A toddler sitting in a high chair

The 4 Things You'll Miss Most When Your Kid's Nightmare Toddler Years Are Over

Yes, raising young children can be challenging. But here's why you should savor those times

When my kids were toddlers, around the early-to-mid 2010s, blogs were very popular and social media networks like Facebook and Twitter were just getting going.

With so many online people saying everything on their mind all at once, it was very easy to find other people going through exactly the same things you were going through and that seemed very novel and new at the time. As a parent with young kids, it didn't take more than a few mouse clicks and a few new connections to feel like I'd finally found my tribe: whiny-ass parents. 

It was very fashionable in that moment to complain about parenting and about one's kids. It felt freeing and a little bit taboo to complain—with lots of naughty words and gross descriptions—about what it was like to raise young kids. You had to deal with poop. And sleep deprivation. And drooling little monsters who left Cheerios all over the backseat of your car. They spilled milk in unseen corners, turning spoiled and nasty in a few days when you finally found the scene of the crime. Kids cried, they were attention sponges, they were disrespectful and needy. And oh how we loved to complain. Some parents even posted the names of their kids and photos of their children at their worst in the name of misguided transparency. If it was true, they argued, it should be shared.

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I never went so far as to try to badmouth my kids online, at least I hope I didn't—a lot of those years are pretty fuzzy—but I regret contributing to the narrative of the time that parenting sucked and kids were a hassle. We were wrong, of course. Lots of selfish parents traumatized their kids with this online overexposure and left online receipts everywhere for their children to find for decades to come.

I'd link to some embarrassing posts I put up, but not only do I not want to look for them, I am scared of what I might find.

But ethics of online posting aside, the biggest sin this culture of parental complaining was guilty of was simple: myopia. We couldn't look past our current state to imagine what life might be like after those tough years of raising little kids. We couldn't imagine a time when we might miss those so-called hassles and yearn for more of that time back.

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I miss it. I miss my kids when they were three and five and seven, and all that space in between those ages. It only takes an old photo to fill me with nostalgia. My own parents and many other older parenting vets warned me. They told me, "Enjoy it. It goes by fast." It's what I tell people now. But I know they're not listening. I can see in their eyes, these parents of little kids, that they just want this time to be over with. They want tiny adults, not little kids. They don't know how much they'll want to go back in time.

Here’s what you, too, will most likely miss most when your kids are pre-teens, then teengers, then young adults. 

You'll miss picking them up

I remember so many times my kids asking me to pick them up and swing them around or carry them to bed upside down. Exhausted and annoyed at the end of a long day, I'd say, "Daddy will pick you up tomorrow," or I'd do a quick, reluctant swing just to appease them.

The last time I picked up one of my kids was probably five or six years ago and probably as a joke. They're far too tall to scoop into my arms or swing onto my shoulders, easily handling their weight. It was a joy to pick up my little daughters. And now I can't.

You'll miss being their (overt) hero

Once, as school projects, my daughters made me little ceramic plates with the Superman logo on them. I still have them on my bookshelves. It reminds me that there was a time they thought their dad could do anything, could be a real superhero, could even fly to work if he wanted to.

That goes away pretty quickly as they start noticing dad's foibles and realizing he can be wrong and imperfect. The first time your kid beats you at checkers or a video game, they start to realize dad can lose.

Which isn't to say you can't be their hero when they're older. It's just a different kind of hero. You're only infallible in their eyes for so long.

Related: You Should Embrace Your Inner Embarrassing Dad

You'll miss their sense of wonder

Some parents of young kids get annoyed that they're always asking a million questions, lots of them questions that have no answers or that a parent couldn't possibly begin to know the answer to. It's because they think you, the parent, knows everything. They trust your answers above anyone else's. It's a privilege to be their oracle. 

At some point, they'll trust Google and TikTok more than you. They'll trust their friends and their teachers and TV more than your lived-in knowledge of the world. It's natural, it happens with every generation, but that doesn't mean you won't take it personally.

You'll miss the toys

I'm not gonna lie, it was fun having a second childhood through my kids. I bought toys for them, but I also bought toys I never got as kids and wanted to finally try. 

But more than the toys themselves, which break and are never as fun as they look in the packaging, the play—when you allow yourself to get on the floor and really inhabit the worlds your kids’ imaginations build—is the best.

This one, I think, gives me the biggest feels: Wishing I'd had more playdates with my kids. That I'd devoted more time to playing with dolls and Lego sets and having imaginary tea times. Like most parents of young kids, I never imagined that time would pass so quickly and their interest in playing with these kinds of toys would go away almost overnight. The Barbies and the Harry Potter toys disappeared off their wish lists before I could catch my breath. 

If you have young kids, it's not too late. Please take it from me: play more, answer those questions, be their hero and pick them up as often as you can. You'll still miss these things when they're over (hint: Take pictures! Lots and lots of pictures!), but having memories of what you did will help a lot.