Motherly Collective

No one told me that my child would be nine years old and I’d still be facing sleepless nights and struggling with extreme sleep deprivation. Lest a new parent read this and panic, however, I’ll level the playing field by telling you my daughter has a cough, so we’re getting as much sleep as we can between doses of all-natural, organic cough remedies (ahem, that was just to make it sound better than it is).

I’ll tell you honestly, though, there’s nothing “all-natural” about the physical exhaustion and emotional labor of caring for children. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the newborn stage, the baby years (yes, that’s plural because the toddler stage is, in many ways, just an extension of babyhood), or if they’re older kids in the school-age stage. 

Related: The relentless exhaustion of motherhood is real—and temporary

Different stages bring different opportunities for parents to wake at 3 a.m. wondering if such-and-such is going to turn out alright.

Child rearing is phenomenally brave work—because it doesn’t have an “off” switch. Not really, anyway, no matter how much “self-care” we muster up the energy to create. And yet, before you have kids, no one can possibly express how much joy your children will bring you. This, too, is very real.

So, when does parenting get less exhausting?

I promise you this: Those sleepless nights won’t last forever—at least not the ones caused by coughs, the random sleep regressions or missed curfews of the teenage years.

In fact, when parenting gets less exhausting has little to do with your child’s development and much more to do with our acceptance of holding the reins just a little less tightly. Just like sleep in the early childhood years ebbs and flows and we learn to roll with it, we also learn to roll with the unknown. All of it.

We learn that when we make it past the hardest baby stage, it’s a parenting milestone worth celebrating.

We learn that when we spend quality time playing on the floor with our young child in the toddler stage, we feel more peace.

We learn that when we make it through the physically exhausting season of school pick-ups and drop-offs (not to mention all the activities), life gets significantly easier.

We learn that no matter how long these individually tough seasons of life seem to last, one day, we’ll be looking at the beautiful face of a child that’s more like someone we once recognized looking back at us in the mirror. 

We blink, and our kids are older.

We didn’t have to do anything aside from the normal, perfect, exhausting and incredible full-time job of parenting—and suddenly, regardless of our successes and our missteps, our children are older. It just happens.

Lean into these exhausting years.

Related: True life: I wake up feeling exhausted every day

It’s true what they say about the days being long, but the years being short. They’re oh so short. Early childhood is a blur. Later childhood is no less so, even if right now, it feels a million years away. 

Our child’s constant need for us now will soon be superseded by having to knock on their door to be granted entry. 

So no, there’s no clear timeline for when parenting will get less exhausting. Because parenting is exhausting. The bigger question most parents will face at some point is whether we’ve been taking care of ourselves well enough that when the days are suddenly so much easier, will we still recognize ourselves?

Will we know that our self-worth isn’t wrapped up in whether another human has slept through the night or cleaned up the spill they made in the kitchen?

Will we know that the number of hugs we’ve given will be enough to fill the child’s bucket as they venture out into the great unknown?

Will we have saved enough hugs for ourselves for that fateful day when we watch our child pulls away with a one-way ticket somewhere that’s not home?

Lean into these exhausting years. To be sure, parenting is legitimately hard sometimes. I’m not underestimating that. The day-to-day challenges are poignant and real. 

We must get help to make things a bit easier when we can, whether it’s a bit more sleep while someone else takes over or whatever addresses our needs. 

Related: Mamas of toddlers: I know you’re feeling exhausted, here’s what can help


And know that every second we spend time with our child is a deposit into their heart’s account. It nurtures their lifetime understanding of, “I can do this because my parent did this alongside me, holding me, helping me grow, first.”

Even though they won’t have the words for it now—or perhaps for a good, long time—every smile they give you from infancy through adulthood is their unspoken way of saying, “I know how exhausting this was, and I couldn’t have done any of this without you. Thank you.”

You’re going to make it, dear parents. And so are your children. You will find your way, and someday when someone in the early days of parenting asks you, “When does parenting get less exhausting?” you’ll be able to say, “I’m not sure, exactly. It just does.”

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.