All parents lie. Be it the little white ones we tell our kids, “If you don’t get in the car now, I will leave without you,” to the big ones we tell ourselves, “I will change the world, just as soon as I change the laundry,” lying is a normal part of the parenting experience. Though most are innocent in nature, I recently started thinking about the false truths that continue to permeate into parenting society.
In particular, there is one lie that really gets me, and yet, I caught myself effortlessly saying it to another mom without thinking about the truth behind the actual words. After a long day of dealing with fears, complicated emotions, and advanced algebra with my preteen, I helped a mother who was trying to stop her 3-year-old from licking every shopping cart in the store. Perhaps it was because I was enjoying the bliss of shopping alone, but I looked at her and instinctually laughed and lied saying, “Trust me, it gets easier.”
I know I am not the only one to spread the “it gets easier” lie. I heard it myself about a thousand times while performing the near-impossible feat of nursing a baby in a public toilet while cheering on a potty-training toddler. In fact, the phrase is so prevalent that it is almost like it has been genetically cemented into the human brain to ensure the continuation of the species.
Still, assuming the fate of humanity isn’t contingent on the perpetuation of this lie, I wonder what service are we doing by spreading false hope? Shouldn’t the mother in the shop know that the road ahead to her toddler becoming a man who will push his own shopping cart instead of licking it is far from an easier one? Should we, as mothers in the second half of parenting, work to accurately prepare new moms for the future by telling the truth? I think I just might.
Moms of babies, toddlers, young ones, the reality is that though we eventually stop having to wipe our kids’ asses, we never stop worrying about their shit. While it is wonderful to wake up to the kids dressed, toileted, and having made their own breakfast in the morning, it is terrifying to know that once they leave that door for school, they face the day alone.
Before, when they learned to sleep, learned to walk, learned to read, and learned not to talk to mom before her morning coffee, we and their carers were there, showing them the way. Now, as they are closer to adults than babies, they have to learn to fly on their own, with us only on the sidelines rather than holding their hands.
To us, the world seems so much scarier than when we were teens, with more drugs, more guns, and more delicious varieties of Oreos to get sick on while mass-consuming. All we can do is arm them with our love and advice, but we cannot actually be in the battle to protect them. This unfathomable level of fear and worry may not be harder than catching a toddler who suddenly and unexpectedly runs into oncoming traffic while Mom is busy blinking, but it certainly isn’t easier.
Truth is, though we might have stopped reading What to Expect: The Toddler Years when we reached page 2, there is no universal all-in-one manual to pretend to read for the adolescent stages. This stage is unpredictable, unique to each child, and just as confusing as the day they suddenly no longer wanted their favorite pizza for dinner. The kids who once never stopped talking, now find the most utterly inconvenient moment to open up and say, “Mom, there was a fight today at school, what does ’69ing’ mean, I forgot to show you this tiny red spot on my stomach that is now a massive rash, I’m tired and find school overwhelming, oh and mom, I know Santa isn’t real,” all in one breath.
Sadly, there is no one book or Googlable answer for all that—trust me, I’ve tried. This is the stage of puberty, hormones, an existential crisis or two, final exams, SATs, bullying, broken hearts, drivers licenses, late nights, and, for my kids at least (if they take after their parents), acne, braces, and bad hair. It’s confusing and it’s heartbreaking to watch their childhood melt into adulthood where your role as a parent is important but less defined.
It’s not as grueling as 24 hours of labor, a colicky baby, or a 3rd grader who refuses to put his shoes on for school, but it is by no means “easier.”
The phrase “little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems” often comes to mind when I think back on the days of dropped ice cream cones, balloons that flew away, and skinned knees from bike rides around the neighborhood. I remember, though, that big or little, they are all “problems” we must face as parents. I am finding parenting through adolescence to be a lot more difficult than I ever expected, but I also have a kindergartener, and he is no walk in the park either.
It is a rewarding process through all the ages, but it is also hard, no matter how old your kids are. I can only hope that if we can all stop perpetuating the “it will get easier” lie, the phrase will die and get buried deep into the earth where the “you’ll burn so many calories breastfeeding that you will get your pre-pregnancy body back right away” lie now lives.
Often when I think back on the woman in the shop with the cart-licking toddler, I wonder if she, like I did, is sometimes making it through each day on the false pretenses that once all her kids can sleep, walk, and no longer choke on an uncut grape, life will suddenly be easier. If I saw her, or someone in her situation again, instead of lying, I would try to help, and when her son was no longer licking all the 8,112 bacteria colonies per square inch of the shopping cart, I would tell her that, no matter the age, the entire parenting journey is exhausting, uplifting, demanding, complicated, fulfilling, warm, cold, challenging, heartbreaking, and heart mending, but never easy.
About the Author
Kimberly Pencille Collins is a political communications professional turned writer and amateur parent. She is currently living abroad on a sunless island with far too many sheep. Her pastimes include forcing her kids to run 10ks with her, sneaking in naps, and fighting off scurvy.