How to Tell If You're in the Hardest Stage of Parenting

nicole fabian-weber

Before I had my second baby, I wondered if learning to juggle two children with two completely different sets of needs would be harder than just one kid, which was plenty hard as it was. At the time, I figured that going from zero to one was no doubt a more difficult life change. Then I became a mom of two, and I quickly figured out that I was wrong: Going from one to two was a whole lot harder. 

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When I was a full-time staff writer for The Stir and commuted into the city a few days per week, I unequivocally knew that being a working mom was harder than being a stay at home mom. Of course, I would never say this out loud, as, aside from breastfeeding, it’s pretty much the most divisive parenting topic out there. But, I knew it. I lived it.

Then I left my job to go freelance and starting spending almost all waking hours with my kids. I learned that I was mistaken. Being home with kids all day was definitely harder than being a working mom. 

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When I was pregnant with my son and chasing my toddler daughter around, I knew that it was the hardest phase I would ever go through as a mother. I was exhausted; emotional; sleep-deprived and still had to be a mom. But after I gave birth and was thrust back into the newborn phase, I realized that being pregnant with a toddler was a breeze. Having a newborn and a toddler was insane. I was exhausted; emotional; sleep-deprived and still had to be a mom … to two

When I was breastfeeding I whole-heartedly knew that it was far more difficult than formula feeding. I was the sole person who could feed my baby after all, and it seemed that every mom I knew who fed their babies formula had little ones who slept through the night while my son was still waking up constantly at 4 months old. But when I stopped nursing and had to deal with making bottles at night and packing formula with me when I went out, it occurred to me: Maybe nursing is easier after all. 

The hardest phase of parenting, I’ve now come to realize, is the one you’re in. The one you know. The one you live and breathe every waking moment of every single day. Whether you're dealing with sleepless nights or school bullies, being a mom is hard. Period. I often see debates online discussing what's more challenging: Being the mother of a toddler or being the mother of a teen, and almost always, people will say whatever stage they're currently in. 

When you realize this as a parent, something wildly freeing happens: You stop waiting for things to "get easy." You stop saying and thinking things like, "When she stops having tantrums, it'll be easy;" or "when he starts sleeping through the night, it'll be easy." It's never easy. And when you accept that, it gets, well, easier. This is life. This is what we signed up for. No one ever said it would be easy. 

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Recently, I was sitting in my backyard with my children, feeling a love and gratefulness so deep that I, quite literally, thought I was going to burst. I knew that I was in the thick of the best years of my life, and I felt nostalgic for them despite them happening right then and there. I felt them slipping away from me and I envisioned myself down the road thinking about this very moment fondly and wishing I could live it all over again. I felt happy, sad, and pressure to enjoy every single moment with my kids -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- because they won't be here forever. 

But, then it dawned on me: If every stage of parenting is the "hardest" one you're in, maybe every stage is also the best? Maybe every stage is the one you don't want to slip away? The time that you look at your baby, your toddler, or your teenager and think, "Stop growing, please. You're perfect the way you are."

I, of course, could be completely wrong and, when my daughter is 16, be thinking to myself, "Man, what I would give for you to be 3 again." But, I doubt it. I'm sure I'll think she's absolutely perfect the way she is. And incredibly difficult. 

What do you think the hardest stage of parenting is?


Image via Nicole Fabian-Weber 

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