What’s the hardest stage of parenthood?
When Max was tiny, I thought parenting a newborn must surely be the hardest thing in the entire world.
The sleepless nights. The constant worry that I was going to do something wrong, and, I don’t , know, break him, somehow. The reflux. Oh my holy hell, THE REFLUX.
So, it was hard: and it was hard in ways that I just don’t think you can ever really prepare yourself for. I mean, I had always assumed it would be hard for me, because, most things are, to be perfectly honest. I am just not one of life’s copers – to put it mildly. Terry, on the other hand, IS… so when it turned out that parenthood was also hard for Terry, well, that’s when I knew we were in trouble, basically.
“This is the hard bit, though,” we kept reminding ourselves, through permanently gritted teeth. “It’ll get easier. It HAS to get easier, right?”
But, folks? It did not get easier. It just got hard in different ways – to an extent that, these days, I now look back on that newborn stage and think, “Wow, that was the easy bit! I wish I’d appreciated at the time how much easier it was!”
I mean, when he was tiny, Max used to lie still while I changed his nappy and/or clothes. These days, though? These days if I want to change or dress him, I have to catch him first: then I have to beg, cajole, and sometimes even bribe him to sit/stand still for long enough to get the job done. On the really bad days, I occasionally have to call in reinforcements, in the form of Terry, who will help distract Max – or just hold him still – while I change him.
It makes the days when he used to fall asleep on the changing table seem like an absolute breeze in comparison, and it’s easy to forget that, back then, he might have been willing to remain still for a few minutes, but we had to change him what felt like dozens of times per day, either due to reflux or nappy explosions. And, well, OK, that wasn’t much fun either, really, was it?
When he was tiny, he used to nap in the pram. Now? Now he doesn’t even want to SIT in his pushchair, let alone sleep in it, so if we want to go out for a full day, or walk a long distance, we have to prepare for an epic battle, involving us against an over-tired, cranky toddler, who really, REALLY wants to sleep, but who just won’t lie down to do it.
Case in point: we’re just back from a week in the south of England, which included a day trip to London. We did the same trip this time last year, when Max was 7 months old, and while the holiday itself wasn’t without its challenges, the day in London was a doddle: we caught the train in first thing in the morning, stayed there all day, and then got a late train home at night. Max slept in his pram when he needed to, and we were able to walk miles around the city, without any problems at all.
This year, however, was totally different: because, this year, Max decided he needed a nap almost as soon as we arrived, but then ALSO decided that, actually, he wouldn’t be getting back into his pushchair for it: not under ANY circumstances at all. Just to add to the fun, he further decided that only mummy was allowed to carry him, so I ended up trailing along the south bank with aching arms, and a child lying with his head on my shoulder, wide awake, but refusing to be put down. By the time we met up with my friend for dinner, I was a hot, sweaty mess – and Max STILL hadn’t slept for even a split second. Thankfully he did perk up again when he met my friend’s little boy, but my right arm will probably never be the same again, seriously…
Our trip to Kent last year was also made easier by the fact that, back then, Max would happily fall asleep in the car: in fact, he was practically guaranteed to, even if he wasn’t particularly tired. Because of that, we were able to drive all over Kent, and even to Belgium for the day, knowing that he would sleep when he needed to, and wouldn’t cause a fuss in the car.
These days, on the other hand? These days he’ll only sleep in the car on very long journeys, normally nodding off about five minutes before we reach our destination. The rest of the time, he’ll chatter non-stop and will – rather endearingly, it has to be said – insist on holding my hand most of the time… which would be fine, I guess, but I don’t want to get into a habit of always travelling in the back seat, so, instead, I have to sit in the front, awkwardly twisted around to try to reach his little fingers. (Sometimes he’ll relent on this and allow me to hold his foot, instead. “Mummy cuddle foot!” he’ll demand. Aww!)
So, days out are a challenge, in other words: and so is much of the rest of our lives right now. Which brings me to the question posed in the title of this post:
When does it start to get easier?
Because, right now I feel like THIS must surely be the hardest stage of parenting… but then I think back to the aforementioned sleepless nights, and the reflux and the exhaustion… and then forward to the time when he drops his naps completely (For the past few days, he’s been down to just one nap per day, so we’re pretty sure he’s done with the morning one already…), and we have even LESS time than we do now to get things done. I think about all of this, and then I start to think, that, actually, they’re ALL the hardest part, aren’t they? And, yes, sure – so far they’ve all been the best stage, too: I know this post might seem like unmitigated whining, but there are obviously good parts, too – and those are the bits that just keep on getting better, thankfully.
I still want to know, though: which stage really IS the hardest? Or will I just have to spend the rest of my life frantically chasing Max around houses and playparks, and trying to prise Play Doh out of his mouth?