We’ve heard it a thousand times, usually coming from an older, more experienced parent or a retiree who yells over to you as you’re attempting to strap your writhing, red-faced, screaming toddler into a car seat, trying not to burst into tears yourself: “Just wait until he’s a teenager!”

And the parent wrestling with the screaming toddler thinks: “Oh, yeah? That’s harder than this? Then just kill me now. I quit, because I feel like I’m not going to make it through this day. Please don’t say that to me, today, right now, here in this parking lot.” When I was that parent, those comments scared me, because I found the early years with my four kids to be tougher than anything I’d ever experienced.

Granted, everyone has their own preference for which of their children’s ages are the best or the easiest. Some are baby people; some like elementary school. Every age and stage has highs and lows, but I found those young years exhausting and hard. Particularly when I had three boys age 3 and younger and I was parked at a Dunkin’ Donuts, breastfeeding my newborn while my toddler twins were screaming in their car seats behind me and there was nothing I could do.

Of course, those years had many joys, too, but inwardly, they were some of the darkest times of my life: isolating, lonely and frustrating. I recall locking myself in my bedroom while my toddler twins banged on the door because they were completely enraged about something, and I just sobbed.

Three of my four sons are now teens, and I’ve never had to lock myself in a bedroom to hide from them. Those people yelling, “Wait until the teen years!” scared me as much as the parents who would look at my very-pregnant-with-twins belly and say, “Oh, you’d better sleep now because you’ll never sleep again!” True, sleep was sparse when they were babies, but it wasn’t as dire and horrific as people said it would be. (Though, admittedly, I don’t remember many details of their first year, and my husband told me he often crawled under his desk at work and curled up in a fetal position to take a nap when they were babies.)

Young children are adorable and endearing. They hold your hand and sit on your lap. But they can also be unreasonable and exasperating. Yet in the midst of that, other parents actively tried to convince me that I hadn’t seen the worst yet, that somehow the moment my children turned 13, they would get sucked into a vortex of nasty horribleness. That they would be ornery, angry, moody and sullen, they wouldn’t share things about their lives or talk to me, and they’d be embarrassed by my mere presence.

I now have two almost-17-year-old juniors in high school and a 13-year-old eighth-grader, and I’m still waiting for this predicted nightmare to begin. I ask my boys often, “Do I embarrass you when I come to your school?” They laugh and say, “No, I like seeing you.”

Now that I have forded the river of early childhood and pitched my tent on the shore of parenting teens, I can tell you that you will make it to the other side, too, and it’s not that bad. To those of you who are staring down the teen years with uncertainty — and maybe dread — while you jiggle your screaming toddler on your hip, please know that my 3-year-olds caused me more stress on a single day than my teens have in years.

Sure, we’ve had challenges, plenty of them. The term “Bigger kids, bigger problems” is true. But with bigger kids also comes the ability to reason and talk through things. They can use the bathroom by themselves and bathe themselves, too. They can do laundry, make their lunches and babysit their 6-year-old brother. You can do things with them without having to pack diapers, potty chairs and snacks or plan around naps.

Parenting is demanding work; each phase brings different challenges. But with teens you’re in the home stretch and get to see some of the fruits of your labor. These years bring a sense of satisfaction. Watching my sons and their friends grow and develop their interests, ideas and opinions also offers little glimpses of what’s ahead, including being able to share music and movies that we’ve waited a long time to enjoy together.

It’s sometimes hard to watch my sons climb into their friend’s car on a Friday night — their friend who looks about 8 and I could panic about every awful thing that could happen on the road — but it’s a wonderful thing, too. Independence in action. Roots and wings. These little humans who used to wear me down some days to the point I felt I had nothing left have become people I like to be around and whose company I enjoy — most of the time.

So take heart, parents of kids of any age. This, too, shall pass. The good days, the challenging days, they all meld to form the journey. Each day brings its own challenge, but the richness and satisfaction are worth it. Embrace the teen years, because now the older, more experienced parents are advising, “When they’re gone, you’ll miss it.”

Laura Richards is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts. She writes about parenting, lifestyle, health and travel. Find her on Twitter @ModMothering.

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