Like most things in life, your level of parental satisfaction ebbs and flows — at least mine does.
When I had one baby, I felt like I was nailing it a lot of the time. Yes, he was a snuggly android who barely slept, but there were perfect outfits and staged photo shoots to get me through it. I had a year of maternity leave and was only dabbling in freelance, so there was always time for everything. I delighted in pushing his stroller and having strangers admire him. Plus, breastfeeding had slimmed me down and given me the best rack of my life. Parental satisfaction: 4 out of 5.
But it’s physically impossible to stay drunk on new parent glee forever. Suddenly he was a reckless 10-month-old running around the mall on a leash, lunging for escalators. He was scaling furniture and his forehead was perpetually bruised. I was pregnant with baby number two and could barely drag myself off the couch to get more crackers. I was trying to build a freelance career, find us a house and work up the energy to take our ball of energy to the playground. Parental satisfaction: 2 out of 5.
Things only got harder when Collicky Baby Sis was born six weeks before Destructo Big Brother’s second birthday. My husband had two jobs and was never home, so neither was our only vehicle. I was flailing around in a pit of post-partum depression but refused to acknowledge it. I got so much enjoyment out of my two little snugglebugs but the days were JUST. SO. HARD. (Also lonely.) Parental satisfaction: 1 out of 5 …
Things picked up a lot during Toddler Parenting, when the kids were one and three and two and four. We got a second vehicle so I could take them to playgroups and activities and out on errands. I had them on a rigid nap/quiet time schedule so I could squeeze in some work during the day — which worked sometimes and frustrated me endlessly the rest of the time. They entertained each other and their funny little personalities made me laugh. Parental satisfaction: 3 out of 5
But I’ve been particularly enjoying this current stage — I’m going to call it Pre-K Parenting. Since our youngest turned three and our son turned five, life has felt busier but also more controlled. Nobody is going to stick a toy up in their nose or in their mouth (well, probably not) if I’m on another level having a shower. They can sometimes do their own carseat buckles and I don’t have to lug a bag of extra clothes and snacks. They play well together (most of the time) and I love seeing them grow through Primary and preschool. Parental satisfaction: 5 out of 5
Our daughter’s birthday is in a couple of weeks and I’ll be able to say I have “a four-year-old and a five-year-old” until our son turns six in June. Four and five! I say this every single birthday, but how? How did they get so old? I’m trying not to wish away this time, but I’m completely loving the stage we’re easing into now: Lower Elementary Parenting.
I love that their drawings are actually getting good and that they can remember song lyrics. I love seeing our son read words and write little sentences, and watching our daughter dance to Katy Perry songs. They look around carefully in parking lots (“If a car has lights on, it might move”) and wait patiently in line at the bank with me. We can watch PG movies that I actually like (Camp Nowhere! Blank Check!) and nobody chokes on their popcorn.
I know some parents long for the baby days, but I’m happy enough to just look back at our adorable family pictures — and maybe snuggle a friend’s baby for a while. Give me chapter books, give me dance parties, give me complex art projects, give me long discussions about what happened on the playground. This is my time to shine.