“Just Wait”… Candid Advice That Spans the Stages of Parenting Toddlers Through Teens

When my girls were little and they were having a meltdown, well-meaning people would say, “Just wait,” with a raised eyebrow and that inflection in their voice, implying my little person had little problems. But just wait until they are a bigger person with bigger problems. In the moment that felt invalidating. Whatever temper tantrum I was dealing with was all I could handle, much less contemplate how much “worse” it was going to get. But, almost 19 years into motherhood, I understand that sentiment a little better now, and I have my own take on it.

Motherhood is the absolute most rewarding thing I have ever experienced. And the most humbling. When your babies are little, they need you for Every. Literal. Thing. It’s exhausting and exhilarating, and your captivating love for this tiny human somehow fuels you to keep going when the nights are long and so are the days. I believe there is nothing more sacrificial than being a parent, specifically a mom when your babies are little. You’re tired, you’re hungry, you don’t shower as often as you used to, and you’re not sure whose body you’re walking around in. You’re figuring out all the motherhood things, and you’re likely insecure about most of them. You cry easily at simple things, and profound things bring even more tears. You experience love in a completely new way, as you marvel at every tiny feature of theirs, in awe of each new expression, sound, and discovery this little person makes.

The early years are full of constant change and growth… for both of you. Toddlers challenge limits (and sanity), and the elementary years bring friendships outside of the family. Your little person begins to become someone independent of you and your calendar starts to revolve around school projects, plays, piano lessons, and soccer practice. They are still tightly under your wing but are starting to spend more time away from you before returning to your safety. You’re still the authority on most things but are constantly learning when to choose the battle or just let it go.

The middle years bring more independence. And attitude. Oh, the power of an eye roll, or sigh, or silence. Your little person isn’t little anymore. They start to look more like a grown person, even though there’s much maturing left to do. They struggle with who they are, and you do your best to guide them, but you also know there is much of this process that they will have to do on their own. It is hard work, this “becoming” process. You aren’t needed as often anymore, but when you are—when they’re ready to talk—you make yourself available at whatever cost.

You gradually continue to loosen the grip as they make more decisions for themselves and experience the natural consequences—good and bad. You drive them so very many places, listen when they just need to vent (or worry because they’re not sharing much with you), and call a therapist when you’ve reached the limit of your ability to help. You worry when things are hard for them or get dark for them because the problems are bigger now. Perhaps this is what people referred to when they said, “Just wait.”

But the ability to reason with them and challenge their ideas starts narrowing the gap between parent and child. Instead of planning playdates, you’re making sure the pantry is stocked with plenty of snacks as they bring their friends over. And you quietly clean the kitchen counter for the umpteenth time just to linger long enough to soak in the extra laughter and silliness that fills your house. And when you can start to enjoy shared humor—from inside jokes to laughing at the same moments of a movie—jackpot! They (hopefully) start to take agency for more decisions in their life. You get a little more breathing room as they’re capable of more responsibility. And you’re teaching them more about adulting, knowing that high school graduation will be here quickly.

And then they’re off to college, or at least that stage of life. When we celebrate a baby’s first birthday, it’s as much a milestone for the parents as it is for the child. Similarly, your child’s graduation from high school is a significant parenting milestone, as you prepare to launch them into the next phase of life. You’re certainly not finished with the job, but it’s changing again. The decisions and challenges they will face now will continue to grow in importance. You desperately hope that some of the values you instilled in them stuck. You hope they will call and come home. And when they do, it feels like a little pat on the back or a wink in your direction. 

And so, to all the moms in the throes of motherhood, whatever the stage may be, I see you. It’s challenging. But you can do it. And “just wait”… there are some rewarding things coming your way!