My sister-in-law and her three kids are here visiting this week. As I watch her with her 2, 5, and 7 year old it made me wonder, what is the hardest stage of parenting? I have an almost 15 year old and a 20 year old so I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum as she is. It was a beautiful sunny day so we all decided to go to the beach yesterday. Usually when we go my daughter and I pack some snacks and drinks, then go get dressed, meet on the back patio to help each other sunscreen up, then tell my husband we are ready, he loads up the car and we leave. I forgot that’s not the case with little ones. After an hour and a half, and lots of running and yelling and some tears, we finally are all in the car and ready to leave. I look at my sister-in-law and she’s exhausted already. That’s ok though because the beach is the most relaxing place in the world. Once we get there we’ll throw around the frisbee, maybe bump the volleyball, splash in the waves, sit in our beach chars, watch the waves rolling in, read a book and enjoy some good conversation. Those of you with littles are probably laughing right now. There is no relaxing at the beach with littles. You’re constantly on edge trying to watch everyone because the water doesn’t treat a 2 year old any different than a 15 year old. More poor sister-in-law by the end of the trip was drenched in her jean shorts and t-shirt and had sand in places the sun doesn’t shine. She had made sure everyone else had a change of clothes but forgot any for herself.

As I watched all this it made me look back over my life and ask myself what the hardest stage of parenting is?

You’ve got the infant stage which is amazing, all the cuddles and snuggles, the calming baby smell, and sleeping in your arms. Everything is new, amazing and beautiful. You’ve got three answers to every question, food, clean diaper, or sleep. Doesn’t get any easier than that right? Oh, but don’t forget the sleepless nights, endless crying, the not so calming baby diaper smells, and the constant questioning and doubting of every decision you make and praying for sleep. You think to yourself, if they could just tell me what they want this would all be a lot easier….and then they can.

In march the toddler years. You literally get to watch a little human experience all their firsts in life. First giggle, words, steps, birthdays…the list is endless and so is the expression of wonderment and joy on their faces. In a small sense you get to experience life through their eyes and get excited again at the first snow of the year versus dreading shoveling the walks and driving in it. You get to watch them learn the faces and voices of the ones who love them. You get to watch as they trust wholeheartedly the ones around them with no other reason than they know they are loved. And then there is the development of the own free will and desire to fulfill their every want right now! They find they are able to communicate what they want and do it very loudly, all the time, and everywhere. They’ve attached themselves to you like a leach that you can’t shake. There is no where you go were they can’t find you and begin to badger you with all their wants, needs, or just any random thought that happens to pass through their brain. All you want is to go pee in peace for once. You’re exhausted mentally from all the constant chatter and find yourself questioning and doubting every decision and praying for God to grant you sanity.

Before you know it you’re walking them into school. You get to see them experience the joy of learning. How to read, count, write, ride a bike, play sports, make friends on the playground and living a life a little more free. Conversations become more in depth, versus just the do’s and don’t’s, why’s and what will happen become more involved. You begin to experience some of the freedom that you’ve been wanting. As you drop your child off at kindergarten you realize that this will be the first time you wouldn’t know everything they did, everyone they came in contact with and what they went through. Discussions change from, “Why did you draw with marker on the wall?” to “How did you get a black eye?” It’s getting real now. Things are no longer under your complete control and ever watchful eye. The coach doesn’t care that your kid doesn’t get to play quarterback, or infield. The teacher doesn’t know that reading is a struggle and honestly with 30 other kids in her room doesn’t care, at least not like you do. The concerns go from, will my child ever stop wetting the bed, to, will their heart ever heal from their first betrayal of friendship? You question whether you should just remove them from society and keep them locked away for safe keeping. You doubt your ability to parent and pray that God watches them when you can’t.

Then the teen years. They are little adults, able to have deep and meaningful conversations. They start transitioning from children to friends and are self-reliant. They begin to dream of the future and plan for what they want to become. Their faith begins to become their own. They challenge you on your ideas and thought and have actual points and reasons behind theirs. Instead of a leach you find you have a constant friend. As the freedom grows for both you and your child so do the fears and doubts. As they start dating and driving the consequences move from not good to terrifying. As they start to emerge into the adult world it requires you stepping back, and at times they are very quick to inform you of this. You question all your parenting decisions and doubt that what you’ve taught them will be enough. You beg God to watch over them and take your feeble attempt at parenting and turn it into something beautiful.

And just when you think it can’t get any scarier they enter the adult world. The mix of emotions that come with this step I’m still trying to sort out. Pride at who they are becoming, pain that they no longer need you, joy that they are functioning adults (by the grace of God), fear that you won’t be a part of their lives anymore. It’s like the slowest most painful break up ever. When you’re dating you move from love and independence to marriage with a stronger love and dependence on each other. Yet with parenthood it goes from complete dependence and love to a complete independence with a love still so strong that it physically hurts. Your time as a parent is officially over and now you get to be their friend and mentor. Not a bad gig but you find yourself wishing for the time when they walked in on you in the bathroom to show you the boogie they just pulled out of their nose. You long for the days where a band-aid and a hug fixed everything. You find yourself on your face before God pleading with Him to watch over your child, to protect them since you no longer can, to wrap His arms around them in your absence.

So what’s the hardest stage of parenting? I believe each and everyone has it’s own unique challenges but more than that, each and every stage has it’s own joys. Each time my husband and I got to a new stage with our kids we’d look at each other and say, “This one. This one right now is my favorite.” I love being a parent. I didn’t always enjoy, I didn’t always thank God for my kids, but I love being a parent. If you’re in one of those un-enjoyable moments, hang in there. Like Trace Adkins says, “You’re going to miss this, you’re going to want this back. You’re going to wish these years hadn’t gone by so fast.”

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