This old proverb exists for a reason, because it’s absolutely true! Of course not every little child is a headache, nor is every big child a heartache. By this I mean, not all babies, toddlers, and grade school children whine, cry, complain, never sleep, and destroy your house on a daily basis. And likewise, not all tweens and teens rebel, become hormonal and moody, go through a wild phase, or slam their door and say “I hate you” on the regular. But generally speaking, little children can be a headache, and big children can cause you heartache.

Speaking from experience, my three daughters were definitely a headache at times during their younger years. There were days when I felt like my head was going to explode from the exhaustion and stress caused by raising these tiny tots. Sleepless nights, seemingly neverending messes to clean up, and their propensity to cry at the drop of a hat made me reach for the bottle of aspirin more than once.

Now that they’re older, I totally get the heartache thing. Yes, they can dress themselves, do their homework on their own, and no longer need to be reminded to brush their teeth or clean their room, but the bigger they get, the greater their problems seem to be. Many times I’ve had to sit back and watch them go through girl drama, teacher problems, and other challenges that kids their age face. I, too, had to endure such things during the same period of my life, so I know how painful it is. Witnessing them experience it hurts my heart all over again. Though sadly, I know many of these situations are a rite of passage every human must walk through in their life journey.

I’ve also been told by my own parents that the heartache of having older children never goes away. Even when “kids” are in their twenties, thirties, forties and beyond, their parents still worry when they face health problems, divorce, financial issues, or other hardships. I often think about how much more stressful being a parent will be once my daughters are no longer under my roof. Living in the same house at least affords me the opportunity to be there for them, both physically and emotionally. When they’re out on their own, I won’t even know where they are a good deal of the time, or if they’re safe and okay. I actually dread those days. Thank goodness for social media/email/phones/etc. so I can attempt to keep close tabs on them once they’re out and about.

I’ve also meditated on what it will be like once my daughters are married. If each of them weds, I’ll gain three sons-in-law. Surely, I’ll suffer heartache over their trials and tribulations as well. I hope to be a good mother-in-law, not the stereotypical one that most sons-in-law seem to despise. I want my relationship with them to be as that of a second mother, one whom they feel they can trust and confide in. I want to find the balance between being concerned and involved versus being meddling and suffocating of them and their wives. Pushing them away, and my daughters as a result, would be the ultimate heartache, one I don’t think I could handle.

Then there’s the matter of grandkids. Once they arrive, I know I’ll be back in headache territory all over again. But, secretly, I’m very much looking forward to those days. Not because I miss the headache-inducing part of the early childhood years, but because the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren seems to be different. For one, I think grandparents have the benefit of having been mellowed out through the years. The things that bother young parents seem to simply roll off the backs of grandparents. Or, maybe it’s the magic of being able to give the children back to their parents at the end of the day. It could be that grandparents regret that they took their time with their own young children for granted and in the chaos of early childhood, they just wanted each day to go by as quickly as possible. I think grandparents tend to savor the moments of their grandchildren’s lives and that’s the part I can’t wait for. It’s almost like a “do-over”!

If you’re currently in the throes of the early “headache years” of parenting, allow me to give you some advice and encouragement. I know you’re in the trenches. I know some days you stare at the clock and can’t wait until your kids go to sleep already! I know you would do anything for a long hot uninterrupted bath, or an adult conversation without a tiny person tugging on your pant leg while you try to form one coherent sentence, or even for five freaking minutes alone! It’s so frustrating and it feels like this is your new normal and how it’s going to be forever. I promise, as cliché as it sounds, it’s over in the blink of an eye. You WILL miss the diapers and the breastfeeding and the messes and the lack of sleep. I know I sound crazy, but I guarantee you, you will. If I could go back, for even just one day of my daughters’ younger years, I would. The kind of dependence a little kid has on their mother and father is sacred and monumental. That noble feeling evaporates as your child grows up. Enjoy it while it lasts.

And, if you’re dealing with the heartache that comes along with parenting older children, well, I’m right there with you. My oldest daughter will be in high school next year, and has dealt with most of the issues tweens and teens face during those formative years. Knowing that she has to learn how to handle conflict, I’ve tried to be there when and if she needs me, but mostly have let her navigate those waters herself. Still, my heart hurts for her and her suffering. I know that high school will bring new obstacles for her to overcome, though hopefully nothing too serious.

Headache or heartache, having kids is worth it all. Younger and older, they’ll bring us the best times of our lives, as well as some of the hardest times. They’re worth every moment of pain, whether physical or emotional, because the joy they provide us with is indescribable and makes us forget all about the tough moments. So, brace yourself and enjoy the ride. It’s a fast one!

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