One of the most obnoxious things about parenting is that just as you (mostly) master one stage of your kids' lives, they move on to another one. This is an excellent reason to have more than one kid. This is also why everyone (mostly) jokes about how they wreck their first child.
So far, the level of difficulty of each life stage my kids has gone through is harder than the one before it. The exception is that "big kid" is easier than "little kid." However, I am something like four days into "puberty" and it's already 16 times harder than "big kid," so the difficulty curve is still headed sharply up. I'm hopeful that at some point, that trend inverts and those stages start to get easier.
Stop laughing at me.
I've created a handy dandy guide to those life stages for all of you. New parents, you can look forward to what is to come and take a moment to be grateful for where you are. Parents farther on down the road than me, you can look back and laugh at all the horror that I have yet to experience.
The Newborn/Infant Stage: This stage is either the very hardest or very easiest, depending on how many kids you have. Your first newborn is terrifying. That 8-pound bundle of blankets, onesies, and poop is firmly in charge of your life. Every moment of your day (and night) is spent thinking about that little tyrant. First babies are wonderful, but so very, very hard.
Newborns get easier by the time you get around to your third kid. At that point, sitting in a rocking chair as your baby sleeps is 50 times easier than chasing a 3-year-old around the house. Dragging a car seat with a baby in it through Target is 800 times easier than talking down a 7-year-old hellbent on making you buy him a toy. The hard part comes when you have to do both at the same time.
The Toddler Stage: I think that this is the best stage. This may be because I actually have very little memory of my own kids' toddler stages. They look so cute in the photos though.
My kids' toddler years were actually kind of rough because I had kids with developmental delays. This is also why I don't remember this stage—it's lost in a haze of appointments, worry, and being publicly defeated by three tiny oppressors.
Regardless of the developmental curve they are on, however, these are years your kiddos learn so much, which is really fun to watch. Also, their hair grows out of that ridiculous baby stage into sweet hairstyles and you can dress them in old-man pants and sweaters, in which they look just so adorable.
The Little Kid Stage: The preschool years are awesome because you begin to taste the idea of time for yourself again when they head out to school. They are less awesome because your kids will start to not only have their own thoughts, but want to express them. All the time. Whether it be through constant chatting or more physical mobility and speed, your kid will begin to place more sophisticated demands on you every second of every day.
The Big Kid Stage: I think this is one of the best stages thus far. I've been really enjoying watching my kids grow into the people they are going to become. This stage seems to be when they start to really start thinking about things and developing their own opinions.
The Puberty Stage: Just when you're getting comfortable with having older kids, thinking how fun it is to have mature conversations, and thinking you rock as a parent? KAPOW! PUBERTY! Hormones and mood swings! My oldest son scowled at my husband for 30 minutes last weekend because my husband shushed him in a movie. I expect this sort of thing to escalate dramatically. This is also the stage when you will frantically try to figure out the parental controls on your computer as your child decides that the easiest route to sex education is Google. Or so I hear.
The Teenage Stage: My kids aren't here yet. I'm in denial about this stage. I know it is coming, but I somehow still hope that scientists will figure out a way to keep kids from becoming eye-rolling, self-righteously earnest teens. I'll be sure to let you know when and if that happens.
The College Years: This is theoretically when parents are supposed to have their own rebirth, right? We're supposed to travel and eat out and stuff, I think. The truth of it is that I will probably be eating mac and cheese every night just like when I was in college because I'll be paying for three kids' post-high school endeavors.
The Passing of the Torch Stage: It is likely that eventually my kids will have children of their own. I'm really looking forward to watching them deal with all of these stages with their own kids. At that point I will enter The Grandparent Stage, which, as I understand it, involves a lot of worship from small people and very little actual responsibility. That is going to be awesome.
I do have to say that putting thought just now into what my kids will be doing after they move out of my house made me a little sad. I'm going to make an effort to truly enjoy my kids where they are now because even if raising kids is so hard, I am truly lucky to be able to do it. Be sure to remind me of this next time I complain about puberty.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.