Does it Get Better? Parental Stress in Different Stages


A fellow mom recently asked, “Does it get better?”

She asked this in reference to raising little ones. On this particular night, she was fixing dinner as she watched her toddler empty the contents of a dustpan and her brother’s backpack onto the kitchen floor. This was the same week her kids were fighting the stomach bug?

So…DOES it get better as our children get older?

Parental Stress: Infants and Toddlers

Illustration from Jackie Hennessey’s book, How to Spread Sanity on a Cracker.

As a mom of two teenagers, I can tell you that this is not an easy question. One that could never be on a multiple choice test. I would need two blue essay booklets to answer this one. And I’ll tell you why. You see, I don’t have mommy amnesia. I actually remember what it was like. I distinctly remember the shock I felt when my son first escaped the crib and fell onto the hardwood floor. I should have slapped the Worst Mother of the Year crown on my head. How about the time my daughter let go of my hand during an elementary school soccer tournament and almost ran into the street? Or when both of my kids threw a tantrum at the grocery store, which, I might add, later inspired a Listen to Your Mother piece entitled, The Horrors of Shopping with Kids.

Oh, I remember what they were like. And I remember what it was like to be their doting but stressed mother, too. I think I averaged 12 hours of sleep…weekly. God knows, I love my kids. And I loved raising them. There were many smiles and joy-filled moments. But it sure wasn’t easy. Little “holy guacamole” mommy moments pop into my head from time to time and I actually giggle out loud at what I went through. I can giggle with other moms, cackling together at the sheer absurdity of how clueless we were and the stress it took to just get through each day without ending up in an insane asylum.

When I look back on it today, I laugh. But it wasn’t funny finding my daughter and her friend rubbing glue into their hair minutes before a playdate ended. It wasn’t funny catching our second grader wide awake, playing video games with his best friend at 1:30 a.m. Or when I had to hide in the upstairs closet for a conference call, only to find my kids banging on the door, chanting, “Mom, Mom, Mom” as they waited for me to pop out. It wasn’t easy trying to maintain a career as a PR Consultant as I threw blankets over my head during client calls and pressed mute every three seconds.

(There were a lot of times when I didn’t do something that would have landed me in the running for Worst Mother of the Year. I promise. But those memories don’t pop for some reason.)

Parental Stress: Elementary School

I’ll throw you a bone or two and confess that it does get a little easier after they are out of diapers. After the toddler stage. After they’re off to school for several hours. You get to breathe a little. I called that stage Mom-o-Pause. I think it lasted nine months. That’s about the time we got a second dog. (I’ll save that one for another post.)

It may get a bit EASIER, but it’s never easy. Things just shift. With every new stage of motherhood comes new joys, and new challenges. You may no longer need to worry about crayon marks on the wall or showing up to an event with your hair caked with spit up. But it changes. Things shift from physical exhaustion to mental exhaustion. I think it really hits home when they start middle school. You can tell there’s something in the air the moment you realize you should introduce them to deodorant.

Parental Stress: Middle School

Ah, middle school years. That’s when it all starts to really shift. It’s about that time that you become something you never thought you’d become. A human taxi.

You will be responding to any text or call at a moment’s notice:
“Mom, please pick me up.”
“Mom, practice is over.”
“Mom, chess club is over. Pick me up. Insert smiley face emoji.”
“Mom, I need a ride.”

My least favorite?


By the time they reach high school, when an activity is over, you start to receive single word texts. “Done.” As for emojis? That’s just icing on the cake. “Done” is what “Mommy I love you, Mommy, why is the grass so green at Timmy’s house?” did for me when my teens were little. (Excuse me while I go cry into my pillow.)

Parental Stress: High School

When high school starts, guess what? Your schedule does not matter anymore. You may work part time, full time or stay home. This does not matter to teenagers. All that matters is that you can pick them up. And that when they get home, there is food. Lots of food.

They may start to roll their eyes. They may spend more time in their rooms. You may spend a lot of your time reminding them to clean their rooms. You may no longer answer their cries in the middle of the night, but you will always be there to answer their why’s.

Their friend circles may change and evolve and there may be lots growing pains, literally and figuratively. You get to know their close friends, but you may lose touch with some parents because there are no playgroups. Recess is over for realz. Get ready for more drop offs and fewer drop-ins.

You wait for them to come home. You fall asleep before they do. I remember Erma Bombeck once described the teen years as a time when a mother’s brain turns to mush. God, I loved you Erma, (R.I.P.) and wish this wasn’t true. Where was I going with this?

You worry about so many things and then realize all that really matters is good communication. But not so much you scare them away. And talking about any of this on social media? Forget about it.

Your life becomes filled with 15 loads of laundry, all unfolded, orthodontic appointments, dinners, sports, games, carpools mixed with a few date nights and girls’ nights sprinkled in. And binge watching Netflix is like a mental massage.

It is my goal in life right now to not become Mrs. Walsh from 90210. No offense to the actress, but it is. That woman had no life, no career, and she coddled her children. And that hair. Please with the hair.

The interesting thing is, no matter how much you share about what you do and what you have learned in life, teens have selective listening. They may know that you landed a new client and are working on a new project. But all they retain is that you are available to bring them to the mall with their friends after school on Thursday.

When you mother teens, you transform. You may sleep more. But then you worry, so you actually sleep less. You may go weeks with no worry in the world, relishing date nights with your husband and nights out with your girlfriends where you actually have umbrellas in your drinks. You go out at 5:30 p.m. and think nothing of it. You plan meals and meet work deadlines like it’s your job. Life is all dandy. Then, something happens in your teens’ life where you are needed. Really needed (for much more than a ride). You turn into Mrs. Walsh with better hair. And it’s all good.

Your teen goes back to normal. Life is great. And you barely see them. Except for rides and at dinner time.

Then one day you’re helping your senior in high school decide where to go to college. You’re reminding him to turn in his college applications on time. And you look up at him and still see the baby you held in your arms 17 years ago. You still get hugs. A card on your birthday. Quality time in between homework and friends.

So yes, it gets a little easier. The dynamic is drastically different. But one thing never changes: You’re their mom. And that makes all the little things that keep you up at night worthwhile.

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Jackie Hennessey
Jackie Hennessey is a Rhode Island mom who honestly gets what other mothers go through. Having worked full-time, part-time, and been a stay-at-home mom too, she sees motherhood from a variety of angles. And thankfully, with a sense of humor. Jackie blogs about her take on motherhood and mid-life at and writes about it in her award-winning gift book, How to Spread Sanity on a Cracker. Jackie is a native Texan with some roots and relatives in Rhode Island. (She's a NASA kid and her Houston accent usually comes out when she's blasting Willie Nelson in the car.) She has more than two decades of experience in public relations and journalism and holds a BA in journalism from Texas A&M University, where she received the “Best Aggie-Life writer” award. (She still has the tacky maroon plaque in her home office to prove it.) Jackie was a cast member of the 2013 and 2017 Listen to Your Mother Shows, where she formed lasting bonds with the incredible women she shared the stage with in honor of Mother’s Day. Her writing has been featured in The Barrington Times, the book Mommy Diarist and blogs like Scary Mommy and BluntMoms. She has donated her PR expertise to many local non-profits from Arts Alive to Dress for Success since launching her professional pr consultancy in 2006. When she’s not writing, consulting, volunteering, ubering her kids around, vacuuming up dog hair or folding laundry while binge-watching Netflix, she likes to vent with dear friends over cheese dip. Jackie is married to her high school sweetheart and they live in Barrington, Rhode Island with their two teens and three fluffy and friendly Golden Retrievers.


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