The Hardest Age to Parent

By Gabrielle. Photos from June’s baby shoot by Blue Lily.

The other day a friend of mine with 3 kids, aged 5 to 11, mentioned that she really misses the baby stage. She feels like she was really good at taking care of babies, but doesn’t feel as confident about parenting pre-schoolers or older kids, and she’s feeling apprehensive about the teen years too. (For the record, despite her worries, she’s an awesome parent and her kids are awesome too.)

I laughed when I heard her bemoaning the baby years, because even though I love holding tiny babies, and still have baby cravings, I feel like I wasn’t great at the baby stages. In fact I basically wrote off the whole first year after birth and just assumed from the outset that it would be pretty crummy. If a new mom asks for advice, you might hear me say, “That first year is really tough, but it gets so much better! So don’t be hard on yourself and try not to make any major decisions for at least 12 months.”

Babies are adorable, but parenting babies was definitely not my super power.

On the other hand, even though I was warned about how hard it is, I’ve actually really enjoyed parenting my teens. I like the conversations we get to have, and I like seeing them become whole and independent people. I like the music and shows and books they introduce the family to. I like seeing them make connections between things they’re learning in school and things they’re observing in the world.

I don’t know if it’s my favorite age to parent, and I certainly make parenting mistakes with my teens on the regular, but overall it’s been really good — much better than I expected. And really, I don’t know if I have a favorite age overall. I think for me, when I look back, I can definitely identify the hardest years so far, but it mostly has to do with when I was feeling the most overwhelmed. Three kids 4 and under? That was hard! But I think it was hard because of the number of kids more than the age of the kids. You know what I mean?

It made me curious: what age has been your favorite to parent so far? Or, what age do you think was easiest for your parents? If it helps, for categories I’m thinking: baby, toddler, pre-schooler, school age, pre-teen, teen, young adult, grown-up.

Did you like a particular age better for one kid and another age for another kid? Any surprises? Maybe you thought you’d hate parenting an athlete, then fell in love with the little league community? Anyone out there love the grownup years best? Anyone out there parenting a stage that they’re struggling with? Or maybe you’ve finished a hard stage but are loving the new stage? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

P.S. — The best way to fight with a teenager

46 thoughts on “The Hardest Age to Parent”

  1. This was a great read! It’s so interesting to see other people’s perspectives on the stages. I am definitely happy to be out of the baby stage. It is very rare when I see a baby and wish I went for a third. My kids are now 5 and 7 and I am loving this age! Sure, there are challenges…as with every stage. But I love that I can reason with them and that I can practically see the little wheels of curiosity churning in their heads. I live in a location where I am able to leave them home for a bit while I do groceries and they can walk to their after school activities, but we don’t have serious sports clubs or anything like that. I also feel like it’s an age where I can switch up my strategy if I feel like something is not working well with one of my kids – like it’s not too late for that.
    I loved my sweet little babes and I do look back on that stage with some nostalgia, but I also see a lot of non-diagnosed issues that kept me from dealing well with being a new mom. I am much closer to the mom I always wanted to be now, so I think that has a lot to do with how I view this stage.

  2. Gosh I love this question! While I loved having little babies and I loved nursing! I think my favorite age is 11 or 5 th grade. My kids all had awesome years when they were that age. We could do such fun things together and they loved little kids adventure like a park or children’s museum, but also big kids stuff like mountain hikes and documentaries. There are golden moments at every single stage… Like just 30 minutes ago my son was telling him wants to do a big services project after high school. But he does not want to an international program, but a local project to impact and promote acting locally to create change! My heart just swelled when he said that! He is 17.

  3. We have a big span, a little like the Blairs (five kids in 11 years) so we had a lot of tired years with babies and toddlers. I love, love, love newborns but there is something magical that happens when you can go somewhere without a stroller. Our kids are 7-18 now and the last couple of years have been the most fun — lots of different stages at once and life is never boring! I’m pretty sure this is the good part.

  4. Loved, Loved, Loved the teenage years. Seriously! Most fun ever. (we had girls too). Middle school was a bit more difficult, but I feel that was because of “mean girl” stuff. But each year of high school they grew more and more into themselves and I just found them so interesting. We tried hard to have a very open household, aka, the kitchen was never closed, so we had a lot of time to know their friends as well. We had some testing of limits and a few eye rolls, but dealt with it in 7th and 8th grade and that was pretty much it. Slamming doors was not allowed because “it’s not civilized” :)

  5. I also was no fan of the newborn stage and it’s so nice to see others who feel the same because I always feel like the odd one out on that. I really loved the post-walking/start-talking stages with my two. The last year has been a bit threenager-y but the amount of ideas and personality and sweetness only seems to get greater.

  6. This could not have come on a more apt day and it’s so reassuring! I have been mildly surprised to learn that babies, while sweet, are not my jam. I love, love, love 12 months to 36 but 3 has been kicking my butt. As my 3 year old approaches 4 I feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel as I have enjoyed all my cousins kids endlessly from 4 on. On the rough days my husband and I chant 4 & 6 over and over (our kids are 1 &3 now). I really think for he and I those ages on might be the sweet spot.

    1. I did the exact same thing when my kids were 1 & 3! Then one day I suddenly realized that we had made it to 4 & 6, and just like I had imagined, things were so much easier! Every year since then has gotten even better -(mine are now 6 & 8), so hang in there!

  7. At the risk of sounding annoyingly cheerful about it, I have loved each stage better than the last. There are certainly frustrating behaviors and boundary testing and I feel like a broken record by the time I’m trying to explain the rules of civilized society to our sixth child… but overall they’ve (thus far) gotten easier with age. Or maybe just difficult in different ways, and my confidence in parenting has grown proportional to the challenge? Now they’re almost 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, and 5. There are aspects of each stage I miss – the newborn snuggles, the cute things toddlers say, etc… but as a doula I get to greet new babies and enjoy their adorable squishiness – then come home and sleep! (The sleep deprivation of the first year was my biggest struggle. Ironic that I now work at a job that routinely calls me out of bed at 3am…) But anyway – I love the teenager years so far! And I’m optimistic that having multiple teens at once really is going to go far better than I fear and they’ll continue to be awesome and fun to have around. :)

  8. Thank you Gabrielle for sharing that the baby years were challenging for you. I think a lot of your readers we just assume you had the easiest babies, and perhaps even perfect sleeping babies, ever since you have so many! :) it’s encouraging to hear you went through what the rest of us are going through, and so awesome to hear and see on your blog how much fun you are having with all of them as they get older. I am about to have 3 under 3 (surprise twins arriving this summer), so you give me hope I will land on the other side with a smile and a close family. Thanks for sharing. Would love to hear more in your blog the advice you’d give parents of young kiddos!

    1. As someone who was in your position last year (3 kids under 3 due to surprise twins), you’ll make it! It’s hard but it’s also been a blast, especially as my youngest two are getting older. They’re 10 months now and my oldest is nearly 3.5. Honestly, 3 has been worse for me this year than the little ones. Good luck!

  9. My oldest is only 5 (I have 3), so I can’t really say, but I LOVE my babies. The 3 to 4 year was rough for me, but part of that I think is specific to my childs personality. But seriously, I can’t get enough of my babies.

  10. My boys are 4 and 2, and I love the toddler/preschool ages, but what I struggle with is being an introvert raising an extrovert (the 4 year old). He just loves to talk and interact with everyone, especially me, and I’m trying to teach him that mama needs quiet time

    1. Omg, reading this made me realize what the struggle is between me and my almost-three-year-old daughter! I’m an introvert raising an extrovert! Love her to pieces, but my god, it’s draining!

  11. Ours are only 7, 5, 3, and 3 months, and while the sleep deprivation of newborns is a killer, I’m trying to really enjoy it. Three year olds are thus far my least favorite. But the thing I’m most scared of is having a kid that’s into sports. I was a theater teacher (I run the after school program only now) and my husband is a math teacher, but he’s been in musicals since middle school. Neither of us have ever really liked sports. Our kids have thus far all grown up spending the afternoon in rehearsals with us and enjoy all things arts (our oldest is an aspiring artist, and our second wants to be a ballerina). It’s funny that the idea of spending Saturdays at soccer or tee-ball games is terrifying to me. but should any of our kids want to try it out, we will be fully supportive. I just won’t know what I’m doing!

    1. Ha! I was the same. Neither my husband nor I are sporty and our oldest two are not. Then came our third — a sports-obsessed kid who lives to play baseball. I love watching his games and while I don’t get all the calls or rules, seeing a group of boys reveling in their play is pretty cool. I NEVER thought I’d be spending every weekend (and many week nights) watching baseball but I do love it. It would be hard NOT to love watching your kid do what makes them so happy. :)

  12. I’ve loved every stage. But at every point I have refused to think about the next stage too much. Because I just can’t fathom from 1 stage what I must go through in the next stage. It is a different skill set, a different set of worries and fatiguing actions. But always always always full of surprisingly wonderful rewards at each stage.

  13. We have 2 girls that are 15 months apart so when I had a newborn and a 15 month old who decided to stop sleeping at night, it was rough. Plus, two in diapers. That got better though, and up until middle school, I really liked all the ages. I must echo the above poster about middle school mean girl problems-ugh! Teen years were great in our house because I really love being with my kids and talking to them and seeing who they are becoming. Now, both are away at college and I miss them so much as well as the closeness we had during high school. Letting them fly away is a proud moment but a tough one as well!

    1. My girls are also 15 mos apart, I barely recall the first two years. They’re now 4.5 and just over three, and I’m open to another but my husband says even the thought gives him anxiety. For me, three is a golden age (so far, I don’t have much to go on) – things click more, and they’re more kid-like than baby-like (minus the tantrum today when my 3 y/0 decided to kick and scream while rolling on the concrete by the daycare gate…..all the way to the car….and half-way home…). So um, maybe age 5? It’s funny to me too b/c my sister has the oldest child in our family (almost 7) so I’ve had seven years of someone telling me how “crazy hard XX year is”. I think they’re all challenging, in different ways. I cannot wait for the time when they’re KIDS and we get to DO stuff (although my 3 year old is always by my side in the kitchen making dinner and baking, LOVE it!).

    2. Swaying #2 (12 weeks) while #1 (2 years) finally naps. The toddler also stopped sleeping through the night when the babe was born–and jumped his crib! It was a mistake moving him into a big boy bed right then, but oh, hindsight. This whole transition from 1 to 2 seems impossible–not for me, but for the toddler, who is such a disaster still, 3 months later, I can’t imagine what his threenager year will bring. I teach and love high schoolers, so I just told my friend that when the toddler stops napping, I’m headed back to my 120 (somewhat) reasonable young adults!

  14. My daughter is almost 9 months and it wasn’t until the 7th month that I started really enjoying being a mom. We went through years of infertility treatment to have her so I felt so much guilt for really struggling through the first few months. I hope if I’m lucky enough to have another baby that I’ll be able to relax and enjoy it a bit more. I grew up with 3 siblings. My brother seemed easy to parent but I remember my sisters and I fighting so much and making life difficult for my parents when we were around 13 – 18. I’m terrified my daughter will do the same! I now consider my mom one of my best friends and I hope I can have the same relationship with my daughter when she’s older.

  15. While I loved the baby age, I would have loved it more with regular sleep.

    Right now I have 18, 15 & 12 and it’s the easiest it’s ever been. Teens are so much fun — and seeing them reach into adulthood makes me so proud. I realize my job as parent (certainly to my 18 yo) is almost done but it’s been a job well done.

    Middle school was the toughest for my oldest and youngest. It’s hard to parent an unhappy child and there was so much making those years unhappy for them — social and school stuff. BUT, my oldest pulled through and is stronger for it and my youngest is through the worst of it.

  16. Echoing what others have said, this is such a fun subject to discuss and read about! My kids are still young–3 and 6–so I still have lots of stages to look forward to. So far I’ve loved the baby stage, found the toddler stage challenging but also enjoyable, and the preschool stage may be the most challenging for me.

    The baby stage was easier because I didn’t find it tough to keep the baby well fed and clean, and I loved the cuddles. The toddler stage was physically exhausting (like the baby stage), and they were little wrecking balls. That said, it felt easier to handle their misdeeds because I instinctively knew it was all developmentally appropriate–they were just still so SMALL.

    The preschool age has been tough because of the conscious limit-testing. This is really hard for me, since logically you know what they’re doing is developmentally appropriate, but as they grow sometimes you slip into thinking they should “know better.” This is when I feel like a bad parent…when I expect too much of my kids. But this is always tempered by how awesome it is to watch them blossom and learn, and apply what they’re learning to the world! Being a parent is honestly just so awesome :)

  17. I have 4-18, 15, 12 and 7. I absolutely loved the baby/toddler stage as I knew I would. I was baby-obsessed from an early age. What has shocked me has been how much I’ve enjoyed the older years. I absolutely love parenting teens. They’re smart, funny, interesting-and still hanging out with us, so that’s been great. It’s great to get a full night’s sleep, and to throw everyone in the car and just go somewhere without worrying about packing sippy cups, snacks, diapers and the stroller.

  18. 2 year olds are my FAVORITE! They are sososo funny and goofy and squishy and cuddly :) Of course they are also SUPER unreasonable and have no logic but once you get past that they are amazing.

  19. I’m a new mom to a four (almost five) month old and it’s a little overwhelming! I’m a toddler teacher so my sweet spot is 18-30 months and it’s been forever since I cared for an infant! Luckily my little one has a smile that lights up my world so it’s all worth it, of course.

  20. I have just loved all the stages of my kids so far, though I thought having the first three ages 4 and under was so hard because none was old enough to help yet. Because my mom was an awesome mom of teenagers and always said she loved it, I planned on loving it too. I wasn’t scared! “It’s gonna be fun,” I thought. Which is why I’m particularly disheartened that my 14 year old basically hates me as of late. I’m sure we can chalk some of this up to hormones and feelings that are out of her control. But, while she is a wonderful girl, excellent student, and very pleasant to everyone else, she reserves all her negativity for me. Ouch. She gets so angry with me whenever I tell her no about things she wants to do. I hate that we have conflict so often. At this point in my parenting, I thought I had discovered the wisdom of just going on instinct and finding what works best for me. Not sure I have great instincts for parenting this teenager though! Would love anybody’s insights or suggestions for great resources on parenting teenagers. I still want her teenage years to be awesome for her AND me…and for all her younger siblings too. I have a lot of years of parenting teens ahead of me!

    1. Can I just send you some encouragement? My daughter went through a rough patch with me at that point too. (And honestly, even now at 18-she’s 99% delightful, but when she’s stressed or anxious I end being the person she tends to snap at.) I think it’s just the age-and they do come around.

    2. Do you know this book?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

      Great for teenagers, and look up motivational interviewing as well. For me, the key with teens as a teacher is to explain my rationale for everything and offer options if they don’t like my suggestion. I often say something like, “Here’s what we need to accomplish. Suggest a better way for us to do it.” They LOVE that psuedo-power and often they teach me something!

  21. This topic is so great, Gabrielle! I have two: 5 (son) and 11 (daughter). I’ve really enjoyed age 5. They become so much more independent. But honestly, I’ve enjoyed the uniqueness of each stage. It’s just fascinating watching kids grow. My biggest challenge lately has been coming to terms with the fact that my daughter is “girly”. My husband and I have been athletes our whole lives. We tried to turn our daughter into one: didn’t work. She’s girly and artsy! This blog helps me a great deal, LOL!

  22. I have older kids (7, 11 & 14) and I’m adopting a toddler out of foster care. I don’t know if toddlers got harder since mine were that age (or if I’m just older and less patient and more tired), but OMG this is hard. It’s been so dang hard. He’s lovely and he’s mine, without a shadow of a doubt, he was meant to be in our family. But man, it’s hard. The lack of sleep. The constant whining and teething and separation anxiety. I’m looking forward to him being a big bigger, while still trying to enjoy the cuddly-ness and cuteness of now.

  23. Oh and I’ll add that the later elementary years are my favorite. I love second to sixth grade. My teen isn’t bad, just filled with drama….although to be fair, she’s always been this way. Maybe my middle two will be a bit easier as teens.

  24. Parenting babies is not my super power either. Ha! Thank you so much for confessing this and take away that little bit of parent guilt that I sometimes feel about it.
    I often observe new parents to see traces of a serious crisis on them in order to support them, because I found becoming a new parent extremely tough. I am surprised EVERY TIME when I just find new parents happy and relaxed.
    I have a 7 and a 2 year old and I love them both to bits, they are both cheeky and funny and very bright. But I find myself constantly counting the years as in how long is my 2 year old gonna be in this annoying tantrum age and when did it start that my secven year old was suddenly this person that was reasonable and would listen?
    When people say, enjoy it, time flies by and you gonna miss the time when they were small, I go: What? For me I have to say I am really really amazed by how much fun parenting is since my older one started primary school. So many people have told me how difficult that is and how it puts an end to their childhood so it surprised me how much we enjoyed it. But then I remembered how much I loved going to school and I just realized how much my kids are my kids.

  25. What a fun topic! I’ve loved reading all the comments. It’s fun that we are all so different.
    I didn’t love the baby stage. Or really the toddler stage. But I also had PPD that got worse with each kid which I’m sure was not helping (I have 3 kids, ages 10, 7, 4). My favorite age is the preschool age. They are semi independent but still so little, squishy, and huggable. I’m a little sad that my youngest will be in preschool in the fall. My last preschooler. But I’m also super excited to be by myself for a few hours a day. I feel like I will be able to focus on myself a little, and that sounds amazing after 10 years of always having at least one of my kids by my side.

  26. I loved the baby stage– but my babies were great sleepers and so was I. I would nurse and just fall asleep, it was awesome! But when I had my twins, I finally understood the angst of babies with no sleep cause I couldn’t sleep when I nursed them and I had to nurse them together. Still loved them, but I have been so glad as they’ve gotten older with each stage. Each kid is different, my oldest was mature for her age and had a tough time finding her place and feeling good about herself around age 11-13. That was tough – she is 17 now and happy and excelling and doing great, so ages 14 – 17 have been way more fun for us with her. My second daughter has matured very late and went through what my oldest went through at 15 instead of 11, but it hasn’t lasted as long which is nice. I don’t see my boys having the same kinds of issues my girls did– they may continue to get more fun as teens. I think ages 8 – 12 are probably the easiest as a parent- the kids still think you are super awesome and are willing to go along with whatever you want, but are old enough to get themselves dressed and smart enough that you don’t have to worry too much about their safety. Once they hit their self awareness years, depending on the kid, it takes effort to make sure they have the opportunities and experiences they need to develop fully, build skills and a healthy self identity. It is a lot of work, but really fulfilling when they come out happy, confident, and empowered. Like most everyone else, each stage has it pros and cons. I am really glad to be past the baby stage– the twins did me in, and I am not baby hungry at all! My youngest is 3 almost 4.

  27. It’s strange that even pre-kids I’d say to people “give me a two-year-old and I’m good”.

    I loved when my kids (twins) started talking and communicating back to me. The best! They started really chatting a lot from about 15 months to 3, and I LOVED that stage. It was like “finally, they’re real little people”.

    I did not like the baby stage at all – mine were not sleeping til 10 months, and I really love my sleep. And 4. They were far too full of sass and deliberate naughtiness then.

    But generally, I do enjoy something about each stage.

    I have not forgotten the first year though….. and I never ever thought of going back for another :)

    PS my twins will be 7 in one month!

  28. Twin mama here too! Mine are only 6 months old but already it’s a lot easier than when they were newborns and I’m really enjoying this age (despite the ongoing lack of sleep!). I’ve loved reading all the comments and am so excited about the fun times to come.

  29. Three through six were definitely the hardest years for me, in large part due to my daughter’s struggle with anxiety. Once we had that sorted out, things improved.

    She’s a teen now and I love this stage! As others have said, the ability to have really substantive conversations and to see her developing into her own person is wonderful.

  30. So far I’m finding 18 months to be the most challenging and most rewarding age. The tantrums, biting, hair pulling, pushing really gets to me sometimes. But then they start chasing each other around the house, giggling uncontrollably. Or they come up to me and start “talking” away in their own language and my heart just about bursts.

  31. My kids are 19, 17, 15, and 13. 3 girls and a boy on the end. I loved the baby years, (anyone have a baby I can hold?) but forget the terrible 2s, my kids were angels then, it was the 3s that were a nightmare:) But really it seems by the time I know what I’m doing and how to handle what comes next that phase is ending! And because all 4 are so different each kid is a new experience!
    I’m loving the teen years; most of the time- they do have their moments, but really it is nice to have kids that brush their teeth without me asking, enjoy taking showers and wearing clean clothes. They like real food and can even help make it. So easy to travel with or just run to the grocery store, they buckle their own belts! They love to play games (boardgames, pingpong, foosball, baseball, soccer, frisbee, mariokart!) and they’re constantly beating us so there is none of that boredom that comes with playing little kid games:) They share books, movies, and music; and even have real jokes to tell. Teen-Life is awesome.

  32. I Have a 3.5year old a 10month old and 13 year old stepson. My stepson has always been great but we don’t have him all the time – the 3 year old is as loveable as he is draining it’s been hard going from one turbo child to two especially for the 3 year old and i. The 10 month old isn’t the best sleeper and wants to be carried everywhere! He’s also heavy! The other wants constant interaction – while i wouldn’t change them for the world it’s been the toughest year and i love the baby to bits…hopefully the older one stops soiling his pants soon…feel inadequate heaps of times this year hope next is better.

  33. I love his topic, and all the insightful comments people have left here! My two kids are 5.5 and almost 3.5. All of the talk of loving the teenage years is SO encouraging, since I think previous generations had ingrained in our minds that teens are a nonstop nightmare. My son had challenging times on and off during ages 2 and 3, in some ways due to his being on the autism spectrum (though very mildly). But with him, 4 was the hardest age by far, and I truly thought we might not survive it. And now he is a delightful and funny 5-year-old. :) With the younger one, she was a perfect angel of a baby, and great at 1 and 2, also. Now we are at 3 and I end up in tears many days, it’s so hard. But at least I know from my first that things can change and improve quickly. It’s all worth it. :)

  34. Three year olds are my faves. I think because I was an assistant preschool teacher when I first got out of school and was getting my Theatre career off the ground. I just love their playfulness, their outlook, their logic, and their blooming personhood at that age. My babies are now 16. I am enjoying the teens but it has not been easy! I was a better mom for the littles. But luckily my husband, who didn’t find the younger ages easy, is a real natural with the teens. So we’ve taken turns getting to be the parent with the good instincts.

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