Does it really get harder? – 2016 edition

This is the 2016 edition of a post I write annually. I started it back in 2009 when our youngest son was still a baby. With five kids under 10 life was pretty full on and when I remarked to other parents that it would get easier as it got older, many said to me it only became harder. It wasn’t the news I wanted to hear at the time!

So each year since that point I have been documenting the pulse of family life once a year and how I am finding it. You can read previous posts here:

  • Late 2009 – Does It Really Get Harder?????. I contemplate comments from other parents with older kids who suggest that it actually gets harder as the kids get older! Our youngest was 10 months old at this time.
  • April 2011 – Easier……for the moment!. Not every individual part was easier, but overall I did feel family life was a little easier. Our youngest was 2 at the time.
  • April 2012 – Family Life – New Challenges. While the last year had brought new challenges for me, it was certainly easier in many ways than the last couple of years.
  • April 2013 – Family Life – Mostly Easier. Many elements of daily life were much easier as the kids grow in independence, but parenting a teenager posed some new challenges for me.
  • May 2014 – Family Life – Easier. Overall family life is definitely easier than when I first started writing this series in 2009 when our youngest was still a baby. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have challenging parts. It does. But it is wonderful to see the kids growing up, developing their own opinions, styles and preferences.
  • Apr 2015 – Family life – the roller coaster years. The easier parts are really easy and the hard parts are really hard. While the hard parts are really hard, they don’t have the relentless frequency of the hard I had when the kids were younger. Overall it is easier, a bit like a roller coaster though with high highs and low lows.

Even if you don’t blog, I can highly recommend writing down some thoughts on what family life is like for you at this point in time, then come back to it at this time next year and see how things are going.

In 2016 this is the ages and stages we are at:

  • a year 12 boy (17 y.o)
  • a year 9 boy (15 y.o)
  • a year 7 girl (12 y.o)
  • a year 4 boy (10 y.o)
  • a year 2 boy (7 y.o)

The easier parts

I actually wrote the draft of this post while sitting on my own, in the car waiting for the 10 year old to finish his soccer training. I think that in itself shows how some things really do get so much easier as the kids get older.

The seven year old was warm at home, playing LEGO with his older siblings to take care of him. I had dinner almost ready before I left and I left instructions with the 15 year old for when he needed to complete the final steps of the meal prep so it would be ready when we arrived home just before 7pm.

Take it back about five years ago and I most likely would have had all five kids in the car with me or I would have loaded the kids in the car, dropped a child off at training, went home only to pile the kids back in the car 30-40 minutes later to pick him up.

There are many small things like this that add up to daily life on the whole being easier like:

  • The kids are independent in the mornings so if I stay later at the gym some days the whole thing doesn’t fall apart.
  • The older kids do household tasks that make a difference to my workload and help us stay organised, like folding the washing and cleaning the bathroom.
  • I can leave the kids home together to run errands, completing them in much less time.
  • I can sleep in on Sunday mornings!
  • The older kids can get themselves to and from activities on public transport if needed.
  • I have uninterrupted showers!
  • No child needs a car seat.

I have been thinking a lot though recently on the whole concept of “Does is really get harder??”. While I think there are definitely stages of relative ease that family life flows through, my attitude and how I approach each stage does determine significantly how I feel about these stages.

If I am constantly telling myself how hard something is and wishing the days away until a particular stage passes, it is quite likely I will find that stage hard. You often find exactly what you are looking for. I remind myself of this regularly.

This is the last year that I will have five minors (children under the age of full legal responsibility). At the end of this year I will have four children and one adult child (an 18 year old!!!). That will be a new stage for our family, so while there are some tough moments in this current stage, I am not wishing it away. I am trying to be fully present with what is going on at home, embracing it and enjoying it as much as I can before it changes. While 17 year olds can be tricky, they are easier in my experience than 16 year olds as you see more signs of maturity and wisdom creeping through amongst the irrational behaviour.

I have been lucky enough to have looked after my nephews (four and one and a half) a couple of times this year and it was a great reality check. They are beautiful, well mannered and well behaved boys, but they are little. I forgot just how hard it can be to get stuff done around the house with little ones about. Experiencing a stage, rather than relying on my memory has given me greater perspective.

But I am so glad that I have recorded how I made it through the day at different stages of family life on the blog, because looking back now to when I had my first two boys at this age, the memories are there but the exact details faint. (You can see one from 2008 here.)

I remember some days counting down the minutes until the little ones would be in bed and I could have five minutes of peace to myself. I remember getting up early so I could have an uninterrupted shower. I remember rarely being alone when going to the toilet. I remember hours in parks and the look of pure delight on the toddler’s face being pushed on the swing for the 1000th time. I remember crossing roads with one on the hip and a child hanging on to each side. I remember looking in awe at the new human we created when the babies were born and the love their siblings showed them the first time they held him.

But as the years have passed, I have to think hard back to the nights that I thought would never end with a baby that didn’t want to sleep. Or the days that inched along when it was raining outside and there were three little ones inside who just could not get along. Or to the cantankerous behaviour of a three and half year old who wanted to rule the house.

I do cherish all those memories though and I love it now when opportunities arise to make me see that it is easier that the kids are older. Last Christmas was a significant moment for me. Christmas is always a full on day for kids and as the day went on there were outbursts and tears and tiredness from the younger nieces and nephews. My sisters were up and down from the table regularly, but Phil and I sat comfortably, as our kids who had had their turn doing the same for many years prior to this one, were taking care of themselves.

Every stage though has its challenges and our current one is no exception. But having seen one child towards the pointy end of teenagerhood, I am a little more experienced as a parent and feel more capable of dealing with the challenges. Some of the key learnings I had from when our first son started to push the boundaries in his teenage years are helping me navigate my relationship with our second son as he does his take on pushing the boundaries. He is different to his brother in many ways, but my experience has helped me respond better and not take it all so personally.

The harder parts

The two hardest things I find about this stage of family life are:

Letting go

At 12, 15 and 17, the older three kids are all needing me to let go a little, for their relevant stage. Letting go is hard – well I find it hard! My heart is in the right place and I want to direct them into what I think is best for them, but I know I need to allow them space as well to make their own decisions.

Letting go is a practice and for certain things now I find it easier with the 15 year old and 12 year old as I have seen that I have let go with our first son and nothing traumatic happened to them or me. But the 17 year old is requiring even more space and even more of me letting go, which I am having to work hard at.

Meditation has been a wonderful tool to help me with navigating the letting go with the 17 year old. Meditation has taught me the ability to focus on my breath, pause and to let go of emotion. When I am triggered by the 17 year old, I can just take a minute or so and do this. My response is always better when I do this and sometimes I don’t even respond as I have let it go completely.

There are times though when I don’t use this technique, fall back into my old habits, over step the mark and “make a big deal of nothing”. I realise my mistake as soon as I have uttered the words, but it is too late. The teenager explodes and I am left in damage control – another lesson learnt.

The age gap

Finding ways for us to do things together as a family with kids aged 7 – 17 is a challenge. I think this will always depend on the personalities of the kids, but the eldest is really not keen on “family time” but my yearning for family time is even greater now as I know once he finishes school, it will be even harder to get.

Finding a movie we can all watch is so hard and sometimes even finding the time when we are all at home to watch a movie is tricky.

But meal time is still a place of connection for us. I am old school and aim to have all of us eat at the same time as often as I can, which is the majority of nights. The kids also need to ask permission to leave the table. Sometimes they are told no as I want us to sit and chat for a bit. While on some nights it may start off a little forced, it takes only minutes before someone shares a story of their day and natural conversation progresses. I will hold on to meal times for as long as I can.

Then there are the little hard parts that don’t so much make life harder, but cause me some sorrow as I say goodbye to a stage of life. Like a seven year old who know longer wants to hold my hand in public, but thankfully will still sit on my knee when we are at home.

Overall

I am far from a perfect parent but I am working each year on becoming a better parent. I still read about parenting, attend workshops and seminars and listen to other parents to improve my parenting skills. This has by far been one of the best ways to make family life easier for me and it is something that I can actually control.

To go back to the original aim of writing these yearly posts, which was to answer the question does it really get harder as the kids grow older? – at this stage I don’t think it does, but my experience has shown me that how I feel about it is very dependant upon my attitude and behaviour.

How is family life for you this year? Did you make any notes last year that you can compare to – I would love to hear!