Everything about parenting older children is, in my personal experience, superior to parenting babies and toddlers … except one thing. Well, maybe two things: I am getting super sick of all the sports-related comings and goings and camp-chair-sittings and beautiful-Saturday-hosings. And also I am inexplicably way more grossed out by an underwear skidmark than I ever was by a fully loaded diaper. Plus there’s the astronomical expense of milk and cereal, I swear to god half my paychecks go to —
Anyway. Maybe there are a few things that were preferable back when the boys were pint-sized, mush-mouthed, dimple-elbow’d sniglets, but overall, I’m much happier parenting older children. There’s one particular newish aspect that really kind of sucks, though, and that’s the uncomfortable-to-confess feeling of truly disliking my kids.
Hold up: I don’t mean all the time, obviously. I’m talking about the occasional moment of frustration that’s the result of something that comes from a different place than those early years of OH MY GOD WHY WON’T YOU SLEEP or THAT NOISE YOU’RE MAKING IS BORING A HOLE THROUGH MY SKULL.
They’re people now, you know? Little people who don’t necessarily understand the impact of their words, sure, but they have personalities and they’re smart and articulate and the things they say sometimes make me feel like I’m living with a roommate who’s really kind of an insufferable asshole sometimes.
Take for instance what Riley said a few days ago when asked if he wanted to spend a Friday night at the cabin:
“Mehhhhh. The cabin doesn’t even have anything to do. There’s no stores around there, just the market across the street. And we don’t even own that much property.”
Setting aside the little factoid that the cabin belongs to JB’s parents, not us, and setting aside his maddening choice to conveniently forget every single thing about the cabin that makes it a goddamned magical childhood wonderland, where the HELL does this Rich Kids of Instagram get off bitching about how there’s not enough, like, acreage?
Ahem. What I’m saying is in that moment, I wasn’t just irritated with him, my brain was all, Dude. I don’t like you. Go to your room until I like you again. Maybe come out in a day or two.
That was sort of a throwaway complaint for which Riley was thoroughly schooled on the Fine Art of Appreciating Your Fucking Blessings (I’m guessing he won’t be whining about how our use-it-virtually-anytime river retreat isn’t fancy enough again anytime soon), but you get my meaning, right? When they’re little and they’re being obnoxious, you know their brains are basically a roiling mass of developing neural connections, so it’s forgivable that they suck sometimes. When they’re older, and they do things like tell you they like Daddy better than you (thanks, Dylan) or that they don’t want you to come on an outing (thanks again, Dylan), or that they would be so sad if Daddy was eaten by a shark but only a little sad if you were eaten by a shark (what the hell, Dylan), it’s just … a lot harder to get over it. In my experience.
It’s like when babies start growing up and their affections mean more because they’re deliberate. Like that, only the opposite.
But of course we do get over it, because parenthood is about unconditional love. It’s also about being the grownup and dealing with those moments, both externally and internally, and getting past any lingering resentments or wasted learning opportunities. Now that they’re bigger, it’s so much more than it used to be, really — deeper connections, bigger repercussions, stronger feelings.
It’s easier but it’s not. It’s better but it’s harder. It’s far more fun … but there are more murky confrontations that reveal the gap between the mother I want to be and the person I am.
God, growing a family is just such a wild and messy business. Things in them are tangled with things in me and it’s awesome and hurtful and crazymaking and beautiful, all at once.