Most of my friends have kids who are much younger than mine. We often share our parenting woes and victories, and I am always talking about the light at the end of the all-consuming-toddler-stage tunnel. There are things that were challenging, daunting, or slightly dreaded in my mind when my kids were toddlers. Now, these are wonderful cherished times with my teens:
Preparing A Nice Meal
With Toddlers: They get in the way, need stuff, have meltdowns, or start fighting. They get too close to the stove and you have to be mindful of where you put any type of kitchen knife, for fear that they will slice or impale themselves. You pacify them by letting them snack on little bits of what you’re preparing because they’re HUNNNGRRRY NOWWWWWW. Then when dinner’s finally ready, they don’t sit still and won’t eat. And by the time you get to sit down, you’re food is cold.
With Teens: They can have genuine excitement, anticipation, thanks, and appreciation, especially when it’s their favorite meal. This is also a great reason to sit down together as a family and a reason to get them to help with prep, cooking, and cleaning.
With Toddlers: You are listening to their favorite songs overandoverandover and trying to entertain them when they get cranky. They are usually fighting with their siblings and begging to stop at a toy store, ice cream shop, or grandma’s house — usually at the most inconvenient times.
With Teenagers: Car rides are an opportunity to talk without distraction or interruption. Timing is everything — and picking them up from a frustrating day at school or a tough practice while their stress is fresh makes for a great opportunity to listen, provide encouragement, and offer advice. OK, maybe there is still some fighting with their siblings, but ideally, you are able to change the subject and get them to focus on something else.
“Can My Friends Come Over?”
With Toddlers: Oh, the dread. Now you’re responsible for other people’s kids’ lives — and these kids are wild cards. And your kids behave differently around these kids. Oh, of course, sometimes it’s great because your kid learns to share, take turns, and be a true friend, but sometimes it’s a nightmare. It’s all you can do to resist watching the clock and doing a dance of joy when the parent finally comes to pick their kid up.
With Teenagers: Even though it’s late and you’re tired, your child is comfortable enough at home to invite his/her friends over. They eat all your food. They take up the living room. They’re too loud. But they’re not outside doing who-knows-what and possibly getting in trouble. And you don’t have to worry that something horrible has happened if they don’t answer their phones or respond to your texts, because they’re in the next room.
Coming Into Your Bedroom At Night
With Toddlers: Just when you think the day is finally over and you can have a little time to yourself (or with your spouse) in walks the kid for a drink of water, or perhaps another story, or a random question. And while these moments can sometimes be sweet and precious, sometimes you Just. Need. Space.
With Teenagers: You say, “Yes, of course you can come in,” because you are glad they like you enough to want to spend time with you and they trust you enough to come to you when something is bothering them. You say, “No, I don’t mind that you woke me up,” because you want them to do exactly that when they want to talk about something, no matter what time it is.
Asking To Help
With Toddlers: This isn’t actually helping. It’s hindering. And it’s taking too long and you just want to finish whatever you’re doing without interruption. However, you’re going to let this cute little kid help you so that he/she doesn’t get upset.
With Teenagers: A wholehearted, sincere offer to help from your teenager? This might be up there in the top 10 proud parenting moments. Congrats to you. You raised a compassionate, caring child that wants to ease your burden — bask in this moment.
With Toddlers: You secretly wish your kid didn’t ask to sit on your lap sometimes. And while you always take the grubby, sticky little hand that reaches for yours, sometimes, you want a break.
With Teenagers: A goodnight or goodbye kiss, a thank-you hug, or any genuine display of affection is a treasure — especially if it’s in public.
“Hey Mom, Watch This!”
With Toddlers: You already watched them go down the slide a bajillion times. You already praised their successful attempts at treading water. You don’t need to see the trains they assembled or the LEGO thing they built or the sandcastle they made again and again.
With Teenagers: Whatever it is they want you to see — a performance, a sporting event where they are competing, or a new skill they worked so hard at mastering — the fact that they are asking you (and not just their friends) is a thrill. When their eyes meet yours with a trace of recognition and gratitude, it feels like winning a prize.
Press on, parents of toddlers. Your time is coming too.
This post originally appeared on Ravishly.