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Parenthood is the hardest when kids are aged...

Four. Apparently, four is the not-so-magic number. A recent UK study found the parents of 4 year-olds were the most unhappy and stressed of all. Really?

We suspect this was a survey of parents with 4 year-olds, because if you were to ask any parent which age they found the most difficult with their children, 9 times out of 10 they’d say the age that they are going through right now. Because in the eye of the hurricane, sometimes all you can see is darkness.

The good news is that although all storms eventually pass, every age has its ups and downs.

I have taken the liberty of sharing a few ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each of the stages below.

INFANTS – 0-2 years

PROS

Falling in love

Nothing can prepare you for the heart explosion that only a new parent gets to feel. That first smile, the pure pride you feel when they learn to roll over. Every first, is just, well, magic.

Immobility

The good news is that at first, they can’t go far. In fact, for a good six months you know that you can put your little person down virtually anywhere and when you come back, they’ll still be there. Also to note, at this point in time, you also don’t need to elevate any of your breakables.

They are hilarious

Seriously, little kids are funny and will bring so much unbridled joy to your world. They will amaze themselves and you, every..single…day.

CONS

Exhaustion.

Newborns are delicious but so damn tiring. I don’t care who you are, what you do, nothing - and I mean NOTHING - can prepare you for the sleep deprivation and ensuing exhaustion that comes with a newborn.

You or someone you love is always sticky

Who knows what that substance is on the bottom of your handbag or on the passenger seat window in the station wagon? Don’t question it, and please don’t try and play detective by tasting it. Just accept that sticky, unidentifiable substances will be a part of your world during these years.

You become a human pack horse

Babies and young children need a lot of stuff to get through their day. Wipes, bottles, nappies, bibs, multiple changes of clothes, baby food, change mats, toys, swings, the list goes on. You will get used to this but there will also be a faint flicker in the back of your mind when you remember being able to visit a friend’s house without having to pack a virtual amusement park in your boot to do so.

TODDLERS/PRESCHOOLERS – 2-5 years

PROS:

Vocabulary

Somewhere between 1-3, depending on your child, they will start to say words and then, coherent sentences which is great as it eliminates the need to play charades every time they want to do something.

Less time spent in the baby aisle

They will stop needing nappies (eventually) and will move from a cot to a real bed. This will mean you will stop leaving the house with a nappy bag larger than Bagdhad each time you have to run to the shops for a bottle of milk.

More time to yourself

Also, towards the end of this stage, your child will start to go to preschool, giving you some well earned time to yourself. You could use this time to clean the house or meet friends for an uninterrupted coffee or more than likely, sleep, in an attempt to try and regain what you’ve been missing out on over the last 5 years.

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CONS

Bloody mindedness

I’m going to give it you straight. Your kid will be ultra cute during this time. They will also be ultra trying. What happens during this time is that they become their own little person with their very own determined little personality. This, despite your best efforts to guide them in a particular way. The word ‘NO’ becomes a favourite of theirs, used mainly, if not entirely, to drive you up the wall. You will also start to realise the term ‘Pick your battles' was specifically written for 3 year-olds.

Toilet training

Yes, you will start to save much needed cash on daytime nappies, but you need to save that cash for something else - washing detergent. Unless your child is some kind of freak of nature, expect them to soil countless pairs of underpants, sheets and if you’re as lucky as me, leave a special present in the bottom of your leather boots.

No more naps

Oh and remember that 1-2 hour period when your beautiful little cherub went down for a daytime nap? Yeah, that stops. So, you’re going to have to get everything done while they’re awake. Good luck with that.

School age – 6 – 12 years

PROS:

School hours

Now for some parents they dread the time when their baby finally starts ‘big school’. This is of course only until they experience the sweet, sweet bliss that is 6 hours of unadulterated guilt-free alone time.

Independence

Your child no longer needs you to wipe their bottoms or get them a drink of water or endlessly entertain them. They’ve worked out how to turn on the DVD player, get themselves a milk and let you sleep in for an extra hour on Sunday. Most children by now won’t be invading your bed each night, kicking you in the face and aggressively stealing the blankets (although I admit this is an ongoing dilemma in my very home right now with the 7 year old) but I’m fairly confident there are no 12 year-olds sleeping with their parents so I live in hope.

CONS:

Independence

Yes, it’s a double-edged sword. Your child wants it so badly they can’t quite work out where the line is. Sure you want them to walk to school but you also know they can’t be trusted to watch the traffic properly. They are however, fiercely determined to make you, a mere adult, understand that you know nothing and will stop at nothing to get their own way. This is a difficult time as you try to make them understand that with independence also comes great responsibility.

You become a taxi driver

No, I don’t think you understand. Somewhere around ages 5 or 6, your kid starts to get busier than you are. And then, they don’t ever really stop. Your weekends will consist of you, in the car, dropping and picking up children at parties, sporting events and general social events. Their social diary will put your own to shame.

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The worry

No, this isn’t really age reflective but this age is when you start to worry about so many more things. Are they keeping up at school? Will they need braces? Are they too short, too tall, the list goes on. It becomes more apparent during this time because you see them alongside their peers more often.

Adolescents – 13-18 years

PROS:

They'll learn to drive!

This is also a con for obvious reasons but mostly it means that they will be completely independent. Which is of course, bittersweet.

They can earn money!

Well, by 15 they can. This means they that can start to understand the value of money and realise that it doesn’t magically come from an ATM in the wall.

They can babysit!

I know I keep using an exclamation mark but these are all very exciting things to a parent. It was only last year that my husband and I suddenly realised that out 14 year-old could start to look after our two younger children (for a modest sum) and we could GO OUT. It was liberating.

You will get closer

Weirdly, when they aren’t wigging out over completely nothing, they can be beautiful young adults who you will share interests and have interesting, mature conversations with.

CONS:

They are irrational.

A teenager’s moodiness and passive aggressive behaviour, fortunately, builds over time. There will be times where your child irrationally flies off the handle at you for looking at them the wrong way and you and your partner will simply look at each other from across the room and mouth "WTF was that?” This is what is known as “typical teenage behaviour brought about by fluctuating hormones” and along with pimples, will simply come and go throughout your teenager’s life. Hang tight.

They are disgusting

No really, just go buy the hazmat suit now and be done with it. I’d also suggest you pick up a pair of tongs for when you are forced to go into their bedrooms to find something. You don’t want to be picking stuff up off that ground with your bare hands.

They will learn to drive!

Yes, yes I did mention this a positive thing above and it is. It is also the single most terrifying thing as a parent that you will experience. This kid can’t work out how to turn on the sprinkler, how he is going to operate a vehicle on the streets without mowing down a pensioner and/or injuring himself?

If you were to ask me, a mother of children aged 14, 12 and 7, what was the most difficult time, I'd say all of them.

But for all the challenges that come with being a parent, maybe it’s time to recognise that maybe it wasn’t meant to be easy.

Maybe it isn’t meant to be endlessly rewarding and all rainbows and sunshine. Every age is a challenge and every age is a new experience and all too soon it will be over, so let’s embrace the good and bad and at least know that we are not in this alone.

What age have you found most challenging?

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