Moms of little ones, I know what you’re thinking: Little people aren’t big problems? I call bullshit, lady!
I bet you’re reading this right now with a baby at your breast for the eleven-teenth time today, you can’t remember the last time you took a shower, your 3-year-old just found some coffee beans and thinks they are their morning snack, your 5-year-old has the stomach bug and will miss preschool (your only quasi-break) for the third time this week, and if you don’t do laundry soon, you’re gonna have to move the entire household to a nudist colony.
Your little people problems are, in your reality, big ass problems. I know they are — trust me, I have been there. I have judiciously counted soiled diapers to ensure my baby was gaining weight, because if they weren’t? Huge problem. I have spent entire days counting the words in a 2-year-old’s vocabulary, because “What if they don’t know enough words?” Huge problem. I have battled the stubborn meltdowns of a 3-year-old in a grocery store, all the while thinking, “My kid is evil, won’t listen, is embarrassing the hell out of me right now, and what if they have some severe behavioral disorder?” Huge problem.
I, too, have needed to function at work on 48 minutes of sleep and wondered just how much I was messing up raising these little people in what science told me were the most formative years, thinking to myself, “How can my problems possible get bigger than this?”
But first, let’s understand that though there will be bigger problems, they will be big in a much different (and unfortunately dramatic) kind of way.
Don’t get me wrong — the big problems you have when you have little ones at home are valid, serious, and of course, you’re concerned about all the uncertainties every parent faces. Nobody is taking away the fact the problems swirling around in your head that keep you up at night aren’t worth keeping you up at night (though in hindsight, I promise you your 3 1/2-year-old will one day crap in the toilet. I swear on my life that this will happen, so please get yourself some sleep).
They are absolutely logical, legitimate problems. It’s just that the problems that come with older children, in particular those in the late teen and early adult years, are full-on yuuuuuge whopper kind of problems.
If you think you’re not sleeping now because of worrying about that infant in the other room waking you up fives times a night, just wait until you’re up worrying about a child who is not actually in the room at night anymore. You might not even know where they are or what he’s doing.
The problems big kids bring with them are bigger in a more serious, and possibly life-altering, way. Most notably, the kinds of trouble they can find themselves in can be a matter of life and death, and that is not an exaggeration. We hand our teens keys to a killing machine (a car), we trust that when they go out to social events they stay away from drugs and alcohol (also potentially deadly vices), and we have to sit back, trust, and witness them make college and career decisions that very well may affect their entire lives. It makes that playgroup problem you had years ago when one of the kids was biting and not sharing their Legos seem laughably insignificant.
Parental protection when they are little comes in the form of five-point harnesses, childproof cupboards, and hands that you can hold at all times. When they’re older, not only can you not always be there to physically protect them, but every emotional pain and setback they feel, you feel too. A cranky 3-year-old’s mental anguish can usually be cured with a nap and a lollipop, but a young adult who has been bullied, fired from a job, dumped by their girlfriend or boyfriend, cut by the soccer team, and rejected from their college of choice? Those are problems you both will feel deeply, and ones that cannot be fixed with story time and some ice cream.
If it’s any consolation (and hang in there because there is, I promise), it’s that bigger kids also come with something totally unexpected but very much anticipated — bigger joys. That baby taking their first steps, feeding themselves solo, speaking in full sentences, and no longer wetting the bed? That is some big joy.
That same baby walking across the stage at high school graduation, showing moral and ethical character well beyond their years, and landing their first real-paying job? Even bigger joy. I promise.
Whatever season of parenting you’re in, there will always be stressors. And perhaps as our kids grow older, we look more affectionately at the early years and are able to say, “That wasn’t so bad.” I just hope in the end we will be able to look back at all of it, all the ages and stages, with the same fondness and yearning. Because in the end, our problem-making kids are truly the best type of problems to have.