Feeling Guilty You Didn't Relish The Baby And Toddler Years? Read This.
Parents, don't despair: There's plenty of good stuff to look forward to.
If you’re a parent on social media, you may have noticed a recent trend: sentimental videos that implore you to soak up every minute of the baby and toddler stage before this precious time is gone for good.
There are Instagram reels and TikToks aplenty reminding you how many summers you have left with little kids or telling you to stop worrying about your messy house because one day you’ll miss seeing toys, crumbs and clothes scattered everywhere.
This narrative is in line with previous social media trends — you may remember the widely used audio that said raising kids under 4 is a “peak experience” and “if you miss it, it’s gone” — as well as other messaging that parents of young children receive from friends, family and perfect strangers. The takeaway: The magical phase of parenting has a hard expiration date.
Though these messages are typically intended to be sweet or encouraging, they’re often received quite differently. Many times, they can lead to parental guilt, “which is already so pervasive in this generation of parents,” said Susie Allison, the creator of the website Busy Toddler and a mom of three.
“These videos are often a very targeted reminder that you either aren’t doing enough or aren’t enjoying this time enough, or that you didn’t do enough back when your kids were little and you should feel bad that you can’t go back in time,” Allison told HuffPost. “I don’t see a lot of good coming from any of those feelings.”
C.J. Kelsey, a writer, content creator and mom of two, said she believes the people telling parents to “savor every moment” mean well. The time does seem to go by so quickly, at least in retrospect. But for tired and overwhelmed parents in the thick of the baby years, this advice isn’t particularly helpful.
“Anyone who tells you to cherish every moment overlooks the sleepless nights, tantrums and piles of diapers,” Kelsey said.
I’m in that magical stage of parenting where I don’t need to change diapers or carry baby gear but I also don’t have to deal with teenage problems yet and my kids still think I’m smart and funny…how do I stay here???
— That Mom Tho (@mom_tho) March 13, 2023
Caitlin Murray, the creator behind @BigTimeAdulting on Instagram and a mother of three, said this narrative about the baby years put a lot of pressure on her to “feel one specific way” about her motherhood experience.
“I was shocked by the realization of how impossible it was to really ‘cherish every minute,’ particularly when you’re healing from the birth of your child and battling your way through the day on 45 minutes of sleep,” Murray told HuffPost.
“If you have multiple babies, you’re also going through all of that while still caring for your older children. It can be difficult to find any joy at all in those early months, never mind ‘cherishing every moment.’”
The Big-Kid Years Are Magical Too
Recently, parents on social media have been pushing back against the idea that the joy and magic of parenting are limited to the first few years of kids’ lives.
In April, Allison posted a reel on Instagram with the caption “The big kid years are great, too.” In it, she talks about how much fun she’s having now that her children are ages 6, 8 and 10 — and how she wishes someone had told her there would be so much to look forward to. Her message clearly resonated: The video has since been viewed almost 1 million times.
“The big-kid years are magical. They’re capable, helpful, interesting and funny,” Allison told HuffPost. “You know them really well by the big-kid years, and they know you well too. You know what to expect, and to be honest, they do too. There’s a comfortable routine to the big-kid years that isn’t quite as prevalent in the baby/toddler years.”
Your life stops revolving around nap schedules. And bigger kids are independent enough to do things like grab a snack or get in and out of the car on their own, she added.
“Those are such little things, but when you’re in the baby/toddler years, knowing that someday your child will be able to walk through a grocery store without incident, understand inside jokes and carry on a real conversation is exciting and magical all at the same time,” Allison said.
Kelsey’s kids are ages 6 and 10, and she too has found this stage to be “magical.”
“My husband and I can play board games and video games with them,” she said. “They are old enough for some TV shows and movies that we also enjoy. I no longer have to pack a giant bag filled with just-in-case items allowing us to stay out longer than anticipated or leave the house on a whim.”
Her kids still look to her for comfort, and she enjoys the feeling of being needed by them.
“For these reasons, I really wish I could stop time here,” Kelsey said. “But I also am looking forward to them flourishing into their own personalities and seeing what kind of adults they become.”
Neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez pointed out that increased self-reliance in children also “frees up time and energy for the parent to pursue their own interests,” which can be difficult when kids are little.
Older children are able to have more meaningful conversations that can deepen their bond with parents, she noted.
Murray’s kids are ages 9, 7 and almost 4. In a recent Instagram post, which has been “liked” more than 68,000 times, she said that she wants to “hit the pause button” for the first time as a parent.
For her, the baby and toddler years were “filled largely with feelings of worry, frustration, boredom, exhaustion, and an overall sensation of being trapped,” she wrote in the caption. These days, she likes to have conversations with her kids and watch them play together and entertain themselves, describing this to HuffPost as “one of the greatest joys [she’s] experienced in life.”
A Reminder For Parents
"You didn’t miss the one shot at childhood magic. There’s so much more to be had," said parent Susie Allison.
Perhaps you’re currently in the baby stage, but not relishing every moment as you were told you should. Or maybe you’re past that phase, but the “soak it all up” trope is making you wistful — like the good years passed you by. Either way, it may be comforting to know that every stage of parenting has its own kind of sparkle.
“This isn’t like a book that you finish, close, and that’s it,” Allison said. “One chapter ends, but a new, equally thrilling and beautiful chapter begins. If the baby/toddler stage wasn’t your favorite age bracket or you feel like you didn’t have the chance to enjoy the moment, it’s not over. You didn’t miss the one shot at childhood magic. There’s so much more to be had.”
Rather than dwelling on what you feel you missed, celebrate the bright spots of your journey so far, Hafeez advised. Think, too, about all the good stuff that’s happening now and what’s yet to come.
“Focus on building new memories and experiences as they enter new stages of development,” Hafeez said.
Remember that each chapter has its own set of challenges and joys.
“While parents may not have enjoyed every single moment, they have still played a crucial role in shaping their child’s life and will continue to do so in the future,” Hafeez added.