Just as pregnancy is measured in trimesters, parenting is all about stages. And in the modern era of fast parenting, there seems to be a sense of urgency to get through to the “next stage”.
It begins the moment you become a parent.
Conversation for the next 12 months revolves around breastfeeding, night-settling and the micro stages that comprise the “baby fog.” The biggest concern on most parents’ radar is getting through the night waking stage. The idea of six hours uninterrupted sleep is what drives many new parents to want to speed up time.
For the next year or two you’re in the thick of the “nappy stage” and this period seems long. When you’re in this stage, you just want to get beyond it because really, the novelty of changing your baby’s nappy wears off soon after leaving hospital and once they move beyond newborn nappies, their little bottoms aren’t quite as cute anymore.
And then you enter the toddler stage – the infamous and turbulent Terrible Two’s. This tantrum-throwing stage can get pretty tough. Here, reason and logic are elusive and rage and irrational impulses are de rigour. This is when mum, or dad, really wants to “get some of my life back”. Getting them off to school and achieving some semblance of freedom seems urgent.
But once they enter the “school stage” they often collide with the attitude stage, which seems to be brought on by peer pressure and a child developing a stronger sense of him or herself. Parents want to move through this stage pretty past too, but another stage, on paper not so appealing, awaits them. The tween stage.
And if you think the tween stage is hard, how about living with teenagers? Little kids little problems, so the saying goes; big kids, bigger problems. And so we want to get through this stage pretty fast too. Who wants to linger with moody, apathetic, ungrateful kids?
But there’s a problem with the urgency to move through over every stage of our precious child’s lives. We tend to only talk about the hard stuff. And when you’re in a hard stage, you imagine the one on the horizon will be easier. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t, but wishing away any stage means wishing away all the wonderful stuff that goes along with it.
Right now I am in the thick of the toddler stage with three pre-schoolers at home with me. It’s tough, tiring, and requires more patience than I have on some days.
But do I want to hurry this stage along? No way!
For how long will my young girls leap into my arms when I’ve been away from them for only a few hours? For how long will they clamber all over me in the morning for cuddles when all I really want is five more minutes of sleep? For how long will they imitate and adore me and shower me with unconditional affection? For how long will they want to hold my hand to walk to the letterbox together? For how long will they push me to my limit and then do something that makes me stop in my tracks and laugh out loud as it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.
For how long? Not nearly long enough.
Parenting is tough. It’s tough on a good day. And on bad days it can confuse and compromise you. But all moments pass, and often they pass too quickly. We can’t freeze time and we can’t just cherry pick the good moments. We need to accept the good with the bad, the challenging with the rewarding and the hard with the outstanding. Within every difficult stage is usually a developmental stage too. And within every imperfect stage are some pretty perfect moments too.
Of course it’s not possible to enjoy every single moment of parenting. But it is possible to slow down time a little by enjoying the present. By not rushing through to the next stage, by not predicting the next stage and imagining that it will be easier.
You don’t want to wait until you’ve got an empty nest to realise you want it full again.