I’ve asked myself countless times over my 15 years of parenting, “When the bleep is this going to get easier?” Three kids, each four years apart, has meant a near-constant stream of neediness of some sort or another since the birth of my first child. Of course, that stream is flanked with the flowers of joy and wonderment that go along with those early years, so it hasn’t all been bad. In fact, in many ways, the baby/toddler/preschool years have been my favorites.
But holy moly, those years are tough. The sleep deprivation to start off with, then the crying and car seats and diapers and nap schedules and clinginess and messes and “I no wannas” and getting-into-things, and it just feels like it’s never going to end.
Then one by one, each of those things drops off of your daily (or hourly) to do list. Kids start sleeping better, eventually. They potty train, eventually. They stop napping. They get themselves dressed. They move into booster seats.
It takes forever, but before you know it (oh, that tricky time business) your kids are remarkably self-sufficient.
And when that happens with your last kid, you realize that parenting actually DOES get easier. It’s still hard in emotional ways, but logistically, there is a definitive shift at some point.
For me, that shift occurred when our youngest child turned six. That was the magical age when parenting got significantly easier, at least in the practical sense. I no longer had to get anyone snacks unless I wanted to. I no longer had to keep a close eye on any of them to make sure they weren’t going to run out into the street. I no longer had to buckle anyone in the car. I no longer had to wipe anyone’s poopy butt.
Of course, some of those things happened earlier, and there was a gradual transition through ages four and five. But there was something about six that signaled a whole new era for us. For me, really. My husband is phenomenal, but a lot of the work in those early years were mom-heavy. And the freedom from those things that I loved—nursing, singing lullabies, carrying my babies, teaching my toddlers and preschoolers—feels lighter than I ever anticipated. I thought I would miss those adorable ages, but I don’t really. I lived that era, and lived it fully. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I’m ready for this new stage.
They say that parenting doesn’t get easier, it just gets hard in different ways, and I think that’s true.
But for me, getting a respite from the relentless needs of the pre-school-age crowd really does feel like having a weight lifted. So if you’re deep in the trenches of the early years, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Age six, I’m telling you. It’s magical.
This post originally appeared on Motherhood and More. It has been reprinted with permission.
Annie Gregory Reneau a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dream of traveling the world alone. You can find her on Motherhood and More, as well as Facebook. Twitter and Instagram.