I put a Facebook post up on my personal profile this morning. It resonated with other parents, as parenting struggles tend to do. So I’m going to elaborate on my post here, and we are going to clearly ignore the fact that I have not written on my blog in 2 1/2 years.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, parenting babies and toddlers is the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Just to give myself a little creditability in this area, I have four children, they are currently 6, 9, 15 and 18, so I’ve undeniably done the baby/toddler thing a few times. Two of those four had significant developmental delays including autism, so to say life was hard sometimes is a minor understatement. We are talking about the kind of hard where you are hiding behind a sofa in the corner of your living room (hiding from a two year old, mind you) and whispering on the phone to your husband, with your serious voice, “Come home now or I’m walking out that front door and I don’t think I’ll ever return.” True story. Those years after our last two were born were tough. Obviously, I’m still here, I didn’t walk out that day, nor would I ever, because being a mom has always been my biggest dream and baby, I’m living the dream!
I’m a mom in my 40s now and I’ve told many up and coming parents, those that are just entering the ride, to hang on tight, because the baby and toddler years are the hardest years. You are physically exhausted, this is a level of sleep deprivation that you never knew existed. Your brain turns to mush and you answer questions 45 minutes after they are asked and think you gave an immediate response. You walk around in a zombie-like trance and wonder why you are standing in the closet with the orange juice in your hand. You gave up changing your shirt three shirts ago and are just at peace with the spit up on your shoulder. You’ve decided that the smashed banana in your hair is better than vomit, so you’ll just leave it. And we haven’t even discussed your inability to shower, brush your teeth or pee! It’s rough.
BUT, I’m going to have to take it back. I was terribly wrong, the baby and toddler years aren’t the hardest years. It’s the teenage years. And not for the reasons one may think. I remember being told about how obnoxious teenagers can be, how they don’t communicate, they keep secrets and they grunt responses. But it’s not hard because your kids become rebellious, snarky, ego-centric versions of themselves once they hit 13. Honestly, that doesn’t happen to a severity that people tell you it does. Teenagers are rad! They can have intelligent conversations with you, they are fun and funny, they have unique perspectives, they are courageous and do amazing things. The reason it’s so stinking hard is because they’ve reached an age where it is no longer an option to tether them to your hip, this is seriously frowned upon. You can’t hold them in a rocking chair for two hours, you can’t love on them with hugs and kisses all day long. The biggest kick in the gut though, is that you can’t protect them like you once could. They just walk out there into a messy, scary world, and they take your heart with them, and you don’t know how to keep them safe and keep the bad stuff away. They are literally out there on their own, with their oh-so-few years of wisdom and a whole lot of hopes. So what do you do? Personally, I hit my knees and I pray, I pray like I’ve never prayed before. I also say, “Make good choices. I love you.”, each time time they walk out the door, but if I’m being honest, that’s more for me than it is for them.
And when they get hurt, because let me warn you, they will get hurt in ways you never imagined, you shatter into a million pieces. Other kids will say stuff to them that will feel like it’s breaking them, they will have their hearts set on a specific goal and it won’t be achieved, they will fall in love and that other person won’t feel the same way about them, they will face physical pains, they will likely face an existential crisis and you don’t even know how to guide them because you’re scrambling to even understand how they ended up here. So while you are busy shattering into a million pieces on the inside, you will find a way to remain stoic and you will look like you know what to do and that you are in control. And when your bedroom door shuts at night you will fall into a heap of tears and heartache and beg God to show you how to help them. Sometimes the strength it takes to help your kids will feel like the most impossible task you’ve ever faced. You will yearn for peace and understanding, wisdom and knowledge, patience and clarity. Their hurts are the kind we wished they’d never face. Remember (or maybe you are still there) holding that wee babe and looking at their sweet, sleeping face and thinking, “Nothing in this world is going to get through me, I am fierce and I will keep all harm away.” Now they stand before you, at 15, 17 or 19, and begin to tell you what they are facing and you feel the blood drain from your body and you can’t stop that feeling of failure, because you didn’t do it. You didn’t protect them from the big, mean world. And you look at them and all you can remember is what their soft, baby skin felt and smelled like when they were 2 months old and you become enraged that anything in this world would come against them, all the while battling your guilt (and we all know that doesn’t help anyone).
Yes, I was definitely wrong when I thought those baby and toddler years were the toughest. I miss the cuddles, I miss the goopy hands that were always grabbing for me, I miss when the biggest ouchies were a scratched knee and a sibling taking a toy. Now the ouchies are matters that are much more complex and much harder to resolve and I’d do anything to have those teenagers at my side daily, so I can guard them. And trust me, they go from 2 to 15 at the speed of light. My advice to parents is to love on them, at any age, love, love and love some more. Listen more than you lecture, understand more than you judge, hug more than you discipline and always forgive. Why? Because they mimic us, they watch us and I need their forgiveness as much as they need mine. And parents, we are in this together, lean on those people around you that have already walked down this path you are on, they know where the curves are.