This post: parenting teenagers isn’t easier than parenting toddlers
Written By: Janel Carey / Contributing Writer
At a gathering this past Thanksgiving, I came to the realization that my family is in a very interesting place in life. I’m deep in the throes of parenting teenagers (three to be exact) and my sister (my only sibling) has a toddler. As I sat back and watched the kids play together, I started to reflect back on my parenting days when my kids were young and began pondering which phase of parenting is easier; toddlers or teenagers.
What parent could ever forget the toddler years? Changing diapers, wiping noses, making endless meals and answering questions all day has a way of bringing every parent to the brink of exhaustion. And, when you’re in the thick of it just trying to muddle through the trenches, people love to pass along unsolicited advice like, “Don’t worry, it will get easier,” or “Just wait until they’re teenagers.”
But does it get easier?
A wise friend once told me, “It doesn’t get any easier. It’s just different.” At the time, I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. How could parenting teenagers not get easier? Children who can feed and bathe themselves MUST be easier to care for, right?
Well, the answer is yes and no.
In some respects, parenting teenagers is much easier. In other respects, it’s much harder.
After giving it more thought, I decided to write down the similarities and differences between the two age groups in hopes of letting moms of toddlers know that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. And truthfully, I was hoping it would remind me to appreciate how far my children and I have come.
So, let’s settle this debate. Is it easier to parent teenagers or toddlers?
Whining and Crying
Moms of toddlers, I hate to break it to you, but the whining and crying never stop. Yes, it gets better and yes, the full-blown sprawled out on the floor, kicking and screaming, temper tantrums eventually cease. But teenagers do their fair share of whining, typically about anything having to do with physical labor (even emptying the dishwasher is too much for some teens). And trust me, there is plenty of drama and tears during the teen years, too.
While we’re on the subject of whining and crying, I should mention that as the parent, we do our fair share of crying when our kids are both toddlers and teens (and every stage in between). You cry when they’re little because the daily routine is so completely exhausting. When they’re teenagers you cry because your heart breaks for every hard life lesson they endure (and, frankly, because they have a knack for wearing you down, too).
Basically, invest in tissues and get used to it.
Why? Why? Why? Parents of toddlers hear that question hundreds of times every day. Toddlers are naturally curious and want to know how everything works and why we do things a certain way. It’s a charming and tedious part of their discovery and learning process.
But, beware… teenagers have their own version of it. “Why do I have to go there?” “Why do I have to help clean?” “Why do I have to do my homework?” Basically, teenagers still pound you with questions (and, yes, it’s still pretty annoying) – they just sound a tad more intelligent and rarely take no for an answer.
The Safety Factor
I always thought that once my kids were old enough to know basic safety rules, I would worry less about them.
With toddlers, you always have to watch their every move because they might tumble down the stairs, run into traffic, eat laundry soap or, heaven forbid, climb a dresser that tips and topples on top of them. There are a million scary, albeit not likely to happen, scenarios that pass through your mind every single day.
Also, when you’re a mom of a toddler, you’re under the false illusion that once your child learns some common sense and self-control, you’ll worry less about their safety.
But here lies the problem… most teenagers still have little common sense or self-control.
Now, you have to worry about big, potentially life-altering stuff like drugs and alcohol, unprotected sex and car accidents. And, the sad fact is that while most toddlers won’t drown in a pool, most teenagers will, in fact, experiment (at least to some degree) with drugs, alcohol, and/or sex. Add in the fact that most teenagers think they’re invincible and you have a potential recipe for disaster. (Hence, the reason parents of teenagers tend to age rather quickly… it’s called S.T.R.E.S.S.)
Oh, and apparently you still have to worry about them eating laundry soap.
Toddlers are basically little tornadoes, swirling through your house destroying everything in their path. While you’re busy cleaning one room, they’re busy destroying another one.
Teenagers, on the other hand, are kind enough to confine their messes to certain areas. In my house, the utter disasters tend to occur in their bedrooms and in the kitchen.
I don’t use the term disaster lightly either. Consider two weeks’ worth of dirty socks, 52 cups and a handful of spoons confined to one room. Then, imagine the smell… welcome to the world of teenagers.
Food & Grocery Bill
When it comes to food, toddlers are the worst. They like to throw food and they either refuse to eat at all or they only eat certain foods. For many, chicken nuggets are their food of choice often requested for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so make sure you buy them in bulk (oh, and don’t forget the ketchup).
Teenagers, on the other hand, will literally eat you out of house and home and, they can also be seriously picky eaters. Plus, now that they’re old enough to consider themselves food connoisseurs they discover they like an array of worldly tastes, (usually expensive, organic, free-range ones) and request them all on a daily basis.
When your grocery bill is climbing dangerously high and you’re considering taking on a second job just to keep up with your teen’s demand for food, trust me, you’re going to miss the toddler days when they ate like a bird.
Clothes & Laundry
Toddlers change clothes faster than a Vegas showgirl. There are several wardrobe switches throughout the day either because they got hot or cold, spilled something, peed themselves or some other random reason.
When it comes to teenagers, I’ve found that there are two types: the ones who wear the same jeans for a week straight or the bigger version of the toddler who changes twelve times a day. You either deal with clothes so gross they can walk themselves to the hamper or fifty-five loads of laundry – either way, it isn’t pretty.
Mom Alone Time
When my kids were toddlers, I longed for time alone. At the time, my goal in life was to take a shower or pee without an audience or having a little human being demand that I help them with something right now.
But now that my kids are teenagers, I actually wish they would spend more time with me. I feel like I’m constantly asking them to hang out with me and trying to bribe them to spend quality time together.
I would tell you to treasure the toddler years and the clinginess, but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to truly appreciate those days, especially when you feel like your child is literally glued to you all day, every day. What I will tell you is to enjoy the middle years when your kids still want to spend time with you, but are independent enough to be by themselves for a little while, too.
I never realized how much time it took to bathe my toddlers every night until they got a little older and started bathing on their own. It’s a glorious day when you can tell your child to take a shower and they just do it!
But then, they become smelly teenagers and you find yourself constantly asking, “Did you take a shower today? Come here, let me sniff your armpit.” Smelling armpits is the teenager’s mom version of smelling your baby’s butt to see if he pooped.
Toddlers definitely win on this one. They are adorable and soft and cuddly and want to hang on you all day, every day. Ok, maybe there is occasionally too much snuggling when you have little ones.
Teenagers will occasionally cuddle with you, but it’s usually because they want money or for you to drive them somewhere. Or because they’re sick and want to share their germs with you.
By the way, sharing germs never goes away. That has been the one thing my children are always willingly share, unlike their desserts.
The amount of stuff that toddlers want is insane. Toys, clothes, shoes, hair bows… your house becomes stuffed to the brim.
The good news is that teenagers don’t want nearly as many things as toddlers. The bad news is that what they DO want is usually insanely expensive.
Teenagers don’t want 12 pairs of shoes, they just want two. But the two pairs they do want cost $150 each. Teenagers don’t need a bin full of toys, just a $1,200 laptop and $200 headphones. Plus, the cost of college is enough to throw any parent into a full-blown panic. Either way, get used to being broke.
The Verdict Is In . . .
It turns out that my experienced friend was 100% correct; parenting teenagers isn’t any easier than parenting toddlers. In fact, parenting our kids never truly gets easier, it just morphs into a different version of worrying all while trying to figure things out and doing the best you can. And from what I have been told, this is what the rest of your life as a parent is like – gradual changes to different phases, but always at the forefront of your mind.