Is There A Sweet Spot Stage of Parenting?

By Kelley Boymer
14 Aug 2023

This summer, I have found myself looking longingly at fellow parents in what they refer to as their “parenting sweet spot”. While I run around, 5 months pregnant after my 2-year-old toddler, trying to keep him from inhaling sand, drowning himself or throwing a shovel at a baby, they sit in their lounge chairs, easy smiles on their faces reading a book and looking up occasionally to check on their kids swimming and playing independently with friends and siblings.

It’s hard not to wish away these young parenting years when you can see a sense of ease and joy in the distant future. “Sweet spot parents” may lower their sunglasses and smile at your “adorable” toddler saying, “it goes by so quickly, enjoy it while it lasts” or “oh how I miss that.” You force a smile back muttering, “I’ll try,” as you struggle to your catch your child before they smack you right in the face. Really, do you miss it? You think, as you wonder how you will survive until nap time.

These recent conversations with parents of adolescent children, have gotten me thinking about the different stages of parenting and wondering if there is truly one sweet spot. Or is it possible that everyone finds their sweet spot of parenting in a different phase, based on their own personality and interests. Or could there possibly be more than one sweet spot of parenting for parents? Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here!

Is There A Sweet Spot Stage of Parenting?

According to researcher Ellen Galinsky in, The Six Stages of Parenthood, there are 6 stages of parenting. Now parenting could be broken down and has been broken down in many different ways, but I like how Galinsky’s stages capture the main stages of childhood into adulthood specifically from a parents lens.

Stage 1: Image-Making (Pregnancy)

Pregnancy can be incredibly dreamy for some and incredibly miserable for others. Starting off this parenting adventure with a challenging pregnancy is no easy feat. But it does start to prepare you for the life-changing challenges ahead. Beginning to come to terms with the changes and responsibilities having a baby will bring and feeling the physical demands of this baby internally, is a very real way to show just how demanding these little humans are.

Stage 2: Nurturing (birth to 18-24 months)

Some may consider the baby years to be their sweet spot– nursing or bottle feeding, lots of cuddles and couch time and long walks in strollers. Others may find it their personal hell with the challenges of feeding the baby, sleep deprivation, an inability to communicate and all of the new challenges of sleep schedules, teething, introducing solids and beyond.

Stage 3: Authoritative (2-5 years)

This tends to be a popular phase to despise. While those toddlers can appear so gosh darn cute with their chubby little cheeks, cherub faces and sweet little voices, they can be a real challenge to deal with. As babies turn into toddlers, it is suddenly time for parents to begin to establish boundaries and rules. Toddlers still need so much from their parents, yet they want to do everything on their own.

They have a new sense of independence and autonomy that is not quite justified or safe. They want to test boundaries and limits. Tantrums are abundant and intense and feel endless. The days are long but the years are short they say… Yet there are those priceless moments where they cuddle up with you at night before bed while reading a story, say the gosh darn sweetest and funniest things and have such a sense of wonder, innocence and honesty about the world.

Stage 4: Interpretative (5 years-adolescence)

This is often the stage that many parents call their “sweet spot.” Stage 4 is post toddler years and pre-teen years, when both parents and children can enjoy a little more independence, while being able to communicate more effectively, relate to each other and do more interactive games and activities. Children in stage 4 will learn to take the perspective of others along with reading behaviors and learning to react accordingly or appropriately. Although this stage is not without its own challenges.

As children make their way through their elementary school years, they will begin learning to cope with changing peer dynamics and possible issues of bullying, peer-pressure and peer comparisons. It is hard during this phase as a parent not to always be able to intervene and protect your child. During this phase they must navigate many of these issues on their own and this is an important part of their development. Finding a balance between protecting and supporting your child and allowing them to explore and navigate the world on their own is one of the hardest parts of this phase.

Stage 5: Interdependence (during adolescence)

Another classically challenging phase for parents is stage 5- interdependence or the teenage years. Children are suddenly in a phase where they are given increased freedom and independence, while also still living under their parents roof and therefore their parents rules. Oftentimes, this is a rebellious stage for teens and this can cause a clash with parents. Hormones are rampant and tempers are high. This is a hot fiery stage and can cause a lot of turmoil for both teens and their parents. Some who find they connect with this age group may love this phase. They may enjoy that fiery-passionate teenage energy and love watching their children evolve into adults forming their own opinions and thoughts about life.

Stage 6: Departure (late adolescence to adulthood)

The final stage- departure is the one so many parents dread. As a parent of a current toddler, the thought of sending him off to college someday brings me to immediate tears. Yet, it is unavoidable and inescapable. Almost completely independent at this stage, except financially in most cases, teens and adults are thrown into the big bad world to fend for themselves. At this point, the relationship between parents and children may begin to change to a more equal playing field. This can be a challenging period for many parents. Parents who have put every part of themselves into parenthood may feel sad, lonely and lost during this period. This is why continuing to keep your identity as an individual throughout parenthood is so important. For some, it may be a relief and joy to see your children off in the world and exciting to begin to form this new bond as adults together.

No matter where you are in your parenting journey, there are sure to be both numerous challenges and joys. Each stage has its ups and downs and each child is different. We can all remember a particular time in our lives that was particularly challenging. Whether you are in the depths of the toddler years or about to send your young adult off to college, parenting is a journey. There’s always more excitement to come and more challenges to overcome. The rollercoaster of parenthood is never-ending and it’s worth trying to enjoy and endure the ups and downs along the way.

Have you had a parenting sweet spot? What part of parenthood has been the hardest for you so far? Please share in the comments, we’d love to discuss with you.

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18 Comments

  1. Jess wrote:

    Long time reader first time commenter, haha. I love this post Kelley. So many thoughts on this…I can say with certainty Stage 1 and 2 were not my sweet spots. They were so hard on me and for the most part not that enjoyable. I didn’t thrive and though there were sweet moments I generally did not enjoy the baby stage and we all know how I felt about being pregnant (#personalhell). I feel like I am hitting my stride as a toddler mom, and though it has different challenges, I love the independence and feistiness of my toddler (most of the time, haha).

    Even within this stage there are hard parts but as a parent I enjoy it (most of the time). I feel like I am getting myself back in many ways and discovering who I am in this stage of life vs. drowning in those early stages.

    Maybe you just get a little better at parenting as you go too? I try not to let myself wish away the days hoping for the next “easier” phase. Being a parent is just hard in general, but these days feel pretty fun too.

    8.14.23 | Reply
    • TDW wrote:

      I enjoyed reading this! I haven’t found my sweet spot yet with a 3.5 year old and a 2 year old I’m waiting for the next phase to arrive…

      8.14.23 | Reply
      • Fingers crossed it comes for you soon! Thank you for your honesty 🙂

        8.22.23 | Reply
    • Thank you, Jess! It’s so interesting to me how much this differs for everyone! I think we tend to assume our own experience is the same as others and this is just not the case. It’s nice to know that there is diversity though and if one stage feels really hard there are better times ahead. So happy to hear you are hitting a sweet spot with Marin and embracing those toddler times 🙂

      8.22.23 | Reply
  2. Vanessa Parscale wrote:

    As a parent of a 5.75 year old (😊) I agree with the stage 3 assessment. It was mostly miserable. I’ve noticed how much these last few months we’ve had fewer meltdowns and struggles, although they do still come. I loved the baby years up until 2, despite the sleeplessness. My husband, however, did NOT. I’m very ready to embrace the stage 4 years – kindergarten starts in 3 weeks! I’m glad this will be a longer stage and what that will bring.

    8.14.23 | Reply
    • Yes, I completely agree stage 3 is seeming to be a tough one so far but nice to know that things will hopefully even out soon! Thanks for sharing, Vanessa. Good luck with kindergarten!

      8.22.23 | Reply
  3. Whitney wrote:

    I do think much of this comes down to personal preference/personality. I actually loved stages 2 and 3. I’ve always loved babies, even as a kid I was constantly volunteering in the church nursery, rocking them to sleep. The toddler years were hard work, but the wonder and magic of that stage made it my favourite so far.
    My two oldest are now teenagers and I’m really struggling to enjoy it. The independence is nice but comes with a lot of disrespect and emotional drama that I find incredibly draining. That said, I’ve met people who love having teens and getting to enjoy their kids in more grown-up contexts. To each their own, and I’m sure we’ll all look back and find things to miss and reminisce about each stage someday. 🙂

    8.15.23 | Reply
    • Totally agree. I think everyone’s experience is so different and it totally depends on the kid too. Different kids have challenging stages at different times growing up too. I also love that you were able to really embrace those toddler years and it’s inspiring me to focus on that wonder and magic. Thank you for sharing, Whitney! Good luck with the journey ahead.

      8.22.23 | Reply
  4. Sharon wrote:

    My kids are now 18 and 15. I am dropping my daughter off at college in two weeks and I am having a hard time dealing with that!
    The sweet spot for me is 8-12. They are old enough that you no longer have to carry diapers and bottles, you do not have to worry about nap schedules or car seats but you still control what they do and who they do it with. You can 100% help with homework. You know their friends and their parents, they need you to get places etc. They also still, for the most part, want to hang out with you and think that you know things. High School changes a lot of that. I have loved every stage for what it brings but senior year of high school was the most stress I have experienced to date as a parent.

    8.15.23 | Reply
    • Oh gosh, this parenting journey is quite the roller coaster. I can’t imagine how hard those teenage into adult years must be. Excited for that 8-12 sweet spot, thank you for your insight! It is nice to know what’s ahead!

      8.22.23 | Reply
  5. Stephanie wrote:

    This post and the comments really spoke to me. I am in the midst of stage 2 and struggling. My daughter is now just over 12 months and the last few weeks transitioning into toddlerhood have been absolutely miserable…and I feel like a terrible mom for saying it. The tantrums started around 11 months old, and she’s currently teething and just generally more cranky and easily set-off than ever before. Moments of happiness are fleeting. She’s curious, clever and determined…but also stubborn refuses to try certain things (like walking hands free.) It’s a lot for this first time mama, and after a long day of work, I feel awful for looking forward to bedtime. I am absolutely one of those parents that wistfully looks at others who are leisurely reading their books on the beach while their kids play near by. When will that be me?!?

    8.16.23 | Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your experience Stephanie and I’m so sorry to hear that stage two has been a struggle for you. You are not a terrible mom. It is such a hard work and each kid is different. Each phase feels so big when we are in it but when we move to the next it suddenly feels so distant and small. I totally feel you on the looking forward to nap/bedtime. Hopefully our time is coming soon! Good luck!

      8.22.23 | Reply
  6. Melissa wrote:

    I too am 5 (or is it 6?) months pregnant and chasing my Strong, Independent 2 year old around, so *I feel this* on the deepest of levels. We’re also in the middle of moving, and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so exhausted. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to enjoy the newborn phase more this time around (though sleep deprivation is not a good look on me) because hey, at least they aren’t ripping off their own poopy diapers or having an inconsolable meltdown over opening the “wrong” applesauce yet. Until I hit the sweet spot, I will continue to commiserate over the salty spots with my mom friends – eventually with a glass of wine!

    8.16.23 | Reply
    • It’s so nice to know I am not alone in this very specific stage. It can be so hard to feel understood when everyone is in their own “hard” and differing stages. Wishing you lots of luck in the rest of your pregnancy and postpartum. And yes, mom friends are the very best for commiserating with!!

      8.22.23 | Reply
  7. Melanie wrote:

    Parenting is wild – what is heaven to some is hell to others. I *loved* the baby stage with both girls, the cuddles the coos, the breastfeeding – the sleep part was so hard and is the reason I will not go for #3 but everything else I adored. My husband – not at all. Toddler is hit or miss for me that stage between 1 and 2 I find very hard – everything they do could kill themselves and you’re constantly chasing. Around age 3 is when I feel like ‘me’ again and get back to hobbies. My girls are currently 3 and almost 7. while the 3 year old is having a grand time ‘testing’ us and asking ‘why’ every 5.6 seconds our family is in a true sweet spot. Going out to eat, going to art fairs, and new parks, and having really lovely conversations and watching the girls play and be friends while also sleeping through the night, grabbing their own snacks/drinks and in the case of the 7 year old turning on Saturday morning cartoons so Mom and Dad can sleep. I’m super excited for the next few phases. I’m fantasizing about 2 teenage girls (I adored my Mom as a teenager and we had an awesome time) and am praying that the relationship I’m building with my kids with alot of intentionality and respect will be fruitful in the years to come. Becoming a parent was the very best thing i’ve ever done in my life, but it is not for the faint of heart.

    8.18.23 | Reply
    • Thank you so much for sharing, Melanie! My husband and I were just joking about how we can’t wait for the Saturday morning cartoons phase. I also really loved the baby stage and am looking forward to this again soon. I’m finding my 2-year-old to be really challenging right now so it’s nice to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I also love your perspective on the teen years. I am excited for that as well with my own little girl to come. Although for some reason it feels harder with my son, I don’t want to ever have to share him with anyone else. But there is time to prepare for that. Thanks for sharing. You are so right, it is the very best thing but truly the most difficult.

      8.22.23 | Reply
  8. Such a beautifully compiled post. I have a two year old, and trust me, I do feel the same.

    8.19.23 | Reply
    • Thank you! It’s so helpful to know we are not alone in this. Good luck to you!

      8.22.23 | Reply

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