parent opinion

'Life is filled with underrated parenting moments that we don't talk about enough.'

We need to start talking about the moment in parenting when you can pick up a book again.

The stage where you can sit by the pool and supervise, but not be in the pool (if you don’t want to be).

When your children can walk to the fridge and help themselves to a snack.

When they can toilet themselves. Shower themselves, even.

When the physical demands of parenting give way to other, more complex demands, but ones that let you sit still for a moment. Or sleep in later than the birds.

Our daughter just turned one, so we know we’re nowhere near it. A minute ago we were cluster feeding and babywearing. Now we’re darting across the room mid-sentence as she hurls herself at all the sharp corners in our house.

Most days I wish I could bottle her… right now, at this age, where the most heartfelt distress is quickly erased with a cuddle and a discussion about planes. Little kids, little problems.

But then there are moments when everything aches and I just need to lie still on the floor. When the daily conveyer belt of nappies and splattered food, and lifting a wriggling child up and downstairs, and in and out of car seats, and high chairs, and cots feels overwhelming and endless.

And it would help, in those moments, to be reminded that the physicality of early childhood eventually eases. Not to wish the years away, or the sparkling little person in front of me – just the repetition of ordinary tasks necessary to keep her alive.

LISTEN: You will probably survive parenthood. Post continues after audio.

I don’t forget that this exhaustion is a privilege. And what I’m experiencing, as a mother of one, with lots of support, pales in comparison to what families of children with disabilities and additional needs face every day.

But the fog still exists, and adjusting the messages we send parents of young children could be a start.

Early childhood gets lots of labels. Usually, ones accompanied by the emoji with all the teeth.

The Newborn Phase: Snuggly, but enjoy never sleeping.

The Toddler Phase: Burn everything nice in your house.

The Terrible Twos: Avoid supermarkets.

Threenagers: A 13-year-old trapped in a three-year-old’s body! Can. You. Imagine.

These names, while daunting, seem to serve a purpose. They’re cautionary tales for first-time parents, from those further down the road. They’re icebreakers. Something to bond over at the park. A reminder that we’re not the only ones with sore backs and cold coffees.

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But if we can be bothered putting a name to the messy chaos, how did we forget, in all our years of parenting, to name the moments when the incline levels out a bit?

When you don’t need to scoff down a meal like a competitive eater. When some of the simple pleasures you indulged in pre-baby slowly re-enter your life, and are even possible to enjoy while your child is awake and under the same roof as you.

This does happen eventually right, guys? Guys?

As someone deep in the early years, it feels like the only books I’ll ever finish are the ones with mischievous dogs in them, and we may never stay awake to finish another TV show.

But I know this can’t be true. Some semblance of balance will return. I just don’t have any sense of what that looks like, because all anyone wants to tell new or expectant parents about are the luxuries they’ll lose. Not the things they’ll slowly gain back.

I’ve been quizzing my friends with older kids. If they had to pinpoint an age when things get “easier” (physically, I mean) what would it be? My small focus group suggests it’s around the age of four or five. When your child’s ability to be independent catches up with their desire to be independent.

Yes, every child is different, and no two parenting experiences are the same. So if there isn’t an age we can all agree on, perhaps we can talk to new parents about the moment you felt you’d made it?

The day you took your child to the movies and they sat in the seat and watched the movie without eating other people’s popcorn dregs from the floor.

Or the first time you made a family dinner reservation that wasn’t technically still the afternoon. When it took less than 45 minutes and a packed lunch to leave the house.

We spend so much time warning new parents of all the freedoms they’ll lose. Let’s start reminding them of what they’ll get back one day, and how much sweeter it will be this time around, in the company of our little ones.

Jaime Langford-Eli is a 32-year-old, curly-haired, book enthusiast from Brisbane. With a career to date producing talkback radio and giving politicians media advice, she enjoys watching other people complete triathlons on Instagram and talking back at podcasts, forgetting they’re not in the same room.

Feature image: Getty.

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