All the ways this stage is about eight million times easier than the baby/ toddler stage:
1. They get up later. Warning: they also go to bed later.
2. They give a reasonable approximation of listening to what you say and sometimes it changes their behaviour for ooo, three or four minutes. (I talk a lot to child 1 about choice: the choices he makes, and why he makes them, and how he could change that. Usually he listens, but sometimes I can almost see the internal eye roll when I get started and the subsequent rush to assure me that yes, he knows he made the wrong choice and no, he won’t do it again, and can he get back to his Lego now?)
3. Soft play/ park/ woods. Remember those mothers that you so disapproved of when you were racing around being an amazing mother entertaining your toddler while simultaneously pacifying a screaming baby and they were sitting on their phones ignoring their offspring? Yeah, now you realise you were just jealous and you’re a fully paid up member of the ‘if they’re not killing each other, I’m not listening’ club.
4. We don’t battle over screen time. They’re not even that bothered about screen time, because they’d prefer to play. I know, how does it happen? I’m sure a year ago the only way I could get them to STOP FIGHTING was to put on the telly. I wish I could go back to the mother-of-a-two-and-three-year-old me and tell her that all her panicking over endless episodes of ‘In the Night Garden’ and ‘Octonauts’ and what Terrible, Unspecified Damage it might do to them in the future is entirely needless so she might as well enjoy the extra time on facebook with a hot cup of tea and stop stressing about it.
5. They read their own bloody bedtime stories. Naturally the nagging, ever present maternal guilt means that we also read to them, but it does reduce the ‘just one more, Mummy, just one more!’ battles and considerably shortens the time before you can shut that door, get downstairs, and think upon an evening spent with no one needing you. Well, until one of them ventures downstairs: ‘I’ve finished my book, Mummy/ Daddy, can I read another one?’ I’m not sure we’ve instilled in them enough that I couldn’t care less what they do after 7.30, as long as it is IN THEIR ROOMS and requires NOTHING from me. Not a drink, not another book, not some pyjamas for Build-a-Bear, not an update on how Tom has managed to slay another beast. This obviously requires further work, but at least I haven’t read six Thomas the Tank Engine books beforehand.
6. They have an attention span. Years of getting out the paints in some demented but-I-must-develop-them! they-need-enriching-activities! fashion only to spend more time putting out the paints and clearing up after them than any actual painting time convinced me that children will only ever partake in an activity for roughly thirty seconds. This is not in fact the case. Now when I get the paints out child 2 will spend hours, and she creates actual pictures instead of just a godawful mess. I still have to clear up afterwards.
7. They build their own sodding train track.
8. They’re easier to palm off on other people. Other people are much keener to look after a child or two when a) they go to the toilet by themselves and b) they might entertain their own child and therefore actually be useful rather than just an endless pit of need.
And all the ways it isn’t:
1. They go to school. School is just a whole other black hole of worry. Friendship groups, phonics groups, how your child is too quiet/ too loud/ too confident/ not confident enough/ not making progress/ frankly terrible at maths. Nothing makes you more convinced you’re an awful parent than a parents’ evening that doesn’t go as you wanted it to. (ie, the teacher didn’t say ‘oh, thank you so much for having such a wonderful and genius child; he/ she is my favourite of any child I’ve ever taught or wanted to teach.’ Just so you know, this doesn’t happen. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t happen to anyone but it could be just us)
2. Homework. Previously, Saturday mornings were spent engaged in watching Peppa Pig on repeat before going swimming or something suitably good-for-them that you CHOSE to do. Now, Saturday mornings are spent engaged in a battle of epic proportions over a pointless exercise that neither you nor they want to do and the teacher doesn’t want to mark. Use Smarties. You and the child may never speak again otherwise.
3. Play dates. Most play dates, as children get older, are helpful. They disappear upstairs with one or more of your children, and you don’t see them again until tea time. (don’t venture upstairs if your child is a boy; it’s all very Lord of the Flies) However, play dates can also qualify as the worst experiences of your whole child rearing career so far. Picture the scene: Child 2 has declared for weeks she wants Child A to come and play at her house with her. She’s been sick with excitement. She’s planned it all. When Child A actually arrives, she decides she’s tired. She doesn’t want to play with her any more. She just wants to sit in her room. By herself. In a panic that Child A will go home and tell her parents what a vile child Child 2 is, I become the playdate. It’s a frenzy of wholesome activity. We make things, we play board games, we read, we talk, we bake. (BAKE) Child A has never had so much adult-led activity in her life and wants to come back every day. When she’s gone, Child 2 emerges from her room and says what fun she’s had and can she have Child B over tomorrow?
4. They fight. All the time. When they were little, at least they fought over toys. It was over quickly. Now, they fight in a far more sophisticated and machevellian fashion: ‘The thing is, I just don’t like you any more. I don’t want you to be my sister. I just want to you to leave home.’ Cue much sobbing from other child: ‘I am not WANTED! My FEELINGS are hurt!’
I’ve loved every single phase, even the awful bits (except that patch they gave up their naps. That was hell on earth) But this – this phase of children who play by themselves, who talk and laugh and tell me jokes and ask me questions I don’t know the answer to, who change and grow and become more miraculous in what they can say and do every day – this is my favourite.
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