One of the lies we tell ourselves is that the stage of parenting we are at is the hardest stage. If our kids are little we think that is the hardest stage. If we have middle-schoolers stuck somewhere between 6 and 16 that is the hardest stage. No one has it as hard as parents of high-schoolers say parents of high-schoolers. Even parents whose children have left home claim they have it harder than anyone else.
The truth is that no stage of parenting is harder or easier than any other stage. Each stage brings its own difficulties. Changing diapers is hard. But so is teaching your teenager to drive, teaching your six year old to read, marrying off your 23 year old daughter, and teaching your 13 year old how to manage his computer time.
We have two options at each stage of parenting. First, we can whine and complain about the stage we are at assuming that we have it harder than everyone else, which leads inevitably to self-pity. We end up looking forward to getting out each phase of parenting assuming that next one will be easier. But it isn’t. It is just a different kind of hard. When the next stage is not as easy as we expected bitterness sets in. We end up treating our children like burdens. We miss all the good things that come with each stage by focusing on how hard it all is and hoping one day it will get easier.
Or we can expect it to be hard and difficult, no matter what stage. We can expect long nights with crying babies, long days teaching our children to work hard, long Saturdays taking our sons to various jobs or school events, etc. etc. There are days where things are easier and days where things are harder. But no stage of parenting falls in the easy category.
When we realize this, instead of waiting to escape each stage of parenting, we dig in and do our job. We should embrace this as part of our calling here on earth with joy, not self-pity or whining. We should put our hand to the plow and work hard. We should expect weariness. We should not expect it to get easier until they lay us in the ground. A surprising thing happens when our expectations change. The difficulties do not disappear. Some (most?) days we go to bed bone tired. But instead of looking for a way out, we begin to see the good the Lord has given us at each stage of parenting. Instead of whining about changing diapers, we can focus on the joy of watching a child learn to walk and talk. Instead of feeling sorry that we have to add a teenager to our car insurance, we can be grateful that we have a child who can help in ways they couldn’t a couple of years ago. Instead of complaining about the choices of our adult children, we can embrace grandchildren and the freedom we have as empty-nesters.
Life is rarely easy. If we look we will find a reason to complain. But God has a purpose and good for us in each stage of parenting. Instead of looking for a way out or hoping our life will magically change, let us labor with joy, hope, and eyes for the good in each stage. Let us look to the Lord in prayer for strength and wisdom. If we don’t we will end our days bitter having focused on where we wish we were instead of where God has us. Looking for a way out might seem like the right thing at the time, but it only ends in emptiness.
Here is a podcast of mine that expresses some similar ideas.