“Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems. Just you wait!” warned the more experienced moms, their condescending tones wagging fingers of dread in my peaked, sleep-deprived face. I heard a lot of that when my children were young. Now, however, with the older ones launching and the youngest one already in middle school, and as a therapist who treats moms of all ages, I can confidently challenge that unintentionally obnoxious cliché.
First off, I’m sure they meant no harm. It’s just something people say, but it’s a rather insensitive comment to make to young moms who are undoubtedly struggling to navigate the challenges of tending a small brood. And even if that’s the perspective of some people, is it really helpful to say it?
Secondly, and this is important: It’s not necessarily true. Every family has its own story, struggles, flops and triumphs. And I wouldn’t wish troubled teens on anyone (not even that supercilious woman with the perfect-looking children who gave me and my inside-out dress a condescending frown on a long-ago meet-the-teacher night).
Babies and little kids mean constant exhaustion, sporadic teething, recurring ear infections or maybe strep—again; thousands of diapers, indiscriminate distribution of drool everywhere, crying, whining, tantrums, mess always, and little to no discretionary time. If you turn your back for even a moment, they are liable to touch, break, ingest, throw, jump off of or into all manner of hazardous objects. And I haven’t even mentioned the irrational fears, meltdowns in the produce aisle and chronic bickering; I’ve literally seen chess played as a contact sport. Most of us aren’t financially or professionally established yet during those years, so there never seems to be quite enough money, time or sanity to relax. The marriage is also newer, so there’s no long-standing foundation on which to build these sloppy, precarious edifices. And most of us don’t have advanced degrees in psychology, education, medicine or home organization, so we lack the experience and confidence of veteran moms and professionals. And don’t even get me started on the mom-shaming, insecurity and constant fear of being scrutinized by “everyone” and then being labeled a (gasp) “bad mother.” Those are the “joys” of the little kid years.
Believe it or not, one fine day they eventually start to evolve into people: somewhat coherent, sentient humans with whom you can converse, reason, banter and even threaten or bribe when desperate. (Don’t judge; we all resort to that once in a while.) They suddenly have personalities, questions and interests. You can teach them to say “please” and “thank you.” They assume responsibility for all aspects of their own hygienic maintenance. And some of them even reciprocate (or at least tolerate) hugs and kisses.