Why I enjoy life more now I have older kids

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

If you have younger kids, perhaps you're hoping I'm going to say that things get easier as they get older. I'm sorry, I'm not going to tell you that.

It's harder than ever, perhaps without quite the same relentless and sleeplessness. Mental exhaustion has taken over from the physical exhaustion and there's the ever-increasing complexity to having older kids because we are on the coalface of raising kids in the digital age. Ours are the first teens who are growing up exclusively in the world of social media. 

So I could say that having older kids is a minefield, but in fact I'm so much happier than when I had a baby and a toddler. I have three kids now - one is 13, the other 10 and finally, I have a 4-year-old.

The age gap between the eldest and youngest is 8 years and I have to say I'm enjoying the older ones more than I did when they were young. While some love babies and children - and for sure I accepted that was part of the deal - I had my kids with the adults in mind that they'll become.

Of course I adored their littler selves and yes I did take stock of how very short those years were when they were happening. But all of that is irrelevant to the fact that my own contentment has increased as they got older.

They don't reject their dinner every single night, only accepting white foods when they do deign to eat. They are full of appreciation for every meal I make because they are so very hungry and consumed with sport, socialising and study. I will never ever miss food rejection, nor nappies, tantrums, nor strapping a screaming toddler into a pram.

Now they have some independence they are happier people and by default, so am I. So while I'm plucking their little brother from some hazardous situation, there they are doing things that are far less exhausting for me.

They can handle a movie with slightly darker, more complex themes without it giving them nightmares and do dinner out without making a scene in the restaurant (though their little bro is taking care of that rather well).

 I can take my eldest sons out and connect over a coffee (me) and hot chocolate (them), without me having to ensure they don't break anything or disturb others.

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It's also the first time in years I've been able to go shopping, even if it is dominated by mind-numbing visits to sport and shoe stores. When that gets too much, I simply split and let them have half an hour to themselves. No prams, no screaming, no strapping them in and out of trolleys. Bliss.

We have more help around the home - the dishwasher is exclusively their domain, even if I do have to ask them fifteen times (each) to empty or pack it. They even get involved in the cooking at times, though they show far more interest in the risky business of popping corn than actual meals. We'll get there.

Perhaps the most profound joy of having my older kids is seeing them nurture our youngest. As an only child myself, I longed for such an experience and now get to see my children have that particular honour.

While they emerged from early childhood firmly bonded, they were also in direct competition, establishing complex hierarchies with each other I couldn't possibly understand, sometimes with a lot of conflict involved.

With their little brother, they just look at him and melt. They rumble gently with him, show him how to do things and sure, get thoroughly irritated by him and his classic 'little brother' antics.

And with each other, they share common interests and can have half-hour conversations about shoes, sparing me that particular boredom just for a while.

They are capable of complexity, of deep empathy and concern for their world and are no longer ruled by the mercurial forces of baby and toddlerhood. They can read and write independently and we no longer need to do everything for them.

These are not only their freedoms, they are also mine. I can ask of them to give me space and they understand. I can set some boundaries that will be heard. I can't ask that of a baby or preschooler.

I know there is turbulence ahead, that we have only experienced the beginning of adolescence with one child. They will increasingly look to their peer group for their cues and less to their father and I, but letting go is part of this journey and I'm as prepared as I can be for now. 

It's also true that the pleasures of watching my older kids develop is seen through the lens of having a younger child at the same time. 

For now I'll take all the highs of parenthood that come my way. I feel so much more content now the baby and toddler years are over. Been there, done that three times over.