Scrolling through my social media feeds, I see a lot of conversations happening about how hard parenting is. Rightly so. For too long, mothers have been shamed or criticized for talking about their struggles, and it’s good that we are finally talking about it openly.
But I also think it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the wins — especially when it comes to the ways that parenting gets easier as children age. I remember feeling so discouraged and alone when my kids, who were born less than two years apart, were small. I felt like things were never going to get better. My kids are 5 and 7 now. Although I know that more hardships are coming (you know what they say, big kids, big problems), I am very much enjoying the independence that has come with them exiting the toddler stage and becoming little kids. Here are just a few of the things that have gotten easier as my kids have aged.
#1. Nighttime is finally my time.
As babies, my kids were both bad sleepers. Not only were they hard to get down to sleep, but they wouldn’t stay asleep once I got them down. Bedtime routines with a baby and a toddler often took more than two hours of fighting and struggling to get them to sleep. Then, between the two of them, I was up just about every hour. That went on for several years. Now, at age 5 and 7, bedtime is easy. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we have to argue with hyper kids who don’t want to go to bed yet. But generally, once they’ve done their bedtime routine (which is usually around 7pm), they’re down for good. The rest of the evening belongs to me and my husband. It has been such a wonderful and restorative thing for us to finally have time at the end of the day to reconnect and do the things we love.
#2. The kids can keep themselves busy when they wake up early.
I’ve always been an early riser, but after years of getting hardly any sleep, I am still not fully recovered. We have to get up early, of course, for school days, which can be pretty exhausting. On weekends, I just want a bit of time to rest in the morning without jumping right into making breakfast, breaking up fights, and refilling drinks. These days, when we weekends come, my kids can busy themselves when they wake up before I do. They get out of bed, grab their tablets and a snack, and quietly have some screen time until I get up. They have their limits — it’s usually only 30 minutes or so until they come into our room to ask if we’ll get up. But those 30 minutes are precious. And! Instead of scaring us awake with crying from their rooms, they wake us up gently with their sweet little voices. Who wouldn’t be happy to get out of bed for that?
#3. They can finally keep themselves busy in general!
My mom often reminds me that, even as an only child, I still had to keep myself busy from time to time. She had responsibilities of her own; she couldn’t be my constant playmate. She reminds me that my kids have each other, siblings! They should be able to play together (or alone) without me. But to be honest, I’ve spent most of their lives having a hard time shaking the guilt of saying no when they ask me to play (and they ask often). They’ve finally reached an age where they enjoy playing by themselves or together. They’ve learned how to use their imaginations, to create games, to play correctly with toys (meaning, without needing me to show them how to do it). In fact, these days sometimes I miss them and ask if they’d like to play a game with me, and they say, “maybe in a little while, mom. Right now, we’re busy.” I’ll admit, that stings a little. Nonetheless, I am so proud that my kids have developed a sense of independence and autonomy apart from me.
#4. No more diaper bags.
If you know anything about my history, it might surprise you that I’m happy to not carry a diaper bag. I was, at one time, the diaper bag queen of social media. I built my social media following almost exclusively from making diaper bag packing videos. Then, I went on to open an online baby boutique that carried the most popular diaper bag brands, and shortly thereafter launched my own brand of diaper bags called LYMIA BRAND. You’d think someone like me would grieve no longer needing a diaper bag. But full disclosure, I’m loving it! I love being able to run out the door with nothing but my kids, my keys, and my wallet. I love leaving the house without having to pack like I’m taking a two-week vacation to Disney World. And when I do need a few things for the kids, like activities or a change of clothes, I bring one of my sensible LYMIA BRAND diaper bags that are small, sophisticated, and designed for moms like me in this transitory stage of motherhood.
#5. They finally enjoy doing things that I like!
Oh my gosh, my kids love video games! Do you have any idea how awesome it is that I can play XBOX and Roblox with them? They also like doing yoga with me, going roller skating, and getting mani/pedis (yes, even my son!). There is something so wonderful about bringing the children into my hobbies and showing them the things I enjoy.
#6. They can tell me what’s wrong.
Oof. It’s been so long since the baby phase that sometimes I forget how tough that time was. It is so overwhelming when your babies or toddlers can’t tell you why they’re crying. Even toddlers and young kids who can talk often don’t have the vocabulary to express deep emotional needs like feeling frustrated, jealous, or left out. The other day, my 5-year-old walked up to me and said, “Mommy, I’m feeling jealous that you were just giving hugs to Roman and not to me. I know you love us both, and it doesn’t mean you love him more just because you were hugging him, but it still made me sad. Can I have hugs, too?” I scooped that baby up and gave her the biggest hug of her life. Something was going on in her little emotional world, and she had the understanding and the vocabulary to express it to me.
Of course, we have new challenges. The kids have attitudes; they are capable of deceit and mischief. They have big feelings that sometimes I don’t know what to do with, and I’m learning on my feet. But these are things I can deal with far better than the challenges of baby and toddlerhood. In every way, I am happier these days. I’ve found rest, recovery, and joy. So to you, exhausted mom, I want you to know it gets better.
You’ll feel like yourself again one day. I promise.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.