Parenting Doesn't Get Less Magical After the Age of 4—It Keeps Getting Better

This Instagram post reminds us that, despite what we're told, the best moments don't stop coming after early childhood.

Mother and daughter reading together
Photo: Getty

Recently, a very popular sound has invaded parents' social media pages.

The speech, originally by psychologist Jordan Peterson, advises parents that the years until the age of 4 are "a peak experience," reminding parents that "if you miss it, it's done. That's it." Twangy guitar and emotional piano swell. Parents cry and hug their confused children watching TV nearby.

As this has made the rounds, many have voiced heartfelt agreement, while others have felt that it's an opinion that fosters guilt and ignores many of the great experiences parents see in later childhood.

@notsafeformomgroup on Instagram stands firmly in the latter camp. Their video, recently re-posted by @chamberofmothers, uses the aforementioned speech, but adds text over the usual videos of tiny children having fun.

"PSA to parents: You may only have little kids for four years, but you'll have your children forever," the text reads.

"Parenting isn't a magic trick you only get to see once. The magic gets more complex, more nuanced, and even more of a sight to behold."

As the video continues, the children in the video get older.

"Even if you blink, even if you miss something, there's always more to see. Kids don't stop being wonders after age four."

The sentiment was well-received by many, garnering the post a still-growing mass of thankful comments.

"Exactly, let's not add to the pressure we already feel as moms," says one commenter.

"It gets SO MUCH MORE MAGICAL as they get older!!!" says another.

There were a few in the comments who felt that the audio was actually helpful, though.

"I actually love that sound bite for the simple fact that I actually have 4 under 4 (my oldest turned 3 two weeks before twins arrived)."

One mother chimed in, "I do feel a sense of mourning that this season of growing my family/pregnancy/babies/breastfeeding is coming to an end (still soooo happy I decided to have them close in age), it's just bittersweet. With that said, I know our situation is very unique and it may not be everyone's experience. Also, I think two things can be true—I think this soundbite can be touching/reminder to be present AND also realistically know that the magic continues and it's not over!"

It's clear that this trend is affecting everyone who listens, and I, personally, get both sides.

When I first heard this audio, my youngest was turning six the next day, and I was overcome with emotion. I suddenly missed the chubby, curly-headed kid who snuggled me all day and begged me to live off cookies and hot chocolate. I did not feel guilt, or sadness, or frustration; I only felt reminiscent of years that had gone by that I really missed at that moment.

Then I heard the sound again. And again. And again. And it started to irritate me.

At first, I thought it was just due to oversaturation. After thinking on it, though, I realized that the problem was deeper than that. It was because I'd heard the speech before, yes, but not from Peterson, and not from social media. I'd heard it over and over from strangers as I struggled through toddlerhood. I'd had to hear "enjoy every moment" as I wiped up vomit, as I cried in my closet after feeling overwhelmed. I was advised to soak in every moment when I was going through moments I would never, in a million years, want to remember. And it made me feel like I was doing something wrong to feel that way.

When those truly enjoyable moments happen in early childhood, we don't need to be told to enjoy them. We're either already enjoying them, or we honestly can't (as would be in cases of postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression, for example), and telling us to "just snap out of it" or to "just enjoy" things is a cause of some pretty heavy guilt.

My children are 6 and 7 now, and the adventure hasn't slowed. I get to watch them develop deep interests, their own styles, and wondrous senses of humor. I watch as their perspectives, their art, and their focuses mature. Why in the world would any parent taint these moments by regretting the one time they didn't push their toddler on the swings?

In short, I guess I'm saying that it's wonderful if this audio helped you, but we can't forget that parenting is nuanced because we are raising nuanced creatures. This means that it's impossible to catch every magical moment, because there will be so many at year one, year four, and into their adulthood. So instead of guilting parents for not enjoying every moment, we should be reminding them that they're surrounded by awesome moments all of the time, and they should treasure the ones they catch as much as they can.

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