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Which Stage is Hardest?

I want to start this month of essays with encouraging words for young parents.

When my children were little (pre-school), things were hectic. The kids were constantly under-foot and took up huge amounts of time.

That was bad enough, but worse, whenever I got exasperated, I could always count on hearing the following observation from an older parent with sadistic tendencies: “Wait until they get older. It gets worse because of all their activities.”

Well, my kids are now older, and I can officially say those older parents were wrong.

I would divide child-rearing into three stages: (1) All kids pre-school age, (2) Some kids school age, others pre-school, (3) All kids in school. Among these three categories, category (2) is the worse because the parent gets the non-stop hassles of pre-schoolers and the time lot devastation of older kids’ activities.

But in this post, I’m only concerned about 1 v. 3, and between those two, 1 is worse.

Stage 3 is where I am now, and make no doubt about it: kids’ activities take up a huge amount of time. Whole chunks of your days and weekends are zapped, especially if your kids are in sporting activities or if you have to drive significant distances.

But stage 1 is still worse for the simple reason that the hassles with pre-schoolers never stop. When you’re in stage 1, the kids pretty much need you 24/7. You can’t do anything without an actual or potential interruption. Even sleep becomes questionable. As a result, even if you sat down and quantified how much free time you had in stage 1 versus stage 3 and determined that you had more free time in stage 1 than stage 3, it wouldn’t matter. When you’re in stage 1, you never feel like you have any free time, and the “free” time isn’t really free, because you’re on call . . . on a moment’s notice. And that sucks.

In stage 3, on the other hand, you lose oceans of time to kids’ activities, but when those activities aren’t taking place, you’re on land and can do what you want. The kids largely take care of their moment-to-moment needs and don’t come crying when you’re in the middle of a book or beer. Moreover, there are also plenty of “multi-tasking” opportunities during the ocean times, which allow you to feel like you’re on land, even if you’re not.

The mental results of living in stage 3 are far more satisfying than the mental results of living in stage 1. You don’t have that constant “under siege” feeling that comes with pre-school aged children. It makes a huge difference for how busy you actually are and how busy you feel you are.

So for those young parents out there, when a sadist from the next generation tells you, “Just wait, it gets worse,” just scoff. They’re just being mean. Things get better. Trust me.

I’ve been there seven times.


  1. Eric
  2. C.R
  3. Marie
  4. Stephen Clos