When I was a young mother with three children under the age of five, I often wondered if parenting would ever get any easier. When I asked moms with children older than mine if parenting gets easier when the children get older, they would smile and say, “No. Parenting doesn’t get easier. It gets . . . different.”
I hated that answer then and I still hate it now. So, if you are the mother of small children and are asking me if parenting gets easier, let me assure you — YES! Parenting gets easier! My children are now 13, 11, and 9 and parenting is hugely different AND much easier than it was when they were 7, 5, and 3.
When Does Parenting Get Easier?
So if parenting does, indeed, get easier, when exactly does it start getting better? For my guys, age seven was pure magic. As it turns out, children reach what is known as the Concrete Operational Stage around the age of seven.
What I noticed when my boys were between the ages of seven and eight (depending on their individual rate of cognitive development) was that they became more logical and much easier to persuade. The struggles of the toddler and preschooler ages were finally behind me. The disequilibrium-induced demands of the 6-year-old child practically vanished. Now, when I suggested that my 7 year old wear a jacket on a cool day, he grabbed his jacket without fuss. When I said that it was bedtime, he was ready to negotiate a specific number of stories instead of finding reason after reason to postpone sleeping. By the age of seven, my boys could actually do things all by themselves when they claimed they could!
While the personality-driven behavior of all of my children remained true to their nature, my boys at the age of seven were willing to meet me halfway. They began to understand the importance of (or least fall in line with) socially acceptable behavior. And they were able to truly empathize with others.
At the time of writing this, my youngest child is just days from his 9th birthday. I’ve said many times over the past 18 months that I have finally reached the promised land of parenting.
How Can I Make Parenting Easier Now?
If you are currently parenting young children, you probably find it comforting to know that parenting gets easier. But, you still have to get through the early years with all of their demands and struggles.
Here are my best tips for meeting the challenge of parenting young children.
1. Take it one hour at a time.
If all of your children haven’t quite reached the sweet age where they become easier to parent, you can make your days a little brighter right now by taking it one hour at a time. It may sound like I’m oversimplifying it, but that is exactly how I survived parenting three small children who were each two years apart in age.
By becoming aware of each hour, I was forced to realize that the tantrums were not happening all the time, like I claimed. The diaper changes were not always back-to-back. The siblings actually got along more often than they argued. (Though sibling rivalry is no joke!)
2. Ask for help.
Many of us have a doting mom or aunt or other relative or friend who would love to spend some time with our children. If you need a break, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Form a co-op with a few other moms. One day per week (or some other agreed-upon interval) one or two moms in the co-op take on everyone’s children for a few hours. This gives you time alone to run errands or to spend time with one child who is having a particularly difficult time. In addition, a co-op saves money. This is a great idea for moms on a budget who don’t have the expendable income for a sitter.
3. Don’t be supermom.
The word is out: Supermom is a lie. We moms get a little suspicious of other moms who appear to have it all together. We know you’re hiding something. It’s most likely the loss of your sanity. So, stop it. We know it’s not real. Give yourself a break and join the rest of us yoga-pants and pony-tail wearing, pre-packaged snack toting, thank-God-it’s-bedtime singing mamas. We don’t bite. And we definitely don’t judge.
Why Do Many Parents Say That Parenting Never Gets Easier?
Some parents disagree that parenting ever gets easier. When I worked as a family therapist, I observed families in which this sentiment was based in fact. Parenting doesn’t get easier for everyone. If you are a new parent, you can work now to avoid some of these pitfalls later on. Unfortunately, some of the reasons parenting remains difficult can’t be avoided. In those instances it is vital that you seek help from your family, friends or community to keep yourself from becoming burned out and damaging your relationship with your children.
1. Some parents view their children as combatants instead of cohorts.
Some parents, from the start, have an us vs. them relationship with their children. Parents with this mindset are more likely to use punitive discipline and to punish their children quickly.
Instead of working with their children in a positive way to teach them correct behavior, they focus on punishing their children for misbehavior. This sets up an adversarial relationship that lasts a lifetime.
To avoid this trap, focus on gentle discipline that teaches your children ‘what to do instead’ and not simply ‘what not to do’. Seek family therapy with a licensed family therapist if you feel that turning things around is outside of your control.
2. Some parents are dealing with emotional or mental illness.
Parents with untreated depression or anxiety, for instance, will not find much about life to be easy. Parenting, with all of it’s emotional demands, will never get easier for someone who is living in the fog of depression or being driven by anxiety.
If you are dealing with untreated mental illness, seek help.
3. Some parents are single or unsupported.
When you are a single parent or don’t have the expected amount of support from your spouse, you have to take on all of the work involved in parenting. This can suck the joy from parenting. It can be difficult to appreciate that the daily care of a teenager is less than that of a toddler if you have to hold down two jobs while wondering where college tuition is going to come from.
Reach out to others in your family or community for support.
4. Some parents have children with special needs.
It may not be true for all parents of special needs children, but for many who are the sole caregiver for their children, it may seem that things will never get easier. I have a son with mild Aspergers who has definitely become easier to parent over the years. Changes in diet have also helped physical symptoms that we once dealt with to lessen or disappear.
It is vital for parents of special needs children to have appropriate respite care.
5. Some parents over-function for their children.
If you have set a precedent of over-functioning for your children, then parenting may not seem easier to you no matter the age of your children. When you do too much for your children or when you attempt to control your child, you rob them of a learning experience.
It is important to understand which actions are required of you as a parent to keep your child safe and which are going too far to keep your child from ever feeling any pain.
Whenever possible allow your children to handle situations in their own way with your guidance, but don’t micromanage every situation for them.
Each stage of parenting brings it own challenges, but the exhausting physical and mental work involved with caring for babies, toddlers and preschooler does not last forever. There will come a day when your requests are no longer met with tantrums and when your children walk calmly beside you in a parking lot instead of darting off unexpectedly.
Focus on their sweet, chubby baby faces and adorable tiny voices for now. Get high on their precious faces as they sleep and the feel of their little hands in yours. Don’t rush these early years. Hold on to the promise that parenting does get easier.
This post was originally featured on Allison’s blog, Our Small Hours.