Waaaaaay back when I was the young mother of just one little baby boy - which, honestly, seems like it was just yesterday - I used to think that as children grew older they required less work and effort. In fact, I distinctly remember telling another lady at church that I couldn't wait for Solomon to grow a little older (and, as I thought, less labor-intensive) so I could "get my life back".
Hahahahahahaha! Can you say "naive"? I figure I'll get "my" life back right when I'm old enough to about die. And really, that is totally okay with me. I love being a busy wife and mommy.
Sometimes, though, I have to chuckle when new moms, or mothers with all little kids, moms with less kids than we have, think that my life is such a walk in the park compared to theirs. "Must be nice!" is the universal vibe that often comes across. I am NOT thinking of anyone in particular at all. In fact, I'm certain that I used to fall into this same line of thinking - that once children got old enough to no longer require my help in feeding and dressing themselves, once they were old enough to actually start helping ME, they somehow required less work and effort on my part. In fact, to this day I often catch myself thinking that life is easier now than when I only had one or two children to care for. Until my husband takes one of the kids off my hands for a few hours and I notice how much it lightens my work load, even if he took just one of them, or just one of the older ones.
The truth is: our children need us as long as they are alive. As they grow older, their needs change in that they become less physical and more emotional, but they always need us.
Take, for instance, Annie, who is not quite 6 months old: as long as she is cuddled, fed, and diapered, she is the most content, happy baby. She never asks for candy for breakfast, doesn't question why I won't let her go swimming in the pool in freezing temperatures (well, you know, relatively speaking...), or asks me every day to take her to X store so she can spend her allowance money on Y toy. The only things she wants are easy things, like milk, and being held.
On the other side of the spectrum is our oldest, Solomon, who is turning 10 this fall: he can do every part of laundry from sorting loads to hanging and folding the clean clothes. He can cook simple foods, take care of younger siblings, haul groceries into the house, and tend the garden and pets. He can run into the store, post office, or library for me if it's just a quick stop to save me having to haul the whole family in. But does that mean that I work less because of having him? No, not at all. Unlike the youngest children, I spend a lot of time each day teaching him. Which requires a lot of planning, choosing curriculum, and agonizing over what the best choices are for his particular style. He gets chauffeured across town for activities such as piano lessons and P.E. He has important (to him) errands to run such as putting his allowance in his bank account and then withdrawing it, so he can go spend it at a store that he needs me to take him to. He likes writing books and building stuff and inventing things, but inevitably he ends up needing my help and it takes a lot of time to keep up with it all. He has good days and bad days and moody days and happy days just like all of us do. Instead of waking up at night to feed him, I wake up wondering if I am doing a good enough job advancing his natural talents and helping the areas he struggles with. Last night, I was up for a full hour (!) after only a few hours of sleep, contemplating with great sadness the fact that years ago I had failed to record a major milestone for him on video camera, and now the moment is gone forever.
The other children are at various stages between these two extremes. In Germany there is a saying: "Little children, little worries, big children, big worries."
Taking care of an older child is more of an emotional drain than a physical one, but I almost prefer the latter because it is so much more straight-forward and simple. I imagine it does not get easier even as they become adults and leave the home. I will probably be laying awake at night wondering whether they are well, and praying that they do not die in a horrific accident. At least now, I can go into their room and check on them anytime. At least now, there is a time each day when ALL of them are asleep at the same time, affording me some mental peace knowing that they are all SIMULTANEOUSLY fully cared for and safe.
Have you ever had company over? Of course you have! Even though you likely didn't do their laundry, or agonize over their well-being to the extent that parents agonize over their children, and even though your guests probably did everything in their power to not cause any trouble, it was still extra work having them. Simple reasoning tells us that 8 people are louder, track in more dirt, and eat more food than, say, 2 or 3 people. What if both your parents, and your spouse's parents, lived with you 100% of the time? That is the reality of having just 4 extra people living under the same roof. Mind you, almost any adult will be less work than almost any child, although you may not think so about your particular mother-in-law (just for the record, mine is FABULOUS! - which explains why she raised such an awesome son).
My conclusion: Unless kids are safely tucked away in bed sleeping, they are work. Even while they are sleeping, they weigh on our minds to be prayed and agonized over while we pick up the day's messes and clean the house like busy little elves. It NEVER ends, and it never gets easier. Being a mom is the hardest job there is, both physically and emotionally. The more children there are, the more work there is, or else everyone would be having lots of kids because we are naturally inclined to be lazy. But oh, the unspeakable blessings that are ours every single day, the little things that outsiders never see or experience because they are only shared in the intimacy of the immediate family circle. Those make it all worthwhile, and then some.
But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. - Proverbs 4:18