The weird thing about parenting is that if you do it right, you eventually put yourself out of a job.
When your kids are little they need your full attention every second. Are they breathing? Are they hungry? Do they need a clean diaper? You spend a good deal of time “wearing them” in infant-carriers to help them calm down. Good luck sleeping or taking a shower. Your babies are helpless without you.
When infants grow into toddlers you have to be careful where you put them. They’ll climb bookshelves, plug their fingers into electrical sockets and eat paper if you’re not watching. Toilet paper is a favorite toy and they will unfurl it throughout the house as soon as you turn around. Peeing on things is also fun, because why not? Hose the carpet down!
Supposedly things get easier during the preschool years, but I’m not sure that’s true. Preschoolers have strong opinions about everything, including whether or not underwear goes on the inside or the outside of pants. Watch them like a hawk or they will embarrass you in the grocery store by shaming the person next to you for buying processed foods.
Things definitely improve once you can send your kids to elementary school. (Cough, cough. Sending kids to in-person school? Those were the days…) But seriously, elementary-aged kids need a lot of help, too, especially with the most complicated math homework you’ve ever seen in your life. Quick quiz! Subtract across zeros using the box method, and show your work. Better do it fast because Little League practice starts soon.
Then comes the tween stage, and that’s when things get weird. Suddenly your house becomes quieter. At first, the peace is a welcome respite. You sit on the couch and read a book uninterrupted. You cook dinner and drink a leisurely glass of wine. But then you notice things are missing: scissors, tape, the glue gun and your favorite dishtowel. The next thing you know, the dog ambles into the room dressed like Peter Pan, a spool of thread trailing behind him. Your tween has entered “the project years,” aided and abetted by YouTube.
Still, at least tweens want to share their latest creations. Teenagers are much more secretive. They nurture private hopes and dreams you’ll know nothing about unless they choose to tell you. You and your teen might not even be awake during the same hours. Stock the fridge with food because they’ll feed themselves at midnight. Fill up the car with gas so you have leverage when you need it. But mainly, enjoy the last few moments of them being at home.
One minute your child is the baby in your arms, and the next minute, they’re walking away to their very first job. The person who needed you the most doesn’t need you at all. Congratulations parents, you’re unemployed. But don’t worry — some day, if you’re lucky, there will be a job available in the grandparents department.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.