Kids are all different, and even so-called typical development varies wildly from child to child. Between my three, I’ve noticed some commonalities in the challenges and good things about various stages from babyhood to kindergarten. So, in order of personal preference, I present:
1) Eight to Twelve Months
The Bad and the Ugly: They’re starting to be mobile and they put every blessed thing into their mouth. Time to babyproof and begin the long process of teaching them to listen to you.
The Good: They’re perpetually cheerful and loving; they seem to pick up a new skill every three days; they’re starting to be mobile, but not so much that they’re not easy to catch and contain; they smile and coo and babble with you and are sweet and interesting. Truly, this age is Nature’s trap, to fool you into thinking about having another one.
The Bad and the Ugly: The kid is still dependent on you for attention and engagement, and can’t be entirely trusted with hygiene matters; it’s also harder to physically remove the kid from a bad situation.
The Good: Young enough to love you dearly and not be sassy; old enough to be alone by herself a bit. Young enough to learn at an amazing rate; old enough to be able to do simple tasks with reasonable competency. Lovely age.
3) Late Toddlerhood/Preschool
The Bad and the Ugly: It is very exhausting trying to answer, for the 1,000 time, why planes go faster than helicopters, or does Jesus poop in His glorified body, or whether our minivan is faster than a fire engine, or how a bad guy can be nice to his kid. Potty training is generally messy and inconvenient. Although the kid has more control over his emotions, he can still melt down, and he can use more words to exasperate his parents.
The Good: The child is more competent and can actually do a little work. His pictures might start to have lines and shapes, rather than just being scribbles. You can hold pretty good conversations with him, and you can ease up on the suicide watch a little. JUST a little, since he’s still capable of doing awfully stupid and dangerous things.
4) Early Toddlerhood
The Bad and the Ugly: My kids generally switched from being perpetually happy delights to temperamental screamypants around a year of age, with peak fussiness at 18 months that gradually declined as their second birthday approached. Your mileage may vary, but children are starting to develop enough that they want to do more than they can do; their inhibitions are nonexistent, they’re still being trained to obey, they may discover lying, and they can’t express themselves well enough to communicate what they are thinking, feeling, and wanting. And this is the age at which children are most adept at choking on items, strangling themselves with cords, running out into the street, ingesting poison, cutting or poking themselves with sharp items, or otherwise trying to kill themselves.
The Good: They’re still in an explosion of skill acquisition. They might start drawing, walking, talking, stacking, and doing other cool things. They have a fully-fledged personality, and they interact with you like another person would. They can be insanely funny and utterly adorable, and they have an intense desire to help and please you.
5) The First Few Weeks
The Bad and the Ugly: You get to recover from having your insides torn apart while caring for a helpless, demanding creature with very little personality; said creature could be sent to the hospital by a simple cold. The baby has no understanding of “night” or “day,” and whether you do or don’t breastfeed your breasts are going to cause you discomfort.
The Good: You have just met your child, which is pretty damned amazing. Also, newborns sleep A LOT, if at inconvenient hours, so if you can adjust to sleeping in small snatches you can survive pretty well. Finally, newborns are very, very simple (not easy): They don’t need you to stimulate them with Mozart or toys. Just cuddle, feed, change, and keep them warm. Don’t worry if you’re Doing It Right–if the child is alive and you’re more or less sane, you’re doing fine.
6) Between Three and Eight Weeks Old
The Bad and the Ugly: The casseroles are gone, nobody’s around to help anymore, and the baby’s as colicky as she’s ever going to get. She doesn’t sleep as much as she did as a newborn, although her sleep might start to follow more predictable patterns than as a newborn. If you’re lucky.
The Good: Baby’s first smile, somewhere around a month of age. As mentioned above, baby MIGHT start sleeping at night more than during the day, though it will still probably be in fairly short stretches. Finally, if you’re breastfeeding it’s probably starting to go a little more smoothly, or you’ve successfully incorporated formula into your feeding.
7) The Last Few Weeks of Pregnancy
The Bad and the Ugly: You have to get up every few hours to pee, rather than to feed a baby. You cannot stay in one position very long without your back screaming murder, so you flip yourself in bed like a piece of bacon on the griddle. (I, personally, get horrid thigh cramps that made me think I was experiencing a venous thromboembolism the first time I got them, as well as restless legs syndrome. Many apologies to my obstetrician for waking him up at 3:00 in the morning to reassure me that I wasn’t in imminent danger.) Meanwhile, people are cheerfully telling you to “sleep while you can!” Ha. ha. ha. During the day, your back pain, swollen feet and ankles, and constant desire to pee will make it difficult for you to do your job, take care of your other kid(s), or be a cheerful ray of sunshine to your family.
The Good: You’re getting close to meeting your child. Also, for me, personally, everything gets better from here.
ETA: Two months to 8 months is missing because I can’t decide where to put it. Some days are great, some suck. Also, some babies are easy, some not so much. I guess I’d put it right above the newborn phase–but you might disagree, and so might I, depending on the day or the baby.