I can’t claim to be a childhood expert and there are certainly no titles and degrees from fancy institutes attached to my name, but as a mom of four kids I believe I can offer a valid assessment of the first six years of child rearing as acquired in the school of hard knocks.
For those who are just embarking on this journey – I hope this quick guide can offer you hope when things look hopeless and discourage you when things are bright. If you have completed your own child parenting journey with a live, functioning adult child, I hope you will add your own observations in the comment section!
Birth through 1-year-old: A fantastic season of life! Everything your child does is new and exciting and fills you with pride. If he poops, it’s the sweetest smelling poop you’ve ever known, if she spits up, the spit up is either less than every other child or significantly more. Nothing is in halves during the first year.
The sleeplessness, it may get to you. You may possibly believe you are going to die. There will be dark, gloomy days when you remember sleeping in or staying up late or getting in the car and driving without wondering if your diaper supply is sufficient.
This is the year when previously confident people usually realize they DO NOT have their act together. They are much more insecure, confused, angry, and impatient than they originally thought. They also realize their capacity to love is significantly higher than ever imagined. And for parents… conjugal visits can be sketchy. Do not despair. Year two is just around the corner. It gets better.
1-year-old to 2-years-old: One day you have an infant and the next you realize the baby fat has melted off of their cheeks. You pretend you’re imagining the unpleasant scent of your body as you immerse yourself in all of the “firsts” of a little one. The pterodactyl screeches of your child fade – finally! – into recognizable words and you see personality in your child that gives you hope for a future where they discover the cure for cancer and carry out world peace.
You finally know how to put a pack ‘n play together in less than 25 minutes. You start sleeping through the night consistently. This newfound rest, combined with the realization you’ve spend thousands of dollars on unused clothing and toys, convince you to try for another child. Your spouse is all for the trying to get pregnant process but terrified and sobered when the pregnancy test comes back positive. The memories of the sleepless nights come back in cold sweat nightmares.
2-years-old to 3-years-old: The child you’ve produced is, in turns, part angel, part demon, over the top exasperating and phenomenally charming. You sleep anytime you sit still and stop taking photos for the baby book. This makes you feel guilty.
The baby lengthens and you’re left with a toddler speaking a foreign language in a vehement voice, expecting you to understand and comply with their wishes at all times! You buy them a wristwatch, How to Teach Your Baby to Read, and shoes with shoelaces expecting overnight success. They don’t learn how to tell time, read, or tie their shoelaces. You mope, certain this is a parental failing on your part.
3-years-old to 4-years-old: You are enchanted by this little creature in your home in much the same way people stare at pictures of koala bears, not realizing they are actually vicious when not drugged on eucalyptus leaves. Your child loves you desperately and copies everything. Because we are all innately selfish, we find this to be a sincere form of flattery until…
… the “whyarrhea” begins. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?! This is a level of Dante’s inferno! Gray hairs sprout from your head and you have new growth upon your chest and ears. You’ve lost track of the passing of time and friends you don’t see on a weekly basis. Just about the time you are ready to quit this whole parenting shebang, you catch a glimpse of fantastic, unadulterated beauty in your child, an innocence you will do anything to protect – and you are renewed enough to answer another “why?” question.
4-years-old to 5-years-old: This is quite possibly the best year of parenting yet! Your kiddo is potty trained, can wipe themselves even!, they can button their clothes and carry on a conversation! They amuse you with comments about how the world works, still cuddle, and remind you of why you wanted to reproduce in the first place.
Four-year-olds are amazing, particularly if given tranquilizers.
5-years-old to 6-years-old: Your child begins to understand that life is not fair. They are NOT OK with this discovery and live in a state of outraged justice.
Passionate tears flow on a regular basis. You find yourself playing judge and jury 67 times per hour. At night you curl into a small ball next to your spouse and pray. This is a very important year for hand holding in a marriage, and it’s important to know that a 20-second hug engenders a feeling of intimacy in humans. Hug often.
6-years-old to 7-years-old: You’ve made it to the sixth birthday! This is a major accomplishment! You can now look forward to one of the years when your child will look the most awkward. Missing teeth, uneven growth spurts, a sudden aversion to cleanliness… six is the year for these pleasures, and more!
The weak in spirit may fear for their life, but have no fear, the sixth year is only 365 days long and you CAN make it out alive. Repeat to yourself, “The days are long, the years are short… the days are long, the years are short…”
What would you add to this simple guidebook?