UK parenting blog

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!”

Me and Max in London, August 2019I 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?

Which one was it for you?
When does parenting start to get easier, and which stage is the hardest?

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • So far I’ve found each stage seems to be good and bad in different ways. But like you I’m still waiting for it to get easier! When my daughter was a baby we went to two weddings and looking back both went really well. She napped one of us in the carrier when needed and people were happy to offer to hold a cute baby so we got plenty of breaks to eat etc! Going to a wedding with a toddler is very different I’ve learnt when we went to one a few weeks ago. We were lucky that she had an early nap before we went but then she hated the car journey and got car sick twice. During the meal she would only sit in the high chair for like 5 minutes the rest of the time wanted to run around and explore everywhere. It was a nice day but exhausting!

    August 6, 2019
  • Helen Baker


    I think the early years are the most physically demanding – a bit like caring for a schizophrenic hyperactive octopus. Things for us got much easier as the boys grew and there really is a honeymoon period for several years up until puberty when you can do so much in terms of activities and travel – I’m sure you and Terry and Max will really relish the time. Adolescence presents its own challenges, but that’s more to do with the sense of separating from your offspring, but at least then you can slip out for coffee while they sleep until lunchtime!

    August 6, 2019
  • Myra


    One of the hardest things is sending your little boy to school on their first day. Giving them into the care of a person who has a whole classroom full of little people to teach is a whole new ball game. They don’t know your baby, nor the other children, so how will they do it.
    You will be glad he’s reached that milestone, yet still want him home and happy with you.

    August 6, 2019
  • May


    I’m not a parent but four babies were born in the last eight years in my family and all their parents seemed to agree on the same thing: it get easier when they start kindergarten (I don’t know how it works in Scotland, but in my country kindergarten starts at age 3). It gives the kids so much to do, gives them a routine, allows them to meet new people and learn a lot and- most importantly, probably- gives you a good child free carefree few hours.
    If you’re really short on time and struggling to work, maybe daycare would be an option worth trying?

    August 6, 2019
  • Jennifer


    Glad to see a post from you. I was worried about you.
    Each stage has its struggles and other things get easier. There is no one answer.

    August 6, 2019
  • Fiona


    Yes, this bit is the hardest. For me it started to get steadily easier when they hit 3 (roughly). I have teens and naturally they bring with them worries and attendant emotional dramas. But I find that so much easier (so, so much easier) than the relentless physical AND emotional exhaustion of parenting pre-schoolers. I mean, I get some time to myself now and I clearly remember when that was not the case at all.

    August 6, 2019
  • Anne Keep


    The hardest part is when your child is 18 months old – so much energy and physical ability but not much ability to think. (My sons are now 29 and 27).

    August 6, 2019
  • Jemma


    I now have two teenagers and was expecting it to be a hard time, but actually it’s been fine!
    For me the hardest was from when my daughter turned two until she turned four, with age 3 being way worse than 2! I only have 18 months between my two so was dealing with a baby at the same time which didn’t help. The gap didn’t seem so bad when they were both little though. Then my daughter hit the terrible twos at the same time as my 6 month old son started crawling. The next two years were kind of like a rollercoaster of chaos!
    In my daughters case age 3 was worse than two as she could more clearly articulate her demands. My son was easier natured but very very lively so tough in his own way.
    After she was such a despot at 3 I was nervous of my daughter hitting her teens, but actually I think she got it all out then, as so far two years into terms she’s been great.
    Good luck, I’ve found that each stage is tough in its own way, but also lovely in its own way. Also every child is different!

    August 7, 2019
  • I think now. She has just turned two, and everything all seems to be happening suddenly, and fast (potty training, big girl bed, a change in childcare situation (childminder went to Oz for a month!!)) and I think it has all unsettled her even though we are trying our best to keep things consistent. At the moment getting clothes on (or off!) her is a massive struggle, which isn’t great when you’re trying to leave the house. And naptimes are back to being hell on earth now she can get out of her cot and walk around the room. And lately she has also been tired and grumpy all the time, which is so unlike her. And we have had a few times she has woken from a nap absolutely inconsolable for an hour or more, with no amount of cartoons or food bribery (even chocolate or ice cream!) helping, and her not letting us anywhere near her for cuddles. All we can do is keep as near as she will let us and make sure she doesn’t hurt herself throwing things or herself. It is heartbreaking to watch her sob. I am sure all of this is related to the recent changes, and it was bad timing on our part, but the potty training had to happen because she was getting too big for her nappies! Luckily she took a few days and has got the hang of it super fast, so at least that’s a trauma we have kind of skipped! Anyway, just to say that you’re right, always new challenges, but at the same time so many new and exciting things, she is blathering away in sentences now which is incredible! Kids are a bit of a rollercoaster to say the least! xxx

    August 7, 2019
  • I think the toddler stage was the hardest. Newborns you can at least put down and know they won’t go anywhere. 3/4 year olds you can kinda reason with/bribe. 1-2 is hard. You have to watch them constantly, their naps are all over the place and everything is a guessing game. Spoiler alert: we’re all winging it. And when you’re out the other side it feels like it all went too fast.

    August 7, 2019
  • Merry


    My daughter was so active that when she was a toddler I often stood her on a chair to change her clothes, rather than chase her around. Good luck and God bless!

    August 9, 2019
  • Katie’


    Having got two grown up children (19 and 23) I think it’s all difficult – but it’s a different, and less exhausting, difficult!

    Them learning to drive and then passing and driving away into the distance was a particular challenge, waving goodbye at the airport when she went travelling for 6 months was difficult

    But it does get easier as they get less reliant on you for everything, although being ready to let them go be make mistakes for themselves is also hard!

    It’s a wonderful journey, they grow so quickly, enjoy every stage – it will pass all too soon x

    August 15, 2019
  • Elaine


    I remember when my kids were about 3 and 1 I thought -” why did I do this to myself, it is just getting harder and harder!” and then someone said around age 4 was the magic number and the physically demanding part of parenting would get easier. I didn’t believe them but I found that as the younger one reached 3/4 this did happen – much less getting up in the night, running around after them, never being able to sit down for two seconds etc They are so much fun as toddlers but exhausting – they continue to be lots of fun and less and less likely to stick their fingers in a plug as they grow through the years into teenagers. This all happens within a blink of an eye by the way although you don’t realise it until you are through it for some reason! My kids are 12 and 14 now and I constantly worry about them (but I constantly worry about everything), this age has its own challenges but honestly the “not having a minute to yourself” part does get easier! You are doing a great job and your little boy is gorgeous!

    August 29, 2019
  • lalie


    easier when they are old enough to sleep through the night, and young enough that you know where they are at all time.
    Newborn are a nightmare, teens are even worst.

    Especially easier when they are old enough to read and entertain themselves, makes travelling a breeze.

    School depends on the child, when they love it it’s fantastic.
    When they are in tears and refuse to go, it’s hell. I am lucky that I found school a lot better than nursery.

    January 30, 2020