I had learned so much about motherhood by the time I had my last baby. All these lessons shaped me into a different mom, albeit an older mom, a more tired mom, a mom with a few more wrinkles. But also a wiser mom who knew quite a bit about this beautiful journey of raising little beings.
Watching my last baby begin fourth grade, I have realized just how many things I do differently with him than I did with his siblings. Yes, I still feel guilty that I didn’t give him nearly as much attention as his older brother. I often regret that we didn’t have days to sit together in the playroom to read books and play with trains as I had with my first child. Sometimes I’m sad that when my last baby came home from the hospital, I already had a busy 4-year-old and an active 2-year-old, which meant I had to put him down far more than I ever put the others down.
However, despite all the ways I was a “different” type of mom with them, I am also a better mom to him in many ways. And for that, I am proud and grateful.
10 Things I’m Doing Differently with My Last Baby
1. I’m Fostering His Independence
My oldest child is nearly 14 and can operate very few kitchen appliances. I have always done things for him, but not because he’s incapable. I assumed he wasn’t old enough, wasn’t ready, etc. My youngest, however, has an independent streak that is not to be tamed.
At seven, he proudly declared he could cook his eggs. I laughed and told him absolutely not! He was only seven and could not use the stove. A few minutes later, I walked into the kitchen and found him sitting at the table, eating—you guessed it—two fried eggs.
“See, Mom?” he said between bites. “Told you I could do it.”
And now, at nine, he makes not only eggs but also his own noodle dishes and french toast, and he even created his own special sandwich with a spicy mayo-sriracha sauce, avocado slices, lettuce, and tomato (which I guess means he uses knives now, too).
2. I Expect More Because I Know He Can Do More
With this new sense of independence that my other children didn’t have at an early age comes more responsibility. Why? Because obviously, he can do more than I had realized. At nine, his older siblings’ chores consisted mainly of picking up their toys. But my youngest helps with laundry, vacuuming, and scrubbing toilets. I’ve realized any child mature enough to operate the stovetop can swirl around the toilet brush and fold his shirts.
We also got a dog recently (our first) after my youngest begged for years. And you better believe he’s responsible for a lot of dog-related jobs. Take the dog out, feed him, get him water, and pick up the poop. Would I have trusted my firstborn at nine to care for a 57-lb. puppy? Never. But my last baby? He’s all over it.
3. I Let Him Fall and Get Hurt
Like many new parents, every cry, every bump, every boo-boo was met with lots of “Oh no’s” and “Oh dears” and bandages and calls to the pediatrician. By the time No. 3 was toddling around, smacking his head on tables, and scraping his knees on the sidewalk, I was yelling, “You’re fine!” While No. 1 was scooped up instantly so Mom could make it all better, my third learned quickly to shake it off, get back up, and keep playing.
4. I Let Him Cry and Show Emotion
When you let your kid fall, you let your kid cry, too. Or show emotion when he doesn’t get his way or loses at Chutes and Ladders. Or he drops his ice cream cone. My little guy is a “big feelings” kid, which means he’s at the top of the emotional ladder all day. Whether it’s joy, excitement, anger, frustration, sadness, or fear, he operates at a 10 from sunup until sundown. And I’ve learned that sometimes you give them space to cry, stomp, or scream it out. And no, you don’t always need to fix it. You just be there to comfort them when they’re ready.
5. I’m Holding Him Longer
I’m not technically “holding him” anymore because he’s a big kid now. But I still “hold him” in other ways. He still struggles at bedtime with typical fears that kids his age have. It comforts him if Mom lies next to him until he falls asleep. When my older kids were his age, I was still in the throes of toddlerhood and had multiple children to get to bed. Lying next to one of them for half an hour every night wasn’t feasible. Plus, I felt pressure to get them to go to bed independently and worried that if I babied them too much at bedtime, somehow, I’d stunt their growth.
But my older two are a teen and tween now who stay up a lot later than their little brother, so I have time to be that comfort for him. And knowing he’s my last baby and that these days of needing Mommy to snuggle him are fleeting, I do it. Every night. And I’ll do it until he doesn’t need me to anymore. I know now that I’m not inhibiting his growth; I’m the mom he needs at this stage.
6. I Don’t Expect Perfection (From Him or Me)
I used to stress over how well-dressed my older kids were for church or visiting family. Was their hair neatly combed? Are their shoes clean? And I expected good reports from teachers and good grades on report cards. I took all of this as a reflection of how well I was doing as a mom. My third child, however, has taught me I’m still a good mom if my kids’ clothes don’t match or if the grades on the report card aren’t all A’s, or if the teacher calls home to tell me a certain 9-year-old had a tough day at school.
We are all learning, we are all doing our best, and we all deserve to make mistakes and give ourselves grace when we do, whether we’re a fourth-grader or a 42-year-old parent.
7. I Say Yes to Breaks in Routine
I used to be super strict with bedtime. Homework before dinner and 30 minutes of reading every night—no matter what. I always signed that reading log. With my third child, we are far busier. All my kids are in activities, and we try to squeeze in spontaneous fun, too, like an unplanned nighttime swim or meeting up with friends for dinner after a game. That means bedtime isn’t always a set time. Homework sometimes gets done the following morning over breakfast. Reading gets skipped on occasion or is done in the car between practices.
We make it work, we catch up on sleep when we can, and my little guy has learned to adapt to an ever-changing schedule. And his mom has learned that sometimes you must break up the routine to make room for joyful, unexpected memories.
8. I Take Pictures with Him, Regardless of What I (or the House) Look Like
I used to care if the house looked neat in pictures. Or if I appeared put together. I’d delete snapshots or videos of me with my kids if I disapproved of how they turned out. If there was ketchup on their faces. If a pile of laundry loomed in the background. But over the years, I stopped focusing on those trivial things because I realized I wanted to capture what our lives were really, authentically like. And that reality includes lots of laundry and lots of ketchup. So now, when I take a selfie with my last child, I keep it no matter what.
9. I’m Letting Him Be Who He Is, Not Who I Expected Him to Be
My first two kids are a lot like me—they love to read. They are rule followers. They have longer attention spans, could sit still as little ones, and by age 2-3, were easy to take out into the world.
Then No. 3 came along. Getting him to sit still was impossible. Getting him to sit still AND look at a book? Good luck. So yes, I got a quick tutorial on accepting your kids for who they are, not who you hope or expect them to be when my last baby joined our family.
While my first always had a book in hand, my last always had a ball. And now that he’s nine (and still prefers sports to books), I have truly enjoyed watching him grow into the person he authentically is because he’s perfect in every way, even if he hasn’t read Harry Potter yet.
10. I Look Forward to Each New Phase Instead of Mourning the One That Ends
It took me a long time to admit it, but I wasn’t sad when my last baby went to kindergarten. With my first, I sobbed. With my last baby, I happily saw him off and enjoyed my first quiet day of solitude in a decade.
But it’s not just because stay-at-home mom life had rung me out to dry that I reveled in having all my kids in school. It was also because I know how good it gets. Kindergarten is fun. So is second grade. And fourth grade. Having witnessed the little people my older two kids were growing into, I was excited for my last baby to do it too. Rather than mourn the end of their toddler days, I looked forward with joy to the elementary school years. I anticipated the experiences we’d be able to have as a family now that they were all older—the baseball games, the family vacations, and even going to a restaurant without babies or toddlers. When my last baby went to school, I knew we were on the cusp of a new chapter, and I felt true joy at the thought.
A Very Different Mom
In myriad ways, my third and last baby is getting a very different mom than my older two did. When they were younger, the house was a chaotic mess of toys. Now, it’s a chaotic mess of computers and sports equipment. Their mom had them all neatly tucked in by 7:30; his mom is lucky if we are even home by nine some nights.
But this mom knows just how fast it goes. My oldest child will be a high schooler next year (a high schooler!). It seems impossible, but I know it’s real. So, as I accept the reality that they eventually grow up and fly the coop, I try to relax more. I try to soak in the moments more, leave the dirty dishes and join my family on the patio for a bonfire. Or let them stay up late watching a family movie and share a big bag of candy, knowing my last baby will probably fall asleep without brushing his teeth.
Because it’s often in those moments—the breaks in routine, the choice to soak up the couch snuggles on family movie night—that have shown me what motherhood is all about.