Last week, I posted the following on Facebook: “Why didn’t anyone tell me that this parenting stuff just keeps getting harder?”
The responses were amusing:
“We didn’t want to scare you.”
“At least you have boys!”
“We wanted you to hang onto that little bit of hope.”
“It’s on a need-to-know basis.”
Until my college roommate, Jenny, who just had a baby last month, wrote, “What!?! Harder??!! I’m in month ONE! I thought it was supposed to get easier.”
I looked at Jenny’s page and saw picture after picture of someone in “new mom” mode: air-dried hair pulled back in a ponytail, dark circles under the eyes, and the timid smile of someone who isn’t quite sure yet. Jenny is in the thick of sleepless nights. But there is her newborn baby, peacefully asleep on her shoulder.
I kind of envy that time.
And, yet, I don’t.
This weighing of the pros and cons is familiar to any woman who has made a decision to quit having babies, only to find herself strangely mesmerized and exhausted — at the same time — by any newborn. On one hand, having a child who sleeps 90 percent of the day seems like a piece of cake compared to having a moody teenager. On the other hand, my teenager puts himself to bed, and when he gets up at 5 a.m., he lets me sleep in.
It’s hard to know, then, which stage is easiest. Below, I’ve tried to sort it out.
Pros — God doesn’t let new babies walk for a reason: The mothers aren’t ready yet. Like the speed on a treadmill, motherhood, in the beginning, advances incrementally. Life for the new mom is seemingly unaffected. The baby goes where she wants, when she wants. He doesn’t even have much of an opinion about it yet either.
Cons — Of course, Mom is lucky if she gets two uninterrupted hours of sleep each night, her hormones are out of control, and getting out the door for something as simple as a doctor’s appointment feels like it requires written instructions. And that’s to say nothing of the diapers.
Pros — There isn’t much cuter than a toddler in overalls whose bottom is heavily padded by a diaper. Although, those droopy eyes behind a pacifier come pretty close. There is no school calendar yet. No after school activities. Baby fits into mom’s life — he goes to yoga and sleeps in the baby carrier; he attends parties suspended and immobile on mom’s back — not the other way around.
Cons — The “Terrible Twos” are a lie. It all goes downhill at 3, and the moods don’t get better again until the child goes to college. (So I’m told.) The best birth control is being around a 3-year-old in the hour before dinner.
Pros — Freedom! At last, they are off doing their own thing — school — six hours of the day. They have friends and you are released from pretend-like-I-enjoy-sidewalk-chalk duty. Their homework is still easy, and you can help them with it.
Cons — Freedom. They are gone six hours a day. They have friends and you are released from sidewalk-chalk duty. Their homework is easy, and therefore, you have no excuse: you have to help them with it.
Pros — Math just got infinitely harder. You are off the hook for homework help. The kids bathe themselves and go to bed on their own. You can go to the grocery store and leave them at home. (Yes, Jenny, that day will come.)
Cons — Well, it’s middle school. And it’s puberty. So it’s like having a scary 3-year-old again, only with longer, hairier legs. Band-Aids don’t fix much anymore. Neither does kissing the booboo. Big kids equal bigger problems, and often, those “problems” feel out of your control.
The same night of my Facebook post, I talked to my friend Dawn. She is ahead of me in the parenting business, as hers are all grown. She had bad news for me: the heartache of motherhood doesn’t end. Neither do the sleepless nights, the dark circles and the smile that says, “Am I doing any of this right?”
My response was somewhat like Jenny’s on Facebook: What? You mean it doesn’t get easier? Even when they are grown?
Dawn threw me a bone: At least, with time comes perspective and insight. And this is why mothers — new and old — have each other. Dawn is my roadside flagger on the highway: “Prepare to stop!” “Bumps ahead.”
Now, I am Jenny’s.
There’s a little bit of wonderful and a whole lot of self-doubt and heartbreak at every stage. But even a green mom like Jenny has the biggest lesson of all figured out. On her Facebook page soon after, she posted, “So I’ve decided, it’s really hard being a mom. Period.”
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.