My family and I recently ran into an old friend at the grocery store, a man we hadn’t seen for nearly five years. As a stay-at-home dad to a toddler and a preschooler, it was pretty clear that he had his hands full (isn’t that a totally stupid thing people say to parents of young kids? But there I go, I just said it) and perhaps it’s fair to say he was a tad stressed out. He had that look in his eye that I see so often in parents of really little kids, particularly kids who are close in age. Maybe he was maxed out, exhausted, frustrated by the power struggles or constant-grey tedium that arises when we stay home with our kids. He admitted how nice it was to be at the grocery store shopping by himself. (Raise your hands if you’ve said that one before . . .)
“How old are your kids?” I asked him. When he responded that they were two and four, I replied, “Ohhh. You’re still in the trenches. Those are the bunker years. This is about as bad as it gets, trust me.”
He went on to agree that yeah, it was pretty hard at times and he knew it wouldn’t really get easier, just different, and I cut him off.
“No,” I said, looking him in the eye. “It’s going to get easier. I promise.”
And I meant it.
I’ve read so many articles about how it does get better, and how that’s actually a huge load of crap, and how really, things don’t get easier, you just swap one set of problems for another, that they all blur together. And there’s truth in all of it.
Parenting will never be easy. It will always be work. Maybe your kid will struggle in school, or God forbid, deal with physical or mental health challenges as they get older, or get pregnant as a teenager, or go to jail, or you know, add your own horrifying scenario to the fleet of terrifying thoughts I try to banish on the regular by knocking on wood as a talisman against their surprising hypothetical future appearance to shake me out of my complacent home on easy street. (Wow, shit, sorry about that. I didn’t know that was in there.)
But you get my point. It’s true, a whole bunch of really awful crap could happen to make us realize that we had no idea how good we had it until it was gone.
Wait, don’t stop reading. I’m not going to dwell on that anymore.
I think we all know that a mentality like that is no way to live your life. We can’t spend our time obsessing about all the terrible things that might happen years down the road (unless we’re awake in the middle of the night because we were up with a sick kid and now somebody in our house might possibly be snoring and we’re stuck awake forever and ever). It’s not healthy. It’s depressing.
And here’s the thing: Things are probably going to be OK. The odds are in your favor. Or if that doesn’t sound particularly inspiring, think of it this way: That stage of parenthood that has pushed you to your breaking point? It’s going to end. It is, I promise. Will it be replaced by something else that sucks? Likely, yes, there will be other challenges, but we all have stages where we struggle and stages where we thrive. Just because now we have to deal with elementary school homework doesn’t mean that things aren’t infinitely easier than they were when we were potty training or moving to a big-kid bed (shudder).
And you can’t tell me that life with a six- and eight-year-old isn’t arguably, objectively easier than life with two kids who still crap their pants. C’mon. You get to a certain age and even though your child may have “TV attitude,” they can still wipe themselves in a semi-passable way, they generally sleep all night, and they don’t act like a PMS-ing buffoon on crack in public places. You can take them out to restaurants and not be embarrassed. You have fun on family vacations. For the love of God, they can turn on the TV and reach the Costco cupboard on Saturday morning while you sleep until nine. DON’T TELL ME THAT ISN’T EASIER.
It gets better, my friend. It really, really does. It does get easier.
I’ve watched my friends who were in the trenches with me move forward (while I started over again five years later with baby #2) and now they go hiking, camping, skiing with their kids. They enjoy them. (Oh, come on, I’m not saying people whose kids are little don’t enjoy them. You know what I mean.) One of our friends’ holiday cards this year read: 2015– A Year We Can Actually Remember. Because they had moved past the mind-numbing years of sleep-deprivation and the physical reliance of babies and toddlers. Things were getting easier.
You aren’t so tied up in meeting the constant physical needs of your children. They start preschool, and elementary school. You remember that the name on your birth certificate doesn’t read “Mommy” or “Daddy.” You start to remember your hobbies, your passions. You feel like yourself again, like a whole person.
Why shouldn’t we offer hope to the person stuck in a really hard parenting place, just because we know it won’t always be smooth sailing? We can be compassionate rather than smug. We can say with a fair degree of confidence that you won’t always feel so sluggish and fragmented, that you’ll leave Caillou in the dust and not get barfed on as often without mentioning what a bitch the teen years are going to be. Be supportive, not the grim reaper of how middle school is going to make you long for your butt-wiping days! Seriously.
To my stay-at-home dad friend, and to everyone else who has that glazed look in their eyes, to all the parents covered in bodily fluids they would rather not name, to those whose identities have become so entangled in raising children that they’ve forgotten who they are, let me give you a message of hope: It will get better. I can’t promise you that your family will avoid unforeseen challenges or hard times when your kids are older. But try not to think about it, and remember that the odds really are in your favor.
I think I can tell you, honestly, looking you in the eye and not even knocking on wood (OK, I totally am. So what?), that it will get easier. Let’s even be so bold as to ditch that pesky “probably” and look to the future with hope. Hang in there. It will get easier.
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