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Teens vs. Toddlers: Which Stage Is Harder?

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Think you scored mom points because you survived the toddler years? Well, brace yourself, because here come the teen years—and they are amazingly similar to toddlers.

RELATED: Lies We Tell Our Kids: Toddler to Teen

The Food

Just make sure the baby carrots aren’t touching the mac, and that the milk is in the blue sippy cup.

Toddler: After nursing or bottle-feeding your baby for months, nothing is more exciting to a sleep-deprived mom than offering real food at mealtime. And it’s great, at least for a while. But once you move past the pureed carrots and on to finger foods, things get a little dicey. Some toddlers are great eaters, but others add increasingly complex rules to mealtime that will drive any mom a wee bit crazy. Their food preferences and dislikes are intense. Who knew a small child could exist on mac and cheese three meals a day? Just make sure the baby carrots aren’t touching the mac, and that the milk is in the blue sippy cup. With the red lid. Every single meal.

Teen: Teens have an intense relationship with food, and cooking for them is a crapshoot. The teen that ate 12 tacos last week might eat two bites tonight—even though you made an extra batch. And OMG, the snacks! Food for teens must be available 24/7, easy for them to find without tearing the kitchen apart and salty. They will have a special mug, specific vegetables they will not eat and several foods they would gladly eat at every meal. I still stock up on microwaveable mac and cheese cups when my college kid is home.

Their Attitudes

Commence eye rolls and general look of disgust.

Think only teens are masters of the well-placed eye roll or snarky retort? Think again—toddlers will surprise you when you least expect it. One of the biggest challenges in a toddler’s life is dealing with the realization that while they have a will of their own, they are still very much under the control of Mom. So you will start hearing replies like, “By myself!” and “No!” more often than you care to. And the worst is the incredibly verbal toddler. While her grasp of the English language initially feels like a notch on your mommy belt, it only means that there are more ways she can tell you she’s unhappy. Or not willing to put her coat on.

Much of the teen attitude comes from the same struggles that the toddler is dealing with. Teens don’t want to do anything parents want them to do, unless it involves sleeping until noon. Chores are a drag and family obligations are a drain on his social life. Expect him home for a family meal and you may as well be announcing you’ve enrolled him in boarding school next term. Parents of teens are not at all cool. Eye-rolling is a secondary method of communication for teens, coupled with under the breath comments that you can’t hear because of all those concerts you attended in your teens. And if you dare to be seen in public with your teen, be extremely careful about how you act. Anything from a lingering touch on the shoulder to a loud, “Honey, do you prefer boxers or briefs?” can be considered a prelude to war. Commence eye rolls and general look of disgust.

The Mess

The only saving grace with messy teens is that they are able to clean up after themselves—but only if you bribe or threaten them.

The biggest surprise for me about toddlers was how messy they are. Seriously messy. From the incredible mess they generate when they’re eating to the general chaos they create by dragging their toys all over the house, most of your waking hours will be spent cleaning up the mess. Bonus points for that toddler who isn’t quite ready for potty training, yet enjoys stripping off a diaper now and then. Messy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

While some teens are neat and tidy, most of them are messy. Their beds become a massive mound of blankets, pillows, discarded pajama pants and cookie crumbs. Their clothes are strewn all over the bedroom floor, possibly even the living room. Since they are snacking 24/7 they tend to leave a trail. Popcorn crumbs, empty plates and half empty coffee mugs are all over all the things. And if your teen drives, don’t even look at the backseat floor. Trust me, it’s horrible. The only saving grace with messy teens is that they are able to clean up after themselves—but only if you bribe or threaten them.

RELATED: Toddlers vs. Teens—Same Difference?

I’ve raised two toddlers and I’m three years into parenting my second teen. Which stage did I think was harder? At this point I’d call it a draw—but both are well worth the extra effort.

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