A couple weeks ago, Tim and I hit a milestone that we’d been awaiting for two years, nine months, one week, and a handful of days–ever since our third and youngest child was born.
We watched a movie. We drank a glass of red wine. We went to bed. We didn’t wake up until the next morning. And in the span of those hours, our children demanded nothing of us.
The night was different from a date night. Date nights require babysitting arrangements and dinner plans and money. Nor was it a moment where we returned to our pre-parent selves for a short while. We will never return to our pre-parent selves. Those selves are gone. Creating and caring for a whole new human beings–or in our case, three whole new human beings–is just that transformative.
But after this night, we knew we’d reached a stage where the mountainous task of parenting small children had become a little less steep for us.
I view parenting as a constant climb. To be clear, I don’t think it’s exactly like the climb that Sisyphus made in Greek mythology. Sisyphus was doomed to push a giant rock up a hill every day only to have it roll back down once he reached the summit. He repeated this task forever.
Sometimes Tim and I do feel a bit like Sisyphus in our daily tasks. Sisyphus sweeps the kitchen floor. Sisyphus cleans the never-ending pile of laundry. Sisyphus feeds the family every single day of the damn week. But Sisyphus doesn’t parent: Sisyphus gets to go back down the hill to begin his task again, and parents never really descend our particular hillsides.
Instead, I see the climb of parenting as a perpetual ascent. It’s an onerous, arduous, and sometimes satisfying climb. But there is no summit. There is no end. Even after my children are grown and out of my house, there will likely be a small part of me that will worry about them. I’ll still be their parent. I’ll still take tiny steps up my own mountain. But that mountain won’t be so steep as it is now, and certainly not as steep as it was over the past eight years.
Because for me, caring for babies and toddlers has been by far the steepest, most onerous and arduous part of my parenting climb. My climb has been this steep for all the cliched reasons–the noise, the over-stimulation, the boredom, the whining, the dependency, the irrationality, the sleeplessness.
But as my children have grown older and demanded less–or at least demanded differently–from me, I’ve found myself hitting a sort of parenting stride.
I’ve got this. I can do this. None of this parenting work is easy. But it is easier.
I know that there are some of you out there like me. Some of you who know deep down in your hearts that you won’t hit your parenting stride until your babies are older. Who know deep down that babies and toddlers are not your strong suit. Who worry that if parenting is always this hard, always this demanding and emotionally taxing, you won’t be able to make it through another eighteen-plus years.
We’re the ones who shudder a bit when more seasoned parents say that parenting is always and forever this hard, just hard in different ways.
Not all of you feel this way. I know this. But if you do feel this way, know that I am one of you.
I am on the cusp of this new stage in life. It’s also a new stage in my parenting identity. I’m near the point where I’ll be done parenting babies and toddlers. Eric, my two-year-old, is still a toddler, but he’s more independent than he was even a couple months ago. Tim and I can’t leave him unattended for a very long time , but we don’t feel that he must have permanent and ever-present supervision. He can use words to tell us what he wants. He entertains himself. He sits and listens to books. He sleeps.
At ages eight and six, our older boys are indeed entering that stage where schedules become hectic and frantic. They have soccer practice. Lego club. Art camp. Basketball camp. Class trips. A shifting cast of friends and teachers and teammates and coaches. Their moods and behavior and school work and social lives require more mental gymnastics than we’ve ever needed to perform as parents.
But I will tell you this: it is easier.
Parenting is becoming easier for me.
It is not easy. There are still challenges. There are still days where I weep and yell and moan and grit my teeth at all the madness that parenting demands from me. I don’t think this gig will ever be easy.
But it is easier. Easier is not easy. But it’s still a lightened load.
And I just wanted to say that to those of you who are feeling so desperate about parenting little ones right now.
I’ve just climbed what I think will be the steepest part of parenting for me, and while I know that it’s not the steepest for everyone, I don’t want to forget–or God forbid, romanticize–the work and effort it took to climb this thing.
It’s not all downhill from here. But for me, the climb is a hell of a lot more manageable.