Any stage of parenting can be rewarding in its own way, but everyone has a favorite age, a time they think longingly back to during rougher times. All the memories in that window have a certain sheen, a rose-gold aura of happiness and contentment that overshadows those other years parents would rather not remember.
Many people think they love babies. The way their heads smell, their peaceful demeanor while sleeping, and their wide-eyed wonder at the world can be invigorating to the spirit. I certainly felt that…but once I got past all the crying, erratic sleep, diaper blow-outs, and overall helplessness, there was no turning back. If we’d had our boys far enough apart for me to realize there was light at the end of that tunnel, I may never have agreed to a second one.
Lucky for my youngest, I was pregnant again within thirteen months of having his brother, far too early to realize my post-kid quality of life could ever get better than five consecutive hours of sleep.
Toddlers and teenagers are rarely anyone’s favorite, but they get a deservedly bad rap, with their back-talk, tantrums, and unreasonableness. They rebel in different ways for different reasons, but toddlers and teenagers are essentially two sides of the same asshole. Meanwhile, preschoolers and tweens are just watered-down versions of their teen and toddler counterparts, their angst and attitude in the process of waning or ramping up as the next stage approaches. While I’ve yet to suffer the first-hand experience of raising tweens and teens, my time with toddlers and preschoolers does not inspire confidence in what’s to come.
My kids are six and eight right now. I already know this is the age I’ll miss most because it’s the one I’ve enjoyed most in the moment. This is the age when they’re old enough to have personality and be reasonably independent, but still young enough to love me (most of the time). Unlike ‘tweens, teens, threenagers, and terrible twos, there’s no name associated with this era, so I just call it what it is: The Golden Age Of Parenting.
I’ve got cute videos of the hilarious faces my kids made when they ate peas for the first time or the night we thought the three-year-old said “Fuck carrots!” at dinner. But six-to-eight is the age when my kids got legitimately funny. When my eight-year-old looked at me after watching his brother’s basketball team miss ten consecutive shots and said, “Stormtroopers,” I knew we’d entered a new realm of personality.
Younger kids stumble into being funny by accident, not really understanding what made someone laugh, but reacting to a positive response. Older kids try too hard, take themselves too seriously, or infuse too much sarcasm to be endearing. Kids in the sweet spot know what makes you laugh and want to make it happen. They are silly and sweet and have no place better to be. Their jokes aren’t yet laden with slang or cultural references you’re too old and “uncool” to understand. Their humor is an extension of yours, and you are their eager audience. I’ve laughed more with my kids in the past year than I have since they were born–and laughing with them is so much less work-intensive than laughing at them. Let’s face it; the day your kid took a dump in the tub might be a funny story to tell after the fact, but it was a real son-of-a-bitch in the moment.
Another reason I love six-to-eight is how much less they need me for the minutiae of day-to-day life. Tying the shoes, wiping the asses, zipping the jackets, shoving their heads into neck holes of shirts–are all tasks they can competently complete themselves. It might take 20 minutes longer than the average adult, but they get it done. They can make their own fun, read their own books, find their own shows on Netflix.
Sure, they get bored from time to time, get in fights, scrape their knees, lose their water bottles, or can’t find their shoes. But no one is going to starve, sit in their own filth, fall to their death down the staircase, or panic when I leave the room. It’s hard to “make time for self-care” when you’re bringing the bouncy seat into the bathroom so your six-month-old can maintain eye contact with you while you sit on the toilet. The six-to-eight-year-old’s average level of independence allows space for them to grow and room for me to breathe. Being needed less just makes me love them more.
Luckily, this is also the age when they still want me around. They still lean their heads on my shoulder when while we’re watching a movie or slip their hand into mine while we’re walking through a parking lot. They pick dandelions for me when they play outside and tell me long meandering stories at bedtime just to keep me listening after I tuck them in. They ask me to play with them and it’s actually fun. They tell me they’re sorry without being asked. They say ‘thank you’ for little things, like taking them to Target so they can buy Hot Wheels cars with their own money. They tell me they love me at random times and I feel it in my bones.
This is the Golden Age of Parenting. I know it’s borrowed time. In just four short months, my oldest will be nine, ushering in the uncharted tweens that are scheduled to last until he’s 12. He’s been practicing his exasperated eye roll and I’ve already lost my sense of humor about it. Pretty soon, he’ll be acting like he doesn’t need me for anything (even when he does). He’ll discover sarcasm and think he invented it. He’ll be embarrassed and unbearable, and tell me he hates me over meaningless, forgettable things. He’ll shut me out, shut me down, and disappear into himself for awhile. He’ll be back, but he’ll never be quite the same.
I’m sure I’ll love whoever he becomes and find joy even in parts of the process I don’t love as much. But I’ll always miss him and his brother the way they are now, in this fleeting but forever-golden age, when we laughed more, showed love willingly, and needed each other just enough.