My boys are seven and 10, and so many of the troubles of being a mom of two young kids are finally over now, thank goodness! No more needing to find a potty in the middle of every major department store, or having a constant barrage of Cheerio-type products underneath every car seat all the time. No more irrational (or so it seemed at the time) tantrums and very few meltdowns because I won’t provide another lollipop or another toy after we have just consumed lollipops and bought many toys.
But as they say, small kids small problems, big kids big problems.
Here are the top five astounding things I didn’t realize older kids would end up doing:
1. Call you out on your crap
So yeah, when I used to lose my mind and use a loud “outside” voice because I lost my patience and could not fathom negotiating whatever it was I had to negotiate, my kids would typically cry or clam up, or have some other reaction that would make me feel horrible. Then, I would apologize and call a friend or a mentor and ask why I am such a bad mom. And then we would move on.
Now that my kids are older, they call you out on that crap. They’ll say things like, “Why are you yelling? That’s not cool.” Or, “I did my best, what else do you want me to do?” Or, “You’re so frustrating, Mom!” And I’m not implying that they are being sassy or disrespectful. They simply are old enough to have conversations about how you treat them in ways that are very sobering.
2. Tell on you
In a similar and related vein, they are now old enough to tell the other parents on you. It doesn’t matter that I’m divorced. In particular, my older son makes it very clear to let his dad know right in front of me that I yelled at him. God love my ex, he usually just stares at me while saying to our son, “OK.”
I still feel like a horrible person, but I guess knowing everything is out in the open is healthy in many ways. I often feel the need to defend myself to my ex, because I’m human, and that’s what we do. But I also am glad in some ways for the transparency that having an older child provides. We’re as sick as our secrets, as they say!
3. Have very strong opinions about clothing
I have always dressed my boys snazzily just because it’s in my genes to like vests and blazers and argyle socks, even if you are dressing a tiny person. I guess it caught on, because my boys now like dressing this way. Unfortunately, this has become more of an issue as they get older, not less. It’s not just girls who are picky about clothes, apparently. Right down to the Target T-shirt they wear, both of my boys feel a strong need to vote on every item of clothing in a way I never anticipated them doing.
I knew having boys didn’t mean I didn’t have to care about what they wore, but I definitely did not expect there would still be so much conversation about it. Heck, 75 percent of my wardrobe is black. Dressing problem solved. When will they catch on to that?!
4. Defend each other
A lot of times, I’m far from perfect as a mom. Sometimes, I raise my voice or make bad mama decisions. It happens. More often than not, it’s because I am stressed out and have not replenished my resources, and I end up being rude or snarky or snippy with my poor kids. But something that happens with older kids is that they defend each other when you’re not being kind to one of them in a big or small way.
For example, if I choose a place to eat that one of them doesn’t want, they will often change their minds when they see how upset the other one is. If I ask Firstborn to stop playing piano and clean up his room, Little Man will see how upset Firstborn is and say, “Let him play, Mama!” Or if I yell (argh, of course I sometimes do) at one, the other one will say, “Stop yelling!” and that stops me in my tracks. It makes me feel really trapped because it’s like always potentially battling two people instead of one, but mostly it makes me feel thrilled that they care enough for each other’s welfare that they want to take care of each other this way.
5. Pull away
It happens. It’s already started happening. It’s normal. It’s biological. It’s OK. It has to be OK. I feel like I am being given the choice every time I am with them: Either be the mom who’s cool with the changes and roll with them, or point out to them at every opportunity how rejected and lonely I feel without their cuddles and constant love and be that mom.
I’m trying to roll with it all. When we are alone, I get more attention than when we are in public. And now I’m finding new ways to make my boys laugh and entertain them, because my hugs and kisses aren’t enough anymore. Now I must read chapter books and give them time to build LEGOs alone. Time to watch movies together — but not cuddle too much or too close — and time to let them explore being young men.
I can do it all, right? If I can carry them for 40 weeks in my belly, I can do all of this. If I can give birth to them and nurse them and hold them every time they cried and make everything better every minute God gave me, I can mother older boys, right?
Older boys: fiercer, stronger, faster, taller, more than they were before. Looking more like me and more like their dad as they fill in their features and their bodies and their skills and their weaknesses.
At night when their eyes are closed and their hands make tiny fists again and sleep takes them over, I watch them and I remember how small they still are. Every other day, a new freckle appears or a skill is learned or they master some part of themselves as a sign that we are not done creating them. They are still being created. And I still get to watch it unfold, even if it is from a distance.
They notice more, they see more, they speak up more, they say more, and they do more. But I can only love them every day. More and more.