When Adeline was only a few weeks old and I was brand new to this parenting thing and losing my mind and feeling like I couldn’t do it, a few helpful people told me that I would get through it and they assured me, “It gets easier.” Then a few really helpful people told me all about how difficult having a toddler/preschooler is and assured me, so very helpfully, that “It just gets harder and harder and harder.” (Thanks big sister!)
Now that I have a nearly three-year-old and a seven-week-old, I’m pondering that question and weighing the pros and cons, trying to decide: does it get easier or harder?
Cute vs. Awesome
Look, babies are cute. There’s just no denying it. Those tiny toes, those chubby cheeks, those round bellies. They’re basically a pile of adorable. But that’s kind of… it. There’s not much else to them. Sure, as they get a few months older they start doing things like rolling over! scooting! putting their hands in their mouths! But come on, it’s not really that great, it just seems great compared to the lumps that they were before.
Toddlers/preschoolers, on the other hand, are awesome. They’re funny and spunky and adventurous. They’re learning all about the world and saying hilarious things as they go. They’re creative and imaginative and curious. They give you big hugs and even say, in their adorable toddler voices, “I love you mama.” In other words, they’re more rewarding, which goes a long way to making up for some of their other flaws (see below).
Naps vs. No Naps
Sure, you say, babies are boring: all they do is sleep. But isn’t that awesome? Well, yeah, for the first couple weeks it’s pretty sweet. You can take them anywhere and they just sleep all the time. But once they wake up, it’s not so easy. Soon they need to sleep in the crib or at least in a quiet room in your lap and the thing is, they nap ALL the time. So you have to be home for three naps a day, which basically means you can’t do anything. Maybe a quick trip to the store, but if he falls asleep in the carseat you lose the real nap and then you’re screwed so you better make sure you don’t waste any time. Want to get lunch with a friend? It has to be at 10:45 and you can only stay for an hour, tops. Thinking about scheduling a playdate with another mom and baby, or maybe even a couple moms and babies? Good luck coordinating nap schedules. You’re basically a prisoner to your baby’s naps and it sucks.
Toddlers/Preschoolers eventually stop napping. Which can be bad at first. When Addie stopped napping I definitely mourned for a few weeks. I needed that “me time” and a chance to take my own nap and get a break from her. But once I got used to it, I was really happy she wasn’t napping anymore. We could actually go do things without having to cut it short to make it home in time for a nap. A trip to the museum AND lunch. Play at the park and take our time walking home. Go to the beach and run errands. I hate the thought of being stuck at home for naps again.
Dependence vs. Independence
Human babies are born way too early. Literally the only thing they can do for themselves is suck to get milk out. And you have to provide the milk. Along with every.single.other.thing they need. This little being is completely dependent on you for everything at every second of every day. It’s exhausting and, especially the first time around, a huge system shock. Even if you have an easy baby who’s happy to lay on a mat for a couple hours a day, you still have to do a lot of holding and rocking and feeding. And if you have a fussy baby? Forget about it, that baby is stuck to you 24/7.
Yeah, toddlers still need a lot from you, but they’re also increasingly independent. They can go in their room and play by themselves, they can feed themselves (but yeah, you still have to provide the food), they can be dropped off at little classes or run around the park while you sit on a bench. In reality, you’re still responsible for them 24/7, but the illusion of independence is a huge relief.
Tantrums vs. Fussiness
But wait, you say, with all that independence comes willfulness and the dreaded beast behind the terrible twos: tantrums. You’re right. Tantrums suck. The willfulness and drama are enough to make me pull my hair out some days. But at least you can (sort of) reason with a toddler and definitely with a preschooler. You know why they’re upset and you can either compromise or make rules to avoid the problem in the future. You’re still going to have some rough moments, but at least you understand.
And then there’s fussiness. Your tiny baby is crying, maybe even screaming, and you have NO IDEA WHY. You’ve fed her, changed her diaper, turned up the heat, turned down the heat, put her in the swing, tried the sling, taken her outside, no wait, back inside, how about the car?, maybe nurse again? But nothing works. She just keeps screaming and screaming and screaming and every single one of those screams rips through your heart and makes you feel as if you’re being flayed alive. They vibrate inside of your skull until you can’t think straight and tear at your lungs until you can’t breathe. All you want is to help your beautiful child feel better, but you don’t know what’s wrong and you can’t fix it. You’re sad and confused and maybe even a bit scared and angry. It is, quite possibly, the worst feeling in the world. Yeah. I’ll take a tantrum any day.
Sleep vs. No Sleep
But honestly? All of this is kind of beside the point. The most importance difference between babies and preschoolers is that preschoolers sleep (usually) all night long. I can deal with basically anything else they throw at me as long as I’ve had a decent night’s sleep. The tantrums, the no naps, the willfulness. As long as I’ve slept I can find the calm I need to deal with it effectively.
But babies don’t sleep. (If yours does, I don’t even want to talk to you.) Even if they’re easy, they probably still wake up to eat at least a few times a night. Which isn’t that bad, but it’s still interrupted sleep and it sucks. But if they’re at all difficult and you’re dealing with multiple night wakings and/or day/night confusion with an extended period of wakefulness at night…. well, you’re basically screwed. You’re a walking zombie and you can’t deal with anything well. You become a crazy person trying to figure out anything that will help your baby sleep: white noise? a difference sheet? a hot pad? night light? no night light? swaddle? no swaddle? a different bedtime? earlier? later? something?? anything??? I mean, come on, once they start sleeping it’s like a whole new world.
What the hell just happened? vs. I got this
And then there’s the intangible. The general sense that, no matter how prepared you thought you were, you get home with that brand new baby and you have NO IDEA what the hell you’re doing. Your entire life is turned upside down. It takes a half hour just to get out of the house, you can’t get anything done, you’re hormonal and emotional, it’s just really freaking hard.
By the time your baby is a toddler/preschooler, though, you’ve got it. You’ve already given up on your social life while at the same time having a social life has gotten easier, so you win both ways. You’ve learned tricks for getting things done, getting out of the house quickly, you know what to buy, what restaurants are kid-friendly, where the best place to get diapers is, etc. You still don’t necessarily know what you’re doing – because each age brings new challenges – but you’ve made it through so much already that you’re confident and you take each new thing like an old pro.
In other words, it definitely, definitely, definitely gets easier.
At least that’s my experience. You might vehemently disagree. Do you?