I know a lot of parents who get extremely emotional about their children growing up, and I get it. Our kids go from infants in our arms to full-blown humans moving around wearing pants and having a favorite Ninja Turtle before we know it and what am I supposed to do with this fact? At the same time, I haven't really felt too much sadness about the whole "no more baby" thing, because there are so many cool things about having a school-aged child that no one told me about; things that are, for lack of a better term, amazeballs.
My oldest child is 7 and in second grade, and while I've enjoyed all stages of his development there's something incomparably magical about a kid this age. I've always been pretty obsessed with him, but I find him absolutely fascinating right now. He's very much in his own world but still depends on adults to guide him through it. At the same time, he's also realizing that the world does not, in fact, revolve around him. Watching him figure out how he wants to fit into this great big beautiful and sometimes terrifying mess is really incredible.
Now, granted "school-aged" development can look very different depending on your kid. If a child has a disability or delay, for example, some of the things I've listed here may not apply. I can only speak to my experience raising a neurotypical child who does not live with a disability, but I think there are other people who can relate to the experience. So with that in mind, here are some of the awesome things about having a school-aged kid no one told me about:
They're Delightfully Self-Sufficient
They can't file their own taxes or anything like that, but they are capable of things that you probably never even dreamed you'd be able to stop doing for them. They can feed themselves, dress themselves, and — my personal favorite — turn on the TV at 6:00 a.m. and watch their favorite show quietly while you continue to sleep. It's the best.
Yes, there's still a ton of stuff you still need to do for them, and sometimes it's stuff they can absolutely do on their own but they somehow just can't right now for some reason. And while you may not have to physically monitor them 24/7 they still need you to have constant tabs on them. But compared to the infant, toddler, and even pre-school years, their ability to safely entertain themselves has increased dramatically.
They Can Do Chores
I haven't swept my dining room floor in months! I make the kid do it... and it's awesome! Again, they're not going to be able to double as a live-in servant (yet) but they are capable of helping you out around the house. Even little things like, "Oh, sweetie, could you run upstairs and get my coat?" It's useful to have an extra pair of hands around.
Everything Is New To Them
Despite their increased capability, they still have so much of the world to discover. This was driven home for me recently when my son brought home an early-reader biography of JFK and was floored when he got to the part where the president was assassinated. It was funny to think of someone not knowing that, but why would he? That's not something you're born knowing, certainly, but it feels like something you've just always known and it doesn't strike you that there was a time you learned that fact until you see someone else discover it for themselves.
The school-age years are full of moments like that. Not only is it cool to share knowledge, but it also tricks your kid into thinking you are the smartest, most educated, worldly person ever because you just seem to know everything.
They Teach You Stuff
I learn all sorts of stuff about animals and Minecraft and the environment and random stuff my won picks up at school that he is thrilled to explain to me and it's the best. Not only do I get to learn new things, but I get to see my kid get animated about something he's passionate about and witnessing that is second only to encouraging it.
You Can Introduce Them To Increasingly Cool Stuff
Movies you like. Books you read as a kid. Different local restaurants or state parks or museums that weren't quite right for them at younger ages but are old enough to appreciate now. Gone are the days when everything had to do revolved around toddler sensibilities. OK, it's going to be a while before you can take them to a Werner Herzog film festival, but they're capable of more than they were (though, don't get it twisted, you still have a lot of dumb cartoons in store for the next few years).
They Are Becoming Engaged In The World Around Them As Never Before
It's incredible to see them take interest in things that they would have been completely oblivious to in the past. The news, friends, increasingly sophisticated interests and hobbies... even you. The other day my son asked what I thought about something and we had a genuine, thoughts-and-opinions conversation like you'd have with an adult. It was awesome and surreal.
You Can Bring A Book To The Playground
You can't check out completely (#WatchYourDamnKid), but a first-grader doesn't usually need you to spot them as diligently on the jungle gym as a 2-year-old. They're more coordinated, less accident-prone, and more likely to play with other kids than demand your participation in a game of tag. So go ahead and feel free to bring a book with you to the playground! You've earned this.
You Haven't Had To Fish Anything Out Of Their Mouth For Years Now
I really can't overstate how refreshing this is. My kid spent the first, like, three years of his life eating pebbles like they were goddamn potato chips. It's really nice to go years without seeing something out of corner of your eye and immediately going into a panic as you squeeze your child's cheeks and shout, "What is that?! Spit it out!"
You Can Reason With Them
There's a limit, of course, because they're still children and by definition irrational. But it's better than it was, which is nice.
Remember the scene in Beauty and the Beast when Belle sees the Beast's library for the first time and there's a big sweeping instrumental moment as she gazes in amazement? Yeah, that moment is basically my sexuality.
I love books and being "a reader" is a really important part of my identity. So once my kid could start reading that was a new and wonderful way for us to connect. And while he's not into Nabakov or Elaine Pagels just yet, it's incredible to be able to cuddle up next to each other with books and enjoy a quiet moment or discuss what the other is reading.
They're Funny AF
Kids are always entertaining, but before they hit 5 or 6 they're usually funny without meaning to be. Once they hit school-age they start whipping out some genuinely funny, witty quips and it's amazing to see their sense of humor grow and develop.
So Much Of Their Baby Personality Is Still There
As much as they change they stay the same. My little guy is still the same sensitive, thoughtful, creative, bright, inquisitive, irrepressibly extra person he's been since the day he was born. He's grown into himself and it's been one of the great privileges of my life to have a front row seat to it all.
They Still Need You
They need your support, your compassion, your advocacy, and your love... they just don't need you to wipe their butt anymore. It's the best of all possible worlds.