You know what I'm really good at? Mothering a newborn.
You know what I'm not at all good at? Mothering a 6-year-old.
This is because I have mothered three newborns and only one 6-year-old (and I've only been doing that for a few months).
When my first child, Katherine, was born, I wasn't great at taking care of her. I was unsure and clumsy. I was awkward as I tried to hold and feed her. I meticulously researched every option for every decision and then still second-guessed myself. I didn't know what to do with her all day...after feeding, bathing, and changing. It was only mid-morning, and the day loomed ahead of us, teeming with question marks.
When Joshua was born next, I fed him more easily and changed him more quickly. He fit into our daily activities. I made parenting decisions with more confidence, because I knew what worked for our family. I felt more free and less confused as a mom.
Then Estel came along, and she was the easiest yet. Nursing her was second nature. Wearing her comfortably in my Ergo baby carrier made her a part of everything our family did. I thoroughly enjoyed the baby stage for the first time.
Now Katherine is 6, Joshua is 4, and Estel is 18 months. Estel is still easy to care for, because I've done 18 months twice before. I understand teething and climbing stairs and toddler food. Joshua is more of a handful but not impossible—I've done 4 once already, so it's not all foreign, but his personality is very different from Katherine's, so I am learning new things about parenting a boy, and an introvert.
Katherine is the hardest to parent right now, not because she is difficult (she is truly delightful) but because I am new at this. I have no experience as a mom dealing with drama and big-girl tantrums (so different from two-year-old tantrums!) and “Why aren't my teeth falling out like all my friends' teeth?” and “You don't know you're beautiful...” (WHO LET HER LISTEN TO ONE DIRECTION???) I don't know how to carefully increase her independence, like when she wants to ride her own bike to school instead of sitting in the kid seat on mine.
If it takes 10,000 hours for skill mastery, parenting oldest children is an un-masterable skill. A year has 8,760 hours (and hopefully you're sleeping for at least some of those) so you will never master parenting a certain aged child before their next birthday. You'll be well into parenting your second child before coming close to a sense of mastery.
By the time Estel turns 6, I think I'll have a good handle on mothering that stage of development. As an individual, she will offer unique challenges and opportunities, but I'll have a better grasp of the basics. But right now, I'm just figuring things out as we go along.
It's so easy to get overwhelmed as a parent and to feel guilty for doing things “wrong.” The next time you stumble in parenting, remind yourself that you're still learning. Like painting, or playing chess, or programming computers, parenting is a learned skill. Practice won't make perfect, but practice will make “better.” Keep doing your best, and it will come easier with time.