My family and I are currently traveling in New York to celebrate the college graduation of one of our daughters. It’s been a great trip so far, and it has me feeling nostalgic (and a little tired; we’ve logged so many steps my Fitbit must think I’ve lent it to a much more athletic friend). At PlanHero™ we provide the tools for organizing you and your groups so you can make time for what matters, and this week has beautifully dovetailed into our mission. It also has me thinking about motherhood and the stages we go through as parents. There’s so much out there for what to expect during your pregnancy and various stages of childhood, of course. But as I reflect on my 23 years of parenting – with another eight years until our youngest flies the nest – I think of the things I wasn’t quite sure to expect for myself as a parent during each decade. Since I’ve been a parent during my twenties, thirties, and forties, I thought I’d share my own list of what to expect. Be assured that results may vary (or not apply at all) as this is a highly personal list based on my own experiences and of course written with my tongue firmly in cheek. I’d love to know if anyone else out there relates. And if not, I’d love to hear your take in the comments.
What to Expect: Parenting in Your Twenties
Energy. You should have quite a bit of this. Hummingbird-like energy that will rarely leave you. Of course if you have a newborn in your twenties, you’ll feel exhausted until they establish a sleep schedule. This exhaustion may manifest itself as crankiness, the need to nap, and possibly temporary dark shadows underneath your eyes after a series of sleepless nights. Don’t worry, once this stage is over, you’ll forget all about it and likely go on to have another child.
Idealism. You’ve got this. You know exactly how you’ll handle the toddler/elementary/teen years. And you’ll definitely not repeat the mistakes of those around you.
More idealism. Especially with your first child. No television, devices, or processed food? Obviously. Baby Mozart and homemade baby food sourced from your patio garden will be your go-to, naturally.
Even more idealism. Going back to work or deciding to stay home will be clear-cut decisions, once the time comes. Regrets? Of course not.
Elasticity. This applies to both mind and body. You will retain your sharp critical thinking skills, your steel-trap memory, and any feelings of anxiety experienced about your parenting skills will be transient. Right? As for the physical self, you’ll be back to your pre-baby shape in no time.
If you’re an advanced 20-something parent: You will be able to sleep when the baby sleeps. You may find it difficult to keep up with your regular household schedule, but what’s a little mess? Your college years weren’t that long ago, and goodness knows your dorm was much worse.
Fear. Yes, you’ll have some of this. Much of it will be centered around your child’s safety (from choking hazards and baby-proofing to making sure your young one fits in at school and has the best playdates, orchestrated by you). You’ll also worry about money – is that promotion coming? Surely an annual promotion and commensurate pay raise isn’t too much to expect? Then you can save for a house.
Finances. (See also: fear). Sure, they’re a little tight, but that’s what Pinterest is for. Need a housewarming gift? Raid your neighbor’s glass recycling bins for used wine bottles and repurpose them into a sweet decoupaged vase. And yes, it will be your neighbor’s bin and not yours, because wine is too expensive.
Volunteering at school: Sure, you’re the young mom. But for some reason the older parents are more than happy to let you lead the Girl Scout Troop and come in every day to help cut, paste, grade, and do recess duty. And you do. Everything. It’s easy to come in and lead a volunteer art class with a toddler wrapped around your leg and another one on the way. Why do those older parents look so tired? They haven’t even signed up for all of the holiday parties. You knew they’d respect you, even if some of them are as old as your own parents.
What to Expect: Parenting in Your Thirties
Energy. You still have much of this, especially in the earlier part of the decade. Okay, mostly in the early part of the decade. But turning forty is basically a hundred years away and the way the days progress, it feels like you’ll be 32 forever. Can you still run your typical route? Probably. Pushing a baby jogger builds up strength quickly, and if you’re pushing a double jogger or racing back to the house to check on the other kids, you’re bound to keep your endurance. So maybe you’re not logging quite as many miles, but it’s bad on the knees, anyway. Should you have a newborn during this decade, fatigue may show up as dark circles that somehow haven’t disappeared yet. You’re not exactly cranky – of course not – it’s just that people keep asking if you’re tired, even when you’re not.
Idealism. Of course! It’s still there. But you’ve grown as a parent and making concessions is really a form of adaptability and everyone knows this is an important trait. Also, organic food is very expensive and your kids prefer things shaped like extinct animals from the jurassic period.
More idealism. You’ve met many of your goals, so why shouldn’t they keep being met? You’re a homeowner by now and certain the value will continue to grow, which is awesome because the equity will probably cover both college and retirement. Also, the kids really enjoy the music you play while in your car – where you essentially live – and even if some of the lyrics are a bit cringey, the meaning is sailing over their heads. Anyway, Mozart makes you sleepy.
Elasticity. Well, okay. Yes? You still have some. Of course you do. Snapping back after pregnancy isn’t quite as easy and fast, but that’s okay because now you know it’s unrealistic and really a byproduct of the very biased and skewed culture in which we live. And elastic bands on yoga pants do not count. You’re going to get to yoga class. Eventually. Also, you don’t live in a nudist colony, so it doesn’t really matter too much that your midsection has started to resemble a seersucker suit. That’s bound to fix itself.
If you’re an advanced 30-something parent: You’ll be able to clean the house, pay the bills, and check your emails while the kids who still nap are sleeping. College was a long time ago and living in squalor makes you feel on edge. You’ll catch up on your sleep someday, and anyway, the kids are probably old enough to help out soon (see also: idealism).
Fear. Hmm. This one has stuck around and grown a bit. Thankfully it’s not as much about what the kids are putting in their mouths (you forgot to baby-proof with the third and they’re still alive). But the promotion did come and somehow the original plan to save the difference hasn’t happened yet. It may have something to do with the few – okay, many – added expenses that have come along. Well, you can’t anticipate everything. Hopefully things will settle down soon. And those lines around your eyes? Well, aging happens to everyone. Maybe you should stop being scared of it and embrace it, naturally. It’ll be ages before anymore new ones crop up.
Finances. You have a checking, savings, and retirement account. And of course that sweet, sweet equity to cover the rest. Liquidity isn’t everything, and this, too will improve. Your dad retired at 50 so you’re almost there.
Volunteering at school. Yes! Still going strong! Okay, maybe you don’t lead that Girl Scout troop anymore, but since you went back to work part-time and are pregnant again, it’s for the best. Also the kids don’t really care about homemade treats for the class parties. Thankfully the teachers prefer stuff that comes pre-wrapped anyway. Safety first! The older parents are a lot nicer, too. They don’t even seem that old anymore, so the whole worrying about aging thing really is silly.
What to Expect: Parenting in your Forties
Energy. Sure. It exists. It’s why they invented coffee, am I right? Yes, somehow “God, I’m so tired” seems to slip out
every day occasionally, but it’s a metaphor. You’ll sleep at night, once you’re done ticking off your to-do list, checking the doors and windows, making sure your teenager is at home like she said she was, doing a little bit of online banking followed by a little online shopping, and contemplating the past mistakes you’ve made over, say, the past twenty years. You don’t run as much, but you’ve got the yoga thing down (when you go – and you’re always ready to go since yoga pants are for every occasion).
Idealism. You’ve turned into your mother. As for parenting teenagers? You have no idea. Are they even human at this point? Let’s come back to this one. You’re too busy laughing at those new moms in the lower school who worry about every little thing. They need to relax. Frankly, idealism is a luxury of youth. Pragmatism is the new 25.
More idealism. Fine. Okay, there’s the house. The equity really did grow! You may have taken a second mortgage to pay for college but who would have anticipated your daughter wanting to go to an out-of-state private college 2,500 miles away? It’ll work out. Your fifth child can already play the first two chords of Stairway to Heaven so maybe he’ll make it big in a band and pay for his own school.
Elasticity. Well things might go awry here. And by awry I mean something very bad has happened ever since your fourth or fifth child was born. Or even your first or second if you decided to start in this decade. Thankfully, high-waisted everything is back in style. Down with commercialized beauty standards is your motto (despite the fact your bathroom drawers now contain every serum Sephora sells online).
If you’re an advanced 40-something parent: You will be able to keep the kids alive, drive people to two (or three) places at once, work full-time, and pay the bills without weeping. You may also possess advanced cooking skills, but they’ve invented Uber Eats and you’re still in your car most of the time, so it makes sense to eat there. Yes, your children are now old enough to help out around the house, but they’re disgusting. You love them dearly, but they have socks growing to the carpet fibers in their rooms. The super-advanced parent will learn to keep their doors closed and possibly spring for a housekeeper. This may come from your savings account, but you can’t take it with you and death doesn’t seem so abstract anymore.
Fear. What is happening to your face? Don’t ask too many questions. There are two distinct paths you can take at this stage: one is acceptance and the other is brought to you by the good people who manufacture Botox. Whatever. You’re too tired to judge anyone anymore, least of all yourself. Do what feels right. Wear more turtlenecks.
Finances. I’m sorry. Working forever can feel like a noble thing, if you squint and think about how you don’t want to live in a cardboard box by the time your last child finishes school. Plus, minimalism is really big right now. Does it spark joy? No, no it doesn’t. Maybe downsizing isn’t such a terrible idea.
Volunteering at school. This is a great decade to sit on the board. It’s work meant for the wiser of us, and besides, a first-grade parent once mistook you for a grandparent when you made an appearance for a class party. Having your last baby at 40 isn’t so old until your baby starts elementary school and you forget one time to put on mascara.
No matter where you are as a parent, one thing I know is true: when your child moves away and finishes college you’ll both be somehow more proud than you ever thought possible and truly understand the meaning of bittersweet (unless they decide to move back home; I’ll get back with you on that one).