We all know the major milestones of raising kids: when they sleep through the night, learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to use the toilet. And we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief when we’ve hit those marks—I mean, the first time your kid calmly says, “I have to pee,” and heads for the bathroom is huge. But what about the other, lesser-known moments of accomplishment and joy? Those magical moments when you’ve thought, “Holy shit, it does get easier!” Below, the 14 most underappreciated milestones of parenting.
1. When they can climb into the car seats by themselves. My boys are unusually heavy—they have a kind of bone density that indicates they’re actually from an alien species, and the whole “lift, shove, twist, drop kid into car seat” maneuver is murder on my back. The first time my son climbed in by himself I nearly cried with joy.
2. When they can wipe their own butts. Potty training is a huge accomplishment, but what they don’t tell you about is the looong second act of butt wiping, which can go on for some years. It’s aggravated by the belligerent tone when they holler that they’re ready to be wiped, like they’re little aristocrats and you’re neglecting your duties by not standing at attention outside the bathroom door.
3. When they can put on their own clothes. This may happen with varying degrees of speed, and yeah, if you’re in a rush, it might be easier to just stuff them into their jeans and shirts like you did when they were toddlers. But the first time your kid appears in the living room fully dressed—and you had nothing to do with it—is magical.
4. When they can bathe themselves. The first bath-related milestone, of course, is moving from the newborn tub to the big tub, but this is marred by the fact that you still have to hunch over them to actually wash them. When they can soap and rinse themselves without supervision? Heaven.
5. The moment when they can get their own glass of water or snack. And maybe something for me too.
6. The moment they can cook you a meal. I’m not there yet. I may actually cry when this happens.
7. The moment they can buckle their own seat belt. The whole “lunge, hunch, dig around in the backseat” days are over. Hallelujah!
8. When they can barf into the toilet successfully. I’m not there yet on this one, either—I still bound toward a retching child with a trash can in the hopes of reducing the cleanup. But friends with older kids tell me this is indeed a wonderful turning point.
9. When they can stay home by themselves while you run out to the grocery store or have a quick meal with your husband. Omigod, the amount of money we spend on babysitters for date night? I can’t wait.
10. When they can communicate with their own teachers over email. Again, the older-kid set tells me that the moment they can talk to their own teachers without your input is very freeing.
11. When they can plunge their own toilets. ‘Nuff said.
12. When they sleep longer than you do on the weekends. My older child regularly sleeps later than we do, which would be awesome if we didn’t have a 2-year-old who yodels at the first glimmers of daylight.
13. When they comfort you. The first time my son hugged me to offer comfort was just…an unbelievably sweet moment.
14. When they walk away from you, whether it’s to kindergarten or college or beyond, confident that they “got this.” My son strides into school without a backwards glance, which is both wonderful and awful at the same time. I can only imagine the moment he walks onto his college campus will spark the same combination of pride and grief.
Every day I’m a parent, I feel like there’s a new experience, a new hurdle that we’ve jumped without even realizing it. Every milestone is a moment when something new is achieved and something old is left behind—the bittersweet emotional backdrop to raising kids. Except for the moment they both sleep later than me on a Saturday—that’ll be pure joy.