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.