“Does it get easier?” My friend asked me at a birthday party, his hair a mess and his eyes red. He changed his little one’s diaper while his toddler clung to his leg, saying (screaming) “daddy” repeatedly. His wife was nearby, breastfeeding their newborn. Both looked as if they hadn’t slept in years.
I’d been there myself. Looking back, I still wonder how I didn’t collapse from exhaustion. Seven hours a night, you say? HAH! My little ones are by no means “grown,” but we have started inching into the self-care phase, which is glorious. I still have to nag a child to eat, but I don’t have to feed. My five year old may need gentle reminders to stop playing and go potty, but I’m not wiping as many hineys. I haven’t cleaned poop out of undies in months. I haven’t changed a diaper in years.
Looking at their faces, seeing the large bag of supplies next to her and thinking of my own small purse in the corner, I remembered it all vividly. I felt for them. But I didn’t want to lie.
“Sometimes you get more sleep,” I offered. Later, when the children were distracted and/or content, we discussed it further. I’ve entered the phase where I am no longer just raising tiny humans – I’m just this side of the sweet spot. In some ways, it’s nice. But I’ve begun the process of raising people.
Over time, fatigue transitions from physical to mental.
My sister warned me when my first was born. The countless minutes you spent spoon feeding, assisting with stairs, and preventing choking are gone. They’ve been replaced by answering deep questions, encouraging proper behavior, and instigating kindness.
These days I watch my children and am amazed. I no longer have toddlers. I have little individuals. They are finding their own way, which is fine with me. Of course, I will encourage them to work hard, follow their moral code, find a passionate cause and leave the world a better place. But ultimately I have one goal: don’t be a jerk. As long as they are kind and mindful, I’m mostly cool with their life choices. I figure the rest will follow.
But it turns out that raising thoughtful, informed people is not as easy as it sounds. I spend a lot of my day explaining why we don’t want all the bugs to just go away (that was a lengthy discussion on the ecosystem), why interrupting someone who is speaking isn’t cool, and whether telling your brother that being a policeman is “dumb” was a good choice or not (it wasn’t). The world is way bigger and more intricate than they think it is, and they’ve started to notice. I may no longer exert the effort to give them a bath, but I spend more time explaining why bathing is necessary and healthy.
They are becoming aware of the world.
My almost eight year old currently has a pile of naked dolls in said bath, as if they haven’t a care in the world. Meanwhile, she has ceased running from room to room naked. She still poops with the bathroom door open (that’s fun), but she’s also closing her bedroom door while she gets dressed. If she barges into my room while I’m changing, she’s more likely to notice the differences in our bodies. Both female, but very different. She’s not asking questions yet, but I can see those conversations brewing as she becomes more aware of important concepts like individuality, privacy, and respect.
When they were younger, these concepts were more basic. We don’t hit. We ask to share toys and we share our own. We don’t yell. But as they gradually become aware of nuance and hypocrisy, we are explaining more.
My kids are evolving, so my parenting is evolving with them.
These days I seldom fall asleep exhausted from a day of meeting basic needs. Instead, I fall into bed exhausted, but lie awake wondering if I properly managed that emotional outburst or over-explained the concept of cancer. Was I too angry at her innocent questions? Did he feel neglected because I kept looking at my phone? Am I doing any of this right or will they remember how I snapped at them for no reason when they are in therapy ten years from now?
So it’s not a simple question. Does it get easier? Physically, sure. Hopefully, your child is sleeping through the night, eating independently, getting dressed alone and going potty. But their brains and emotions are on overload and yours are, too. I’m only a small way down the road but I think the hard and wonderful truth is that no, it never gets easier. But it sure is an adventure that’s worth losing sleep over.