Friday, January 04, 2008

The Hardest Stage

I have been in an email conversation with someone who is becoming a dear friend, and I wanted to open it up to all of you, too. This topic has been rolling around in my head for quite awhile and at this point I think it's going to come out in the form of two blog posts, but I reserve the right to drag it out.


Which stage of mothering do you think is the hardest?
Beyond that?

I have been thinking about it, and I have concluded which ever stage I'm currently in is the hardest one. The ones I've been through weren't so bad (after all, I survived them!) and the ones ahead of me have got to be easier, so the hardest one is the one I'm in right now.

Think with me here.
I remember that Elizabeth had colic and I had a hard time getting her to nurse. It seems to me I was in tears for the first few weeks every time she "latched on" because it hurt so badly. If she wasn't sleeping, she was crying and I almost always followed suit. Yes, those were miserable days and sometimes I didn't think I'd make it through. But I did.
And now I am not so bothered by them.

And when Joshua was born I had to learn the boy thing with diapers. A new baby, sleepless nights, and a toddler who didn't like that Mommy was no longer "all hers," were enough to push me over the edge so I cried every time I changed Joshua's diaper and he "sprayed" all over. (OK, I'm a slow learner, but I did get to the point of being quick enough to cover him up and avoid more accidents.) At the time, though, I felt like this diaper thing was going to be the end of me.
But I made it through.
And now I can laugh about it.

Then there was Matthew and his delay in learning to walk. We had moved into a new house and pulled up the carpet - only to find old dirty "padding" underneath which had turned to clay and fused to the floor, and the carpet we were buying was on back-order! So for two months Matthew was crawling around on this nasty floor. His hands, knees, and the tops of his feet were perpetually dirty. So in addition to the fact that I was concerned about whether he would ever walk, I grew tired of constantly wiping him clean.
But he learned to walk the week after the carpet was installed.
And now I think it's a funny story to tell.

I went through all the standard struggles of the toddler/pre-school years like thinking potty training was a never-ending battle, and never wanting to hear someone say the words, "Mine!" or, "Gimme!" for the rest of my life. I longed for the day when I could jump in the car to run to the store without having to spend ten minutes strapping children into car seats. And just once I wanted to be able to go out to lunch with a friend without having to worry about being home in time for some one's nap - lest every one's day be thrown off by a cranky child.
Yet somehow I made it through those years.
And I can think about them now without hyperventilating.

Ooohhh. I believe it was when Joshua was in kindergarten that he got angry. He went from this sweet, lovable little guy to an angry, bitter child. He yelled, scratched things, threw himself on the couch or floor, and told me I didn't love him. Those were the days when it was common for him to call me the Meanest Mom in the World. Daily.
I was beside myself trying to understand him and love him, and wanting to know what to do to help him. Tears. Lots of tears during this time in my life. And if I recall correctly, there was also a fair amount of yelling. And self-condemnation.
Earlier this week I found a journal I kept during that time. As I read an entry describing the ways Joshua carried on, I was so encouraged to realize how far he has come. Somehow, I made it through those years, too.
And as I recall them now, I am so thankful to God for His faithfulness in bringing us all through.

Now all the kids are in school full time. Many times I have a day all to myself. And I love it!
When they were younger, I thought this time in my life would be easy.
But now I'm dealing with trying to keep track of homework assignments and school projects, Book-It guidelines and Cub Scout meetings. Honestly, I try to come up with systems to manage all the stuff going on, but sometimes it really stresses me out.
There are arguments over chores, movie-night selections, whose turn it is to play the Wii, and who is responsible for cleaning up which mess. (And that's just today!) Sometimes I wish they would just grow up and take full responsibility for themselves. This stage seems just too hard.
But when they're teenagers, I am sure it's going to be better. They will be more responsible. They won't need me to do so many things for them - I'm seeing some progress in this area now and it's only going to get better, right? When they're older they will think more like adults and it will be easier to reason with them, won't it? They will be able to work things out better and I won't hear, "I'm gonna tell!" so much, right?

Do you see where I'm going with this? I hope you're reading the sarcasm I am intending to write to help make my point.

I think whichever stage of mothering we are in is the hardest one. And when we get to the next stage, it's going to be the hardest one, too.
And the next, and the next...
I think we can look back on the ones through which we have passed and not remember how hard it was - because we have survived and learned and grown.
And it seems common to look forward to the stages to come, believing they will be easier because of the surviving, learning and growing everyone (our kids and ourselves) has been doing.
But the stage we're in right now - the present - this is the hard one. Because it's the one we're living and breathing.
The past is behind us. We've made it through.
The future is before us. We are free to imagine how it will play out.
But the present is with us and always will be. There is no way to get around it. That's why I think whatever stage of parenting we're presently in is the one which is the hardest.

If you feel like I am setting you up for disappointment or despair, don't worry. I am not. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Stay tuned for part two!

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KarenW said...

Before I had children, I looked forward to babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and elementary age. I dreaded the teen years. It scared me to death. Now, I have two teens. They were close in age and the early years were tough. They never slept at the same time. The early elementary years weren't any easier as I dealt with major frustrations with my ds learning to read and also having another baby that demanded a lot of attention. The teen years started drawing closer. Oh help! Well, to make a long story short, my older two are nearly 17 and 15 and I have to say that I LOVE this stage of life. I wish it would go on for a few more years. I also find myself worrying about the "Beyond that" stage. Now, they listen to me, ask for advice and permission to go places. Sometime in the not too far future they will be out there on their own. Another frightening stage . . .

Patricia/NYC said...

Great post, Karen! And I couldn't agree more! Your post made me realize how important it is to just "BE" in the moment, as hard as it may be, because before too long, it too will be gone. I'm feeling kind of sentimental these days as my daughter just turned 3 & so much of the "baby stage" is gone. We missed out on her first year as we adopted her from China, so I feel the baby stage went super fast!
Look forward to reading part 2!

Wendy said...

I've been thinking about this (as much as I've been able to think today, being sick and all), considering that I have a child in each stage: infant, toddler, tween, early teen and late teen. The conclusion I come to, in my own experience, is that it's not so much which stage is harder, but which child. Every stage had its difficulties with my first. After her, the rest seem easy. Not that she's so difficult (most of the time!) but because I was learning as I went with her, and able to use that knowledge with the others as they came along. Just my humble two cents, of course. I agree, though, you've got to enjoy each moment as it comes. That's what makes life worth living, I think, and motherhood worth it all. :)

Rochelle said...

I have to agree. With every stage I feel such polar emotions, really. There are days when I love it and I think, "This is the best stage!" And then others when I think I am being punished from God! I never minded strapping Keilani in the car seat one bit, but I remeber the day she buckled herself - I thought, "How wonderful!" I never thought I would enjoy her independence like I do. But watching her heart break tears me up and I wish she would just let me be everything to her again! This was a great post.

Happyhome said...

Well spoken Karen! Having one we're potty training and one quickly closing in on puberty, I would have to lean towards the later end of the spectrum...most likely because at this point we are facing the unknown. It's uncharted waters. We've been down the potty training road four times now and while I am tired of all the mess, I know someday it will end and we will get through it. Frankly, standing on the edge of puberty with your precious child feels much like falling off a cliff. I am so thankful the LORD is standing there with us and will not let us fall...too far.

freetofly said...

We have been blessed to be parents for 23 years. Our youngest is 14 (will be 15 Tuesday). I never minded any of it, at all. Really truly LOVE all of it. Until just recently. Our first was a very difficult teen in his later years. Much heartbreak. Now our youngest is enjoying his own set of difficulties...both times the difficulties have involved situations in our church family. hard to explain & each situation COMPLETELY different. I feel such a pressure to just I don't know- quit, run away, find a different church, stop the know all those completely ridiculous, knee-jerk is good, yesterday was good, but since April of last year, the heat has just been building, building...but, GOD! He's faithful & sovereign and I know good will come!

Anywho, well said words & very true!

Blessings to you!

P.S. so glad your holidays were good!

Rachel said...

You've summed up this part so well! I tracked with you on every thought. I too have been thinking about it tons since we've written and I find myself even missing the baby stage because their sin natures didn't show up like they do now. The sibling rivalry drives me crazy.
I just pulled the movie "Click" out of my dvd collection to re-watch it because I remember thinking how dangerous it is to want to fast forward to better or easier stages. I agree that the hardest part is the one you are in. Can't wait for your next post about this. The wheels in my headed are turnin' on this topic!

kreed said...

What a great reminder to try to enjoy every stage of parenting...they all do seem easier in retrospect!