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New Parents Don't Need to Hear That Parenting Will Get Harder

Photograph by Twenty20

Last week, a Real Simple article declared that according to new research, middle school is the hardest parenting phase. While many parents of middle schoolers found this validating, it left some newer parents feeling worried.

I don't yet have middle schoolers, and I'm trembling at the thought of it. Like many of us, I have vivid memories of the slow collision of childhood and adolescence. The researchers involved in the study cite the beginning of puberty, the formation of cliques and increased academic pressure as reasons that moms of 12- to 14-year-olds are more prone to depression and high stress levels.

I get it. The stakes become higher as the specter of sex, drugs and alcohol materializes. Our kids begin to distance from us, transforming from the little people who needed us so much to not-so-little people who need us in different ways.

But I also know that new parenthood can feel overwhelming. Exhausting. Relentless. It may be one of the hardest things we've ever undertaken.

So this is for you, new moms and dads, who want to plug your ears and burrow under a blanket when you imagine parenthood getting harder.

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Parenting young children is so very physical. It's like working construction, but with leaky boobs and raunchy diapers and sleep-torn nights. You're holding and rocking and carrying your babies. You're wiping butts and noses. You're feeding and bathing them while your own body might go neglected. You haven't slept well in weeks or months or years. Maybe you have postpartum depression or anxiety, or maybe you simply can't remember the last time you did something truly kind for yourself.

Becoming a parent is like no other transition—it's the act of going, overnight, from being responsible for only yourself to being responsible for a helpless other. And it takes time.

And maybe acclimating to being a parent is way harder than you thought. Maybe you're still trying to bridge the gap between the you who used to roam freely through the world, coming and going as you pleased, to the you who is so tightly tethered. Maybe you're struggling to adjust to the intensity of the love you feel as well as the enormous potential for loss that love comes with. And that even as you love your child so deeply, you loved your old life, too. You loved your time and your dreams and your freedom. You loved sleeping in and afternoon sex and impromptu road trips.

Becoming a parent is like no other transition—it's the act of going, overnight, from being responsible for only yourself to being responsible for a helpless other. And it takes time—maybe more time than most of us admit—to get used to that cloak of obligation.

So yes, parenting gets harder in some ways.

But first?

It usually gets easier. You'll learn to rest in the sweet spots of parenting, to refuel yourself with the snuggly mornings, the moment when you realize you're done buying diapers, the warm pride in your kid's eyes when he reads to you for the first time.

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You'll learn to take care of yourself, to fill yourself up so you have endurance for the marathon of letting go. And while your kids morph over and over again as they become who they're meant to be, that strange sensation of being someone's parent becomes more and more familiar. It feels less like a too-tight coat and more like something you've worn for as long as you can remember, something like a second skin, something you couldn't—wouldn't—take off for anything.

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