As a preschool teacher and a mom, I’ve always felt pretty confident in my parenting from ages birth to 5 years old.
I by no means am perfect, and I silently rejoiced the day my kids could pour their own cereal and turn on Netflix for themselves while I caught some extra sleep. Even though that’s probably not a proud mama moment to celebrate, it’s just the reality of parenting.
We both celebrate and mourn independence as our children need us less. And let’s be honest, oftentimes independence makes our daily lives easier. Yet it is bittersweet.
It feels like there is an untitled instruction manual of sorts for kids from birth to preschool.
Information is readily available on social media, in pamphlets at the doctor’s office, and through parenting classes. You don’t really even have to look for it before your community of mommy bloggers finds you.
So here I am, a mommy blogger armed with years of experience and a master’s degree in early childhood special education. As such, I can tell you some solid absolute truths about those first few years of life.
I can tell you a baby’s brain is a little sponge ready to bond with her parents, even in utero.
I can tell you your child’s brain grows the most it ever will between birth to 5 years of age. This time period is also when their brain is the most flexible it will ever be, so they learn very quickly.
I can tell you the social importance of back-and-forth games like peek-a-boo with your baby.
I can tell you that you are building self-help skills as you give your toddler age-appropriate choices.
I can tell you safe, play-filled early childhood years give your kids the neurological tools they need to be adults.
I can tell you all children can learn new things, no matter what the paperwork, diagnoses, or opinions of others say.
I know what their letters should look like at age 4 compared to age 5. I can tell you how high they should count before kindergarten. I can also tell you we are far more worried about these early academics than we need to be.
All of these things have landed me squarely in the camp of a well-growing, post-kindergarten kid. And your own kids will land there, too, with some love and effort, whether you are a teacher-parent or not.
Do you know what else I can tell you?
There’s no instruction manual for second grade.
Now that my daughter is 7 years old and going into second grade, I’m a bit lost in the next steps. We are surrounded by advice and support in our children’s younger years. Then we hit the middle grades—and I can already feel my footing slipping.
Sure, as a teacher-mom, I know enough about the academic piece of second grade to read the ongoing assessment results that come home.
I know what to look for if there’s a serious social-emotional problem with my child.
But beyond that, as a parent—even one who spends all day helping other people’s children grow—I’m not exactly sure what to expect.
Where are the mom blogs about second grade?
Where are the research articles and the parenting guides that just show up unsolicited?
What about trite sayings like:
“Sleep when the baby sleeps!”
“You can never hold your baby too much.”
“One day you’ll miss this stage.”
Where are those sayings for second-fifth grade moms?
Just because my daughter can play soccer, pour her own cereal, and read, am I supposed to know what I should be doing? As she grows, she takes up less and less of my time in a hands-on way, but I spend so much more time watching and listening to her. I am continually in awe of all she can do, of all she has become.
I watch her play sports and laugh with her friends at the pool. I listen to her read her favorite picture books. I watch her draw, climb, and learn. I join in the little games she makes up and is so proud to show me.
And as I watch and listen, I am so overwhelmed by how absolutely breathtaking she is.
How kind and empathetic she is to her little brother. How curious she is about how the world works. How her heart is completely tethered to her daddy. How desperate she is to be a part of adult conversation. To contribute, to help, to be a part of the group.
It would seem that we are out of the woods, so to speak, that she has grown so much and is easy to parent now.
I just can’t help but check my heart on that one.
Now is probably a crucial time to be all-in as a parent too. It’s not just those early years. We will never really reach any sort of finish line because the work we do to keep our kids safe and help them grow is never really over.
So here I am with my second grader who wants to spend all of her time barefoot, playing Frisbee in the backyard.
She wants to eat mostly pizza and help make it.
She wants to help me with absolutely everything around the house (until it’s my idea).
I can trust her to complete simple tasks that are actually quite helpful for our family.
At 7 years old, she already knows and feels so much.
While her range of emotions and understanding deepens, my inability to shelter her from all the ugliness in the world spreads outward. A deep, wide chasm forms between us where neither of us has ever been.
She is off exploring, begging me to come see all of the new things she is discovering. She is asking questions I have absolutely no idea how to answer. Meanwhile, I’m holding the map upside down. Knowing how we got here, but unsure of where to lead her next. I no longer know what to expect from this moment forward.
I know at some point there will be first crushes and crushed spirits when she doesn’t make the team.
I know there will be hard conversations and moments her talents shine for all to see.
I know she won’t always agree with me, or even with her beloved daddy.
I know there will probably be girl drama, no matter how hard I wish that weren’t true.
What I don’t know is where those things exist in time. I’m on the defense just watching her, loving her fiercely, and waiting. There’s no expected timeline for the biggest events of her life anymore. For the events that will fill her memories for years to come.
It’s such a different mindset than those early years when every month, there was a development checklist of what your child should be doing. If they were doing the things on the list, you could breathe easy. If they weren’t, you could start Googling.
Where are the colorful child development charts for second graders? Here I stand, in the canyon of middle childhood, armed with only love, hopes, and dreams for my precious girl. The list of things I know about this next phase of childhood is considerably shorter.
I’m making it up as I go, yet here we are.
I know to pray for my kids.
I know how to make parenting decisions jointly with my husband.
I know we should have fun, but still have a solid routine.
I know I should cheer the loudest at sports games, even if I sound insane, because it works for my sweet girl and she needs the confidence boost.
I know we’ll make memories rooted in my daughter’s little 7-year-old heart from this point forward. They will become a part of who she is, and she will retell them someday.
I know she should read every day and help around the house.
I know I should probably figure out what I need to be doing to challenge her in math, instead of just pretending math doesn’t exist. I might have to Google that one.
That’s all I know. Hopefully, it’s enough.
Ready or not, second grade, here we come.