When the nurse handed me my son, safely delivered after an emergency C-section, I stared at her blankly. My body had been through hell to bring his little life into the world, and I needed a few minutes to catch my breath. I wasn’t ready to be a mother, even though his strong-willed soul careened into our world like a freight train, an early indicator of his bigger-than-life personality. As the nurse placed him in my arms, I felt panic rise in my chest.
The nurse clearly wasn’t aware that I killed houseplants easily and had never owned a pet. I felt underqualified and scared, and when he lustily screamed into my chest, demanding to breastfeed, I was pretty sure I was in over my head. I could barely manage the adult skills of paying bills and filling up the gas tank before it was buried on empty. How was I supposed to take care of an infant?
Some women instinctually know how to care for a baby and take to motherhood like a duck to water.
I was not one of those women.
I found the infant years to be tedious, difficult, and if I’m being honest, boring. Don’t get me wrong: I loved the smell of their tiny heads after a bath and the way their chubby (and sticky) fingers grasped mine as we slowly shuffled toward the grocery store. I craved the story-time cuddles before bed, and I delighted in recording their milestones, one by one.
But I sucked at being a mom to infants and toddlers because I wanted more in my life than arguing with a 3-year-old because his sock was “hurty.” I craved intelligent conversation rather than naptime battles and meltdowns over vegetables that are green. People used to say, “Oh, they grow so fast. Cherish these days!” and I’d roll my eyes. I couldn’t wait for my kids to be little grown-ups.
And I don’t mind saying that I’m a better mom now that my kids are teens.
See, although teens come with their own set of challenges, it’s been years since I’ve had to clean up a diaper blowout, and frankly, life on the other side of sleep deprivation is pretty damned awesome. While I knew that I’d enjoy raising older kids, I had no way of knowing the unexpected joy having older kids would bring to my life.
1. Older kids are in on the joke.
Ask any parent of a teen and they’ll tell you that the day they realized their kid had a sense of humor is almost better than their first steps. There’s nothing like lively, humorous banter with your older kids, and when they have a whip crack sense of humor or impeccable timing, parenting suddenly becomes a lot more fun.
2. Older kids can make sandwiches.
When my kids were small, I spent my days in the kitchen. Breakfast was a shitshow of smeared peanut butter and baby food and the mess of bottles and dishes was unending. No sooner had I cleaned up breakfast than it was time for lunch. And then dinner. And everything had to be steamed, chopped, spoon-fed, and wiped off the floor. But feeding teens is as easy as maintaining a fully stocked pantry and pointing them in the direction of the refrigerator when they are hungry. It’s liberating beyond words.
3. Older kids can be left at home — which means date night.
When we realized our kids were old enough to be left to their own devices (literally, their phones on the couch), my husband and I practically skipped down the street to happy hour. We’ve had the chance to reconnect and rekindle our relationship, and that’s been one of the most unexpected pleasures of having teens in the house. That, and not having to drag two grumpy kids to the grocery store. Seriously, how did I ever manage with toddlers?
4. Older kids mean you can have your career back.
I chose to stay home with our kids when they were small, and though I wouldn’t change my decision, my career certainly took a blow when I put it on the back-burner. Once my kids were in school full-time, it became clear that I could revive my passions. And it’s been heavenly to put my dreams back in focus.
5. Older kids are your reward for the toddler years.
Timeouts. Tantrums. Sleepless nights. Toddlers are assholes. I often joke that my daughter spent more time in timeout than she did out of it when she was 3. But somewhere along the way, the fruits of your labor become apparent, and you realize that your teens are turning out to be pretty awesome people. And you want to spend time with them because they’ve grown into the young people you hoped they’d mold into. And while, yes, teens have their own version of tantrums in the form of eye-rolling and door slamming, they are still easier to deal with than a threenager’s epic meltdowns.
I’ve long since forgiven myself for not loving the toddler years and have settled into the knowledge that I’m a better mother with kids I can talk to on an intellectual level. I freely admit that I don’t miss having to purée baby food, and I’m really cool with not having to wipe asses. And when I’m sitting on the couch, watching an ’80s movie with my kids, and they laugh in all the right places, I know I’m doing an okay job by them.