was doing a good job.
So what if the house wasn’t perfectly clean? I spent time on the floor building LEGOS with my 4 year old son. I played Barbie make-believe with my 6 year old daughter (pure torture, if I’ve ever experienced it). I got up at all hours of the night to feed and rock and cuddle my baby.
And then my LEGO-building, Barbie-playing, cuddly little ones started to grow up. It happened so fast.
When my fourth child left for kindergarten and it was just me and my youngest at home together from 8:30 til 3:00, I started blogging. I also started hanging out with the young mothers at church, even though I was a decade older than most of them. They needed the adult interaction and the break out of the house. I needed to figure out what to do with myself now that my hands weren’t quite so full.
And then AJ started school, too. My blog grew up just like the kids did, and instead of being a time-passing hobby, it became a full time job. That extra time to scrapbook and crochet and read books on the couch under a warm blanket while the dinner was heating up in the crock pot? I never found it. I filled that “extra” time with something almost as time consuming as being a mother of 5 little ones.
All the while, the kids kept getting bigger.
Their bodies weren’t the only things getting bigger all this time. While they were growing out of shoes every few months, their problems – and my problems – were growing as well. I traded juggling sippy cups and squirmy toddlers for juggling homework and hormones. Instead of being tied down to the house because of nap schedules, I found myself as the perpetual carpooler – spending my time carting kids back and forth to school and and practices and events and jobs. Rather than feeling like my brain was going to explode if I listened to another minute of a baby crying, I had to exert the utmost patience while listening to a pre-teen monologue regarding little details about the latest video game.
Now that my kids are older – with the oldest heading off to college this year and the youngest now one of the older half in elementary school – I look back on their baby and toddler days as the easy years. Parenting older kids is so much harder. Big kids are less physically demanding than little ones but they make up for that in the emotional department. From teaching them to make good choices when they are out among their peers to making sure they know everything they need to know to be successful adults…to teaching them how to drive a car. The pressure is intense.
But just like most things that take a lot of effort, parenting older kids is more rewarding than I could have imagined. Watching them make responsible decisions…watching them learn and grow and thrive… Yes, the problems may get bigger, but so does the love and the pride and joy in motherhood.
Would I want to go back? No. I can’t wait to be a grandma and enjoy the best parts of the baby years. My kids have grown up, and so have I. My head is more full of all of the things I have to do…but my heart is more full because of the things that my kids have done. The pride that a mother feels when her baby takes her first steps has NOTHING on the pride a mom feels when that same little girl receives her first college acceptance letter.
Yes, parenting gets harder as kids get older. It’s harder but it is worth it.
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