it gets better

Nine years ago, I had four children under the age of six. For the next few years, I was in survival mode. Nearly every day around 3 pm I’d call my husband and ask, through clenched teeth, what time he was going to be home.

“Please,” he’d say, “I get home at five. You already know that. You don’t need to call me.”

“But sometimes you get home at 4:30,” I’d explain for the hundred millionth time. “Just knowing you’ll be home a half hour—even just fifteen minutes—earlier gives me energy.”

And so I called him, day after day after day. For years. Sometimes I called him in tears. “You need to come home now,” I’d screech. “I can’t do this anymore.”

And he’d come, bless his heart.

I rarely call him at work anymore. Even when a kid tantrums for hours on end (like yesterday morning), it’s not the same. Sure, my nerves are jangled and I’m punchy-pissed, but I’m not climbing the walls. I can do this. The tantrum will work its way out, and the child will eventually get involved in something non-screamy. There will be moments of wit-gathering calm. No longer is my husband’s five o’clock arrival my only reprieve.

They say that parenting is always hard, and it’s just the kind of hard that changes from age to age. When my children were young, people told me that “these are the golden years.” I’d remember them fondly, they said. Fast-forward to the future and I’d be hankering after my life with babies.

But you know what? I don’t. At least, not really. Sure, raising older kids can be rough, but the struggles don’t hold a candle to the boredom and angst I felt when I had a houseful of babies. The exhaustion and frustration. The loudness and intensity. The constant messes. The never-ending battle to find some alone time, some peace and quiet. (And don’t dare think for one minute that battle is a cute metaphor. No way. That battle had all the desperation and despair of a life-or-death situation. My soul was dying.) 

When I see sleepy mamas wrangle irate toddlers into carseats, or hear about the child who won’t go to sleep without a nip at the boob-grog, or watch parents juggle toys, sippy cups, and diaper bags, all I can think is: we don’t have carseats! My boobs no longer make milk! And, diapers? what are diapers?

Okay, okay. So there were sweet times, too. I look back at pictures like this and get hit upside the sappy heart with a wave of longing. They were so innocent and sweet! Such bright eyes and soft skin! My babies.

But! Now my “babies” wipe their own butts and wash their own hair. They hang up laundry, scrub floors, clean the bathrooms, and empty the trash. They make phone calls and earn money and go on trips and put books on hold at the library. They disappear to their rooms to read for hours on end. They sleep in. They tell funny jokes and make cutting observations. They rub my feet. It’s so much better now.

But just because I think it’s better now doesn’t mean all mothers feel the same way. Maybe, for some mothers, parenting older children really is a whole heck of a lot harder. Maybe my desire to spread hope by saying “it gets better” is just as misguided as those dreaded “these are the golden years” comments.

Or is everyone like me, thinking that each new stage is, over all, better than the last?

This same time, years previous: colds, busted knees, and snowstorms, the quotidian (2.13.12), the outrageous incident of the Sunday boots, a meaty lesson, physics lesson, and slow thinking.  


  • Ann Marie

    Amen! My only child is just 5, but one of my friends always used to tell me that it gets better every year. She's right so far. I echo Mommychef's sentiments, " Even now, when I see a newborn and hear that piercing cry…waves of anxiety come crashing over me." Yep. That's why we only have one.

  • Becky

    My husband once came home from a week spent leading a student leadership trip that was made up of young teens. When he walked in the door claiming exhaustion and being burnt out on being with other people's kids all week, I may have hissed that at least he was with kids that could wipe their own butts.
    He has since changed jobs so that he doesn't spend so much time with other people's kids.

  • Kate B

    Thank you. My four are 7, 5, 3 and 1. After this week, I needed to hear someone else felt the same way. My husband doesn't make it home until after they're in bed, which is an unbearable countdown.

    I know it will get better. That's why we pressed on and had four when I was already in over my head with three. I'm glad you're enjoying this stage.

  • Janice

    I'm a new reader. This particular post rings with such brave honesty that I had to comment. Mothering is tough business and although it changes as they age it does not always become easier. My adult children and their antics can have me calling my husband at work still to this day. I appreciate your honest portrayal of your struggles. I am worn out by bloggers who only post their joys and triumphs with parenting. It makes the rest of us feel inferior. Good job there Mom!

  • Anonymous

    Nope, I'm like you. I love having teens more than I did having babies. I think it was the total lack of sleep that did me in. Now the kids sleep way longer than I do and I can even sleep in and the kids can feed themselves! We can go places together and I don't have to cut their food or take them to the bathroom. Sure I loved them when they were babies and would love to go back and cuddle them again but I think I'm just one of those moms who love having older kids better than babies.

  • mommychef

    YES!. I found my little babies so, so difficult. Even now, when I see a newborn and hear that piercing cry…waves of anxiety come crashing over me. Everyone thinks I'm weird for not wanting to hold the latest baby on the block but I really think I have an aversion of some sort. The stress. The sleeplessness. The feedings every 3 hours. Babies that refused bottles. The absolute lack of any "me-time". 14 months for the first to sleep through the night. Slightly less for the 2nd. Scary stuff. I've been following your blog for a couple of years. You are a light at the end of a tunnel for this mamma. Thank you. A good read – once you're out of baby-land -if you're interested…"Adult Onset" by Anne Marie Macdonald. I don't have much in common with the author or main character but she pretty much nails a morning with a 2 year old. I've met her in person too – she's is amazing. As is anyone who survives the early years in my opinion.

  • Starr

    I remember when my three were so little (my third was born when my eldest had just turned 3)–in the morning I looked forward to naptime, and then in the afternoon, I looked forward to bedtime. Many days felt like a slog.

    My kids aren't as old as yours, but it's so much better now.

  • chorlbeck1

    Young mothers need other young mothers if only to vent on the phone. How well I remember those preschool years. My thought first thing each morning: only 12 more hours to live through before bed time. There is a golden time between starting school fulltime and the advent of middle school. I ditto all your comments. But the real golden time is when you meet your "adult"
    children and miracle of miracles your grand children. Then you realize that what you did really does matter.IMHO

  • Susan

    AMEN! (i.e., I couldn't agree more about every single point, including that others might have different memories and experiences, but mine are pretty identical to yours). Well said.

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