No one warned me how hard the “big kid” stage is

Can I be honest for a second?

Everyone prepares you for how difficult life with babies and toddlers can be. There’s judgment about formula or breastfeeding, staying home versus working … not to mention baby wearing, pacifiers, and just the sheer exhaustion of doing everything with one hand or a child clung to your body.

Those things are hard. So very hard.

In a way, they’re hard because it’s such a transition from what life looked like before, and all you can do is hold on for the ride and hope you make it out to the other side.

Then again, no one really talks about what’s on the other side. But now, I’m on it — and I have to say, I wish there was a little more support for how hard it is out here, too.

This past month, I’ve felt like I’ve stepped into a whole new phase of motherhood. Instead of diapers and nighttime feeds, it’s sports and forms and friendships and feeling like I am some kind of crazed life choreographer shouting orders at my husband while wondering, bewilderedly, how I became this person.

I feel like I walked into this phase blind, because no one really warns you about it.

No one warns you that, in some ways, you can feel more judged as a mom of big kids, because there’s no “excuse” anymore.

Wait, you have babies and toddlers? Sure, you get a pass for that messy bun and the late arrivals and the coffee stain on your shirt — after all, your life is crazy!

But now, as the mom of big kids, it’s all on my shoulders: My minivan flying into school 10 minutes late, my kids’ wrinkled clothes (again), the forgotten lunch, that one single form amongst hundreds that I asked my husband to fill out but found he didn’t when the school called and left me not one, but two, voicemails, my son admitting to me that he’s the only kid in his class who can’t read (WHAT), the essential supply I forgot, the vaccine we missed, the solid-color shorts my daughter needed and didn’t have, the meetings, the practices, the changed practice (oops, it was changed again), the app you have to download, the snacks you forgot to pack, the embarrassing amount of fast food, and, oh, your oldest just told you she can’t see the board at school and that’s why she isn’t getting her homework done. Do I really have an excuse anymore? My kids sleep through the night, for crying out loud!

Now, it feels like these things are too heavy of a weight to carry, because they’re all grounds for one giant judgment about what kind of mother I am. The one who doesn’t have it together. The one whose kids are always late. The one who never has makeup on (it’s not like she has a real job and seriously, what is her deal?). The scrutiny about my abilities feels a lot more intense because I should have this mothering thing down by now, right?

I don’t, though. Mainly because, I admit, I have been thoroughly gobsmacked by this stage. I just wasn’t ready for it.

It’s not enough anymore to just “get through” my day and make it to naptime or bedtime. Now, I have to be the one juggling 10,000 balls in the air while making sure I am 100 percent present and capable of handling 5 people’s needs, plus my own somewhere in there. Their emotional health, their physical health, filling their cups. This one needs more one-on-one time, this one needs more hugs, this one needs me at practice, this one is complaining her tummy hurts, this one needs more reading time, this one failed a test … oh honey, here’s your lunch, and by the way, there’s a game at 5:30 and hey, look, there’s that guy I married that I haven’t seen in a while, I wonder if I should sleep with him sometime …

And don’t even get me started on how much time I have spent at the grocery store.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that if there are any mamas out there who are in the same stage as me, I hope you can do what I am trying to do right now:

Remember that this is a transition time, just like it was for us back when we held our first babies in our arms, back when we dreamed about getting to the very place we are in now, watching our kids grow up into interesting, incredible, and loving people. Maybe even more now, compared to when we were in the trenches of babyhood, we need to give ourselves some grace and a whole lot of kindness to adjust.

We will get the hang of it, just like we became masters of eating our dinners one-handed and stumbling to the coffeepot in morning thanks to a teething baby and changing diapers anywhere and everywhere.

I have been so down on myself this week for feeling like I’m failing in every possible direction I look, but it has helped me to realize that once again, I am at a threshold in my mothering journey and will eventually adjust. (Please, I hope?)

So, to the moms of babies and toddlers: Hang onto those skills you are learning in the trenches right now. Remember what it feels like to have your life change overnight. Remember the kindness you need to extend to yourself when you realize you can’t do it all, and that sometimes, doing what’s best for your family isn’t what you expected. Keep the lessons you are learning now in your back pocket, because I promise they will come up again. Remember what it feels like to give yourself some grace to get through.

And to the moms of the “big kids,” being baptized with the fire of sports and school paperwork and young hurts and blossoming hearts and the somewhat terrifying realization that those kids who were just babies yesterday are now young adults looking to you for direction in all the things:

May we learn to walk into this stage together, fast food receipts defiantly crumpled and minivans comfortably messy, with our heads held up high — knowing that once again, we will give ourselves, and each other, the gift of grace while we figure this new stage of parenting.

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