My good friend Erin and I had our babies just three weeks apart - her first, my second. We texted frequently in those early weeks, commiserating about our lack of sleep and sharing pictures of our adorable babies. We texted on good days and not-good days, knowing we always had someone who would appreciate what we were going through. She asked me new-mom questions, and I tried to offer encouragement and reassurance whenever I could.
Until one day, when she texted me the question that every new parent has asked: "When does it get easier?" I don't know if this makes me a good friend or a bad one, but rather than reassure her that it would get easier at three months/when she sleeps through the night/fill-in-the-milestone, I told her the truth: it doesn't.
It doesn't get easier. Honestly, there is no phase easier than the newborn one (unless your baby has colic, in which case, I'm so sorry.) With newborns, you have one task and one task only: keep your baby alive. While it's not necessarily difficult, it is overwhelming and we only complicate it further with debates over bottles vs. breast, cloth vs. disposable diapers, co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping. But really, it's quite simple. Feed your baby something appropriate; diaper your baby with something that keeps them dry; clothe your baby in something comfortable; put your baby to sleep in something secure. Cuddle her, snuggle her. Keep her safe and make sure she knows she's loved.
In the blink of an eye, she'll grow up some. And you realize that keeping her alive is a lot more challenging once she can climb stairs. And jump off things. And run out into streets. And when she won't eat anything except goldfish crackers for days on end (the pediatrician says she won't starve herself, but you Google, just to be sure).
Then she grows up a little more, and you realize that merely keeping her alive isn't enough anymore. You also have to actually parent her. You have to teach her not to hit when she's angry. You have to teach her to be kind to others and share her toys.
When this phase happens, it dawns on you. You cannot teach her anything without demonstrating it first. Kids are sponges, and she's soaking you up all day long, every single day. If you want her to be kind, you must be kind. If you want her to be generous, you must be generous. If you want her to control her temper, you must control your temper. Parenting isn't just about shaping her character - it's also about shaping yours. You curb your language, and you drive a little slower and more courteously, because you know she's listening and watching. You make sure to adopt a child who's about her age from the Angel Tree at Christmas, so she can help you shop and learn about sharing love and kindness with everyone, even those who come from very different backgrounds.
Then she grows up a little more, and you're trying to help with math homework that you don't understand. The girls at school are mean to her and make her cry, and you are shocked at how much you want to hurt them for hurting her. Then there are first loves and first heartbreaks and learning to drive and going to college ... and letting go.
So no, it doesn't necessarily get easier than those first few weeks. It might actually get harder.
But it does get better.
It gets better, because you get better. Each phase of parenting feels overwhelming at first. You think "how am I going to do this?" on good days, and "why did I want kids?" on bad days. Then, little by little, you find your groove or a trick that works. You learn how she likes to be soothed, that she likes her sandwiches in triangles instead of rectangles, that she'll open up and tell you what's on her mind in the 15 minutes before bedtime every night.
And it gets better, because you realize you're not alone in your struggles. Every mom who's gone before you and every mom who's standing next to you has felt what you feel. We are all bone tired; even the ones who look so put together. We are all terrified of getting it wrong; even the ones who make getting it right look effortless. Once you realize this, it gets better because a burden shared is a burden lightened.
There is no part of parenting that is easy. It starts at overwhelmingly difficult, and only ratchets up from there. But you learn that "hard" is not synonymous with "bad." And you learn to embrace the paradox of a job that gets harder the better you are at it.
It's probably not the most comforting thing to hear when you're just starting out on this journey of parenting (sorry, Erin!). But while it may not get any easier, trust me - it's going to keep getting better.
A version of this essay first appeared on Coffee + Crumbs.