How many times have you been frustrated with your kid and said to yourself, “If only he was a little older”? I remember wondering during the early days just when exactly this parenting thing gets easier. “Three months—that’s when they’re finished with the fourth trimester,” I often heard. “Life starts to feel normal again at about one-year-old,” a coworker said. And to my horror, my brother responded, “Definitely not until three-years-old—that’s when it’s really easy.”
Three years old?! I have to wait for my little guy to reach three-years-old before I can resume my life again?
As my baby eventually grew and reached those supposedly easier milestones, I still found myself saying, “If only he were a little bit older, we wouldn’t have this problem.” Whether it was having to cradle his head in the first few months before he could hold it up on its own, I thought, “If he was three or four months old, I would have a free hand when carrying him.” When he still had to be carried in a car seat to and from the car, I wished, “If only he could walk, I wouldn’t have to carry all these heavy bags plus the car seat.”
And my recent wishing on a star: “If only he were four-years-old, he wouldn’t be throwing these tantrums.” (All you parents with four-year-olds, please let me live blissfully in ignorance for the time being).
Before I come off as a whiny, ungrateful mom, I’m willing to defend myself and assert that this wishful thinking isn’t completely abnormal. For instance:
- It’s true. Almost everything I wish for comes true—my toddler’s ability to walk on his own has tremendously made transporting him so much easier. And not having to cradle an infant’s head gave me an extra free hand.
- It’s frustrating. If there’s any job out there that ought to have the freedom to vent as often and as much as they want, it’s parenting. You can’t help but feel for the mom who longs for the day when her kid is finally talking or doesn’t need his food pureed to a pulp.
- It does get easier. Just when I’m ready to throw my hands in the air as to why my toddler just doesn’t understand that all the blackberries are finished and that there really, truly, aren’t any more in the fridge, I reassure myself that given some time, he’ll eventually learn to understand this challenging concept.
Even with all those reasons to wish for the day when our kids are older, parenting also doesn’t get easier. Sometimes I forget this, considering that I envy my sister for the ability take a nap whenever she want to because her teenage son doesn’t exactly need his mama to watch over him anymore. But I remind myself that wishing for my toddler to grow up—while absolutely normal—doesn’t solve everything:
- New problems always arise. When my little guy was a baby, I knew tantrums loomed nearby, but when he’s waking up four times a night and cries every second he’s in the car seat, tantrums seemed eons away, and really, are they that bad compared to my current situation? Unfortunately, age doesn’t erase problems, so much so that as I sit here whining about tantrums, I realize I still don’t have to deal with how he’ll make friends at school or what shenanigans he’ll get into as a teenager.
- Wishing for the future can take away from relishing in the moment. As much as I complain about whatever current demise I may have, I try to think about something I love about my toddler that’s specific to his age and stage. For instance, during one of the nights when we were still waking up multiple times to feed him, I held him up to burp and delighted in his smallness, wrapped up in his little swaddle, as he lay on my shoulder like a little blob.
When all I can think about is when my toddler finally turns 5, 12 or 18, I turn to these methods to keep me grounded:
- Find ways to alleviate the problem. Whenever a parenting challenging presents itself, I do my research, talk to my husband, and try to find solutions so that I won’t be so inundated with too many burdens. For instance, when my toddler threw a fiasco and hysterically tried to flee the bathtub, we tried to find different ways to goad him back into the water.
- Relish the moment. Maybe savoring a tantrum isn’t exactly the most pleasant experience, but perhaps we can try to appreciate other, less-stressful aspects of our kids that will likely disappear in a blink. When my toddler was still speaking with incorrect grammar, I tried to remember how cute he was when he says “to going grandma’s house.”
- Reminisce with old photos. Nothing makes you go, “Awww…!” more than a cute photo of your kid from a few months ago. When I look through my toddler’s photos, all of those supposedly terrible experiences I experienced with him at that age melted away with that chubby smile or not-so-there hair. I realize how quickly time passes and how much he grows.
- Try to remember those past terrible experiences. When I try to recall how difficult the first year with my infant was, I admit that I can’t think of too many, despite my claims that they were the most challenging months. While bad days seem like the worst at the moment, given some time, their arduousness tends to fade away. Selective memory, anyone?
- Accept that it’s difficult. Sometimes simply accepting the ensuing stress is enough to put me at ease. Rather than wish for better times or deny the difficulty I face, I tell myself that this is how it is right now. I can only change what I can, and unfortunately kids’ behavioral development has its own agenda very different from mine.
Yesterday was an “If only he was older…” day. My toddler complained about every little thing. He wouldn’t even let me clip his fingernails, something he has never given me trouble for. But today… today was one of those days where my heart was bursting. My toddler was the perfect kid: happy, compliant, thoughtful, generous. And at the day’s end, I took a mental picture of all that transpired, so that when that “other” day rolls around, I’ll know that my toddler isn’t always so challenging, and that he’s perfectly fine at two-and-a-half years old.
When have you found yourself wishing “If only my child was a little bit older…”? Have you noticed whether your child’s current age is easier or just as difficult as the past?
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