Sleep deprivation and other struggles in the early years are real, and it doesn't take long before bleary-eyed parents of small children ask, "What's the magical age? WHEN does parenting get easier?"
As exhausted as you might be right now, there's hope for parents at every stage of their child's development. I'll go through each stage in detail to help you feel more ease in your parenting journey.
I'll get into the details of how this works in a moment, but the short answer is that parenting won't get easier if you get caught up in the narrative of how "easy" parenting should be every moment of the day.
That's just not reality. Parenting can be truly be exhausting. We need to shift our perspectives and our expectations.
They've given us the false perception that if we just do x, y, and z, we can parent on auto-pilot. We believe our two-year-old will be making their own gourmet meals every night and we'll never have to lift a finger if we've read the best parenting books and said "abracadabra."
If only, right?
Still, we don't have to settle for the inevitable difficulty of parenting, because parenting truly doesn't have to be so very challenging all the time.
A big shift happens when we explore two key concepts that make parenting easier. Perhaps surprisingly, though, they're not about what our child is doing.
When parenting gets easier largely depends on us. Specifically:
We examine our mindset. The way we think about our children matters. The good news here is that we can train our brains to see our kids in a positive light, no matter their age or developmental stage.
As part of our mindset work, we can also work on our family of origin "stuff" so that we're not carrying forward any pain or trauma that our children don't need to inherit from us.
We get curious about our children's authentic experiences, from their perspectives. Once we stop "thinking like adults" and put ourselves in our children's shoes -- and strive to understand what's going on for them socially, emotionally, and developmentally -- it can make a whole world of difference.
Being ready to see things from a different perspective directly affects what makes parenting easier.
This is paradigm-shift parenting for a better relationship with our child, forever, and not waiting for our experience to magically be "easier." There's no snake oil for this. We've got to emotionally invest in self-care and compassionate, responsive parenting.
Once we do these things, our reward will be easier parenting.
How we choose to see our children and each different developmental stage directly influences our perspective of whether parenting is easy or hard.
I'll go through each phase separately, from the baby years to teenagers. You'll see that you don't need to wait for parenting to get easier. Easier parenting is within your reach starting today.
Whether you've just had your first child and they're only a few months old, or if you've got more kids than you can count, what makes parenting easier at the baby stage is a couple of things:
Quick reframe on what it means to figure out sleep: this means that in the early years, needs for rest will ebb and flow. If you have a so-called "easy baby" who can sleep through the horn of a freight train (not to mention your older kids' noises), great. If you have a baby who wakes up just because you blinked, that can be normal, too.
The point is that sleep is an individual trait. Because it's developmental and can't be forced, there's no way parents can "make" another human sleep.
Once we emotionally accept that parenting at night is normal, parenting gets significantly easier. We can relinquish all beliefs that only sabotage us and make parenting harder, such as feeling we need to "own" or "fix" someone else's sleep cycles.
Instead, we can organize our slumber time locations and parenting perspectives to maximize shut-eye for everyone. Trying to control others' tiredness just makes our lives unnecessarily complicated.
Every age has different parts that are easier and harder, and for the baby years, sleep can be one of the hardest parts. The mother often (but certainly not always) bears the brunt of it.
Personally, many of the challenges I faced early on were due to a lack of support. My husband was helpful, to be sure--but he worked full-time, so parenting was completely on me all day long. Further, as a breastfeeding mama, most parenting was up to me at night, too, although I was very grateful for his midnight help with diaper changes.
My mother lived across the country, and most of my friends were at the point where their youngest child was already in high school. Although they loved me, they were also busy with their own lives.
Other adults I knew had no kids, so they mostly wanted to spend time together like we did before I had my child. That just wasn't feasible for me.
In hindsight, one positive way I could've gotten help was to join more parent/child activities. My postnatal yoga class was fantastic, but there were all sorts of other groups for new mothers that I felt too tired and overwhelmed to attend.
No, they weren't going to come feed the baby at 3 a.m., but they'd have given me support in emotional ways that could've offset my mental exhaustion.
Help for new parents really makes a difference, and we're not a burden for asking. People who've been there, get it.
Toddlers start off with an incredible disadvantage in life, especially when we hear erroneous titles like "terrible twos" being bandied about.
Our mindset -- expecting these years to be "terrible" really can mess with our perspective. Our brains seek something called confirmation bias, which means "...the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values." (source)
In other words, a toddler might be delightful 98% of the time, but if we believe kids this age are "terrible," we'll look at the other 2% and our brains will essentially say, "See, I was right!"
The way we view kids matters, and the paradigm shift to make parenting get easier at this age is to realize the toddler is doing the best they can with the physical and emotional skills they've learned so far.
And it's really hard to learn everything you need to know about life when you're only a toddler. You're naturally going to get things "wrong" a lot, even if you have the best of intentions.
Yes, they can do more than they could when they were babies, but just because they're learning to walk and talk and do algebra (okay, just making sure you're paying attention), doesn't mean they can consistently behave at this stage as adults do.
The world is new to them, so rather than being hard on them because they seem to understand so much more than they used to, remember that the child at this stage is still mostly a baby in a slightly bigger body.
Play with them. Learn about them; have fun, and practice connecting emotionally. You're not only raising a child, but even more importantly, you're training yourself about how to show up for them.
Give them a whole lot of grace, and be kind to yourself while you're learning how to parent these young children.
True, the skills are growing exponentially at this age! Children here are starting to have friends and early social relationships. They've been watching the world for a little while now and are figuring some things out.
Even more than toddlers do, however, they often push boundaries and actively work to figure out their place in their family and in other relationships.
The mindset shift we can make here to help parenting get easier is to realize that it's important for them to practice pushing back and "being defiant" at this age. And they're certainly not always defiant. Often, they're wonderful and joyful.
Psychologically, it can help to reframe "defiance" as "learning about how to set and receive healthy boundaries."
We should not only mentally prepare for some struggles (because we're humans raising humans, no fault of the child's), but even more importantly, continue nurturing our conscious parenting skillset.
If we haven't started already (and I hope we have), this is a critical age to learn how to earn and keep our child's heart.
Parents are the safe place our children must practice pushing back before they're in school and need to express their limits, likes, and dislikes with others.
If parents haven't "allowed" this developmentally normal pushback, children may learn that speaking up for themselves isn't safe, or that their voice doesn't matter.
When we treat them with respect and accept that "talking back" is a life skill that they'll need in order to have healthy relationships (think of it as "speaking up!"), parenting gets easier.
As an aside, there's no magical age when respectful parenting is no longer the recommended approach to backtalk; we can always model grace and kindness. Those, too, are life skills. You'll see this come up again here shortly.
As a bonus, parenting gets easier during this age range because children are now potty trained (or, perhaps more accurately, have learned on their own). Not having to change diapers is a nice shift in lifestyle.
They've also likely learned some communication skills and are starting to learn empathy.
The tween years are wonderful insofar as we don't need to spend them dreading the upcoming teenage years, but instead, we have this magical age where we get to enjoy interesting conversations with children who still genuinely like to be with us.
They vacillate between acting sweet and "little," and being incredibly capable and competent on their own.
The mindset shift we can make here is to simply enjoy these years, rather than mourn the "little kid" time being gone, or fearing what's ahead.
In fact, if we want to further solidify our gentle parenting journey with our children, this is a fantastic time to do it.
Whether these children are in school or learning from home, they're likely facing bigger social challenges than they used to, or having bigger questions about societal issues.
If we prioritize connection at this age, they won't be left wondering whether we're really their "safe place" emotionally. We'll have less to worry about during the next phase if we've invested in our future teenager.
By now, they've learned how we manage stress effectively (or don't); they're learning whether we're the parent they can trust with their "big stuff" as it comes up.
Plus, they're still young enough that we can still have a lot of fun together before they move onto other things besides us as their primary entertainment.
Other important things to note:
For children who go to school, after-school restraint collapse is a real "thing." Once you understand it and can proactively prepare for it, this part of parenting gets easier.
Their brains are about to enter a major growth spurt, and this can be a time of great transition emotionally.
"...For girls, the brain reaches its biggest size around 11 years old. For boys, the brain reaches its biggest size around age 14" and the brain continues to mature even when it's done growing. (source)
Still, this can be a tricky age for children who are developmentally caught between childhood and being "big," and it can feel -- consciously or subconsciously -- overwhelming to them. If you have concerns about their mental health, checking in with a family therapist can be beneficial.
Parenting the older kid -- specifically, teenagers -- really is a different situation entirely from raising younger kids.
Teens are often actively learning the practical aspects of what adulthood will be like, and practicing those skills with you.
Will they be able to negotiate? Push back? Speak up? (Sound familiar? They keep practicing this with you even beyond the early years, to be sure -- because it IS that important.)
Another mindset shift to consider is all our stereotypes about what it means to be a teenager. Are boys really "worse" than girls behaviorally, and is the teen daughter really "more dramatic" than necessary?
Absolutely not. When we explore what's going on for them mentally -- really wonder and get curious about their own perspectives -- we can learn a lot about how to support them during this time of rapid brain growth.
Here, our job is to practice active listening (here's a lovely read about how to do that), and to not be quick to "solve" their dilemmas. Listen first, and ask consent before giving advice. That "lands" much better with the teenager and helps preserve the relationship.
Once we understand our mindset and get curious about our own upbringing, as well as that of our children, we learn that parenting getting easier is less about what our child is doing, and more about how well we're able to meet them with curiosity, compassion, and an open heart.
Every day, parenting is going to get easier. And harder. And back to easier again.
Once I realized this, and accepted that allowing parenting to get easier was about me and not really about my child, helped me accept a new perspective: the "magical age" was when I was a 45-year-old.
It was never about my child; it was about my perspective, and the many things I learned alongside my child. At that point, parenting really did get easier.