The Myth of Parenting Older Children

 

all five kids

To recap (in case you’re new here – hi!), I have five kids: 17, 15, 13, 10, and 4.

Oftentimes when I express frustration or fatigue as a Mother, I’m met with some version of the phrase, “Well, at least your kids are older.”

I’ve never asked anyone what they meant by that; frankly, in the heat of the moment, I’m kind of a wimp about seeming confrontational or contrary.

But taken in context, it’s safe to assume that these comments – usually offered by friends with young children – imply that things must be so much easier for me because my children are older.

If I think about it, I can understand. When my children were young, the reality of being able to leave them alone while I ran to the store seemed as far off and dreamy as Peter Pan’s Neverland.

Having kids who could dress, feed, entertain, and more-or-less take care of themselves seemed like the heavenly light at the end of the dreary parenting tunnel.

So, I get it.

But…

just like Peter Pan, the idea that having older kids is somehow easier is just a fairy tale after all.

True, now I can shower in relative peace, but…

more often than not, my shampoo is missing, my razor is dull, the soap is used up, and the drain is clogged with hair.

True, now they are not my constant shadows, but…

I’m on constant alert as to where they are, what they are doing, with whom they are doing it, and when they’ll be home.

True, I don’t have to wake up with them in the middle of the night, but…

sometimes they don’t come home until the middle of the night, and I’m up anyway, waiting for them.

True, now I can leave the house on my own for a little bit, but…

I will likely come home to food wrappers and dirty dishes in the living room, furniture re-arranged, the animals unfed, and my youngest running around in a ripe, crusty Pull-Up.

True, now they can feed themselves, but…

they feed themselves all the time, somehow managing to finish off ingredients I needed for that night’s dinner.

True, now they’re old enough to “help” with chores and babysitting, but…

it still requires a great deal of dictatorship on my part to get their “help.”

True, the days of “I hope I’m doing this right” are mostly past me, but…

now I’m consumed with “Did I do everything I could?” and “It’s too late now, I’m out of time!”

Honestly, I wouldn’t trade these days for the early ones – I’ve written before about how much I love parenting my teens! – but parenting older kids isn’t a careless, carefree venture. There are still a lot of complexities, annoyances, frustrations, and challenges to my mental health.

It’s like having a cold that moves from your head to your chest – the discomfort isn’t gone, it’s just settled in a little deeper.

If you are a young mother and feel that I’ve altogether burst your bubble, I apologize. You have many wonderful things to look forward to with parenting older children. But eating bon bons on the sofa and living a life of relative ease are, sadly, not among them!

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  • Great post! I totally get where you’re coming from and wrote about this on my own blog awhile back. My kids are 18, 15, 13, and 11 – it’s tough raising teenagers!

  • Janmary, N Ireland

    My eldest is just 14 so much of this still ahead of me, but lots of excellent points.

    However I think I’ll just let the mums of little ones remain under the dillusion that it gets easier – because at that stage I am not sure I could have handled the truth!!!

  • I only have one, but I really feel like she “needs” me now after school even more than she needed me in preschool. There is so much emotional drama and feelings to discuss. Teaching her how to organize her time, her life, her friends, her chores… truly teaching her to become a contributing member of society is just as exhausting as running after a toddler. Great post!

    • Kathy, you said it perfectly! When my kids were little, my main concerns were teaching them how to be safe and how to function on the most basic levels (potty training, dressing themselves, etc). But now the pressure is on to make them into PEOPLE who will – very, very soon – be leaving home. It’s like the final exam, and I’m cramming to make sure I (we all) pass! 🙂

  • Jen Thomas

    Right now I’m in the middle of “will D ever sleep through the night”  and “will C ever learn to wipe his own bum” but I’m already into “wow it takes a lot to get B and A to do their homework, but at least they can help empty the dishwasher and vacuum.”  It’s true that there are struggles at each age and it’ll never get magically easy to parent your kids as they get older, I just hope that as they (and I) get older I’ll have gleaned some knowledge from my friends of older kids and will be able to take those challenges head on.  Great post!

    • You’ve got it, Jen – things just shift and morph into new challenges, even as others let up a bit. Kind of like spinning plates – they’re always in motion! 🙂

  • Oh man, you mean it’s not going to magically get easier? SIGH.

  • Suzanne Young

    So true.  My oldest is 26, and is struggling with getting his act together. Even though he is out of the house so to speak, I can’t help but want to “parent” him.   That of course is out of the question.  It’s time for him to live his own life and make his own mistakes, just as my parents “allowed” me to do.  When you are a parent, you can’t turn off the switch even if they are technically an adult.

    Excellent post.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! My mom has always said to us kids “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’ll always be my babies.” And now I find myself saying that to my own kids! So, so true what you said – there’s no “switch.” Once a Mom, always a Mom. 🙂

  • Anna Mansfield

    I guess it’s a good thing that I’m not particularly fond of bonbons, huh?

  • Great post! I find that some friends who have toddlers think that because I have a 16 yo and a 9 yo, it must be so much easier. True that I don’t have to spoon feed them and wipe their rears but there’s a whole other set of challenges that come with each developmental stage. Thank you for voicing it so nicely.

  • Thera

    The bon bons, watching grown up shows together and midnight heart to hearts are on the way, at about age 20 🙂
    I also have 5 children, 23, 20, 13, 11 and 10. I loved all the years and phases, each has its challenges and rewards, but at about 20 or so the all the sudden realize what life is really like, where they have been, how they got there and who stood by them through it all 🙂

  • Lyman Pam

    Stacey i love this post. I am feeling a bit of that now. Thanks for the truth!