I had three kids in three years and our outings were few and far between. It’s not easy to hold a tiny hand, have a baby on your hip, and trust your oldest will stay close and not knock over displays or run off on you. I don’t have to tell you venturing out to a public place was overwhelming, stressful, and exhausting.
Every time I did manage it, a veteran mom, or grandmother, would stop to tell me to cherish every moment with my young kids because they grow so fast. I tried to appreciate the sentiment, but we all know when you’re in the trenches, you simply can’t appreciate all the chaos, temper tantrums, and difficult stages.
I swore I would never say that to another mother, like ever. I’ve stayed true to that because I remember the way it used to make me feel when another woman said those words to me. I simply figured they forgot how hard the young years really were and were choosing to only remember the sweet spots in parenting.
But it also made me question the way I was dealing with my children– I was in survival mode– should I relax a bit more? Not be so impatient? Am I expecting too much from my children? Maybe I should dedicate every moment to them because before I know it their childhood would be long gone and I’d have regrets.
As my kids have gotten older, hit puberty, and entered into their own little world where their friends and social life take priority over spending time with their mother and my opinions on things, I now know what women were trying to tell me.
They didn’t mean to give up all my autonomy and devote every waking second to making my kids happy. They aren’t saying you will enjoy potty-training or sleepless nights. They weren’t telling me not to enforce discipline in a way that I see fit.
What they were trying to convey was to enjoy their innocence–it’s fleeting. Be happy that your biggest worry is they might wet their pants in school. Soothing a teething child, or dragging them out of a store for causing a scene is nothing compared to what lies ahead.
Soon you’ll be losing sleep because they’re late for their curfew. Soon they’ll be tempted with alcohol and drugs, and you won’t always be there to steer them in the right direction. Before you know it, you’ll be helping them pack for college and you will miss them terribly, but hope they are able to find their own way and make it on their own.
You’ll see them change in ways your never imagined. You might not even recognize the very person you gave birth to. You are going to worry about them, a lot. You know they have a private life that you aren’t a part of, and as much as you try to break through, there are going to be some things they aren’t going to share with you.
You are going to see them struggle, and you aren’t going to be able to fix it for them. You know they need to do the work themselves in order to learn important life skills and lessons.
It will be all-encompassing. It will be heart-wrenching. There will be days you question your parenting, and it will be nothing like those years when you ran on no sleep, lots of caffeine, and hoped they would take a little nap so you could have a respite and perhaps get the dishes done and grab a shower.
You will look at your older children and realize the times they fought over Lego’s, or were up all night with the stomach flu, were really good times because the worry and frustration you had then was much lighter than dealing with the big stuff. Like wondering if your teenager is depressed, or what type of social pressures they are facing. You will mourn younger versions of your children almost daily.
I watch my daughter struggle with her body image- she feels she is too thin and it cuts right through me. Take me back to the day when she wouldn’t eat dinner, then ask for a snack, any day. I could handle that. I knew what to do and say to rectify the situation, but this? This is so difficult to navigate.
I see my son making choices because he is blinded by peer pressure and his own insecurities. I see him challenge authority and not give what I know he can give to his studies. He is capable and smart, but he’s not trying like he should. And it kills me.
As kids grow up, parents can only do so much for them. We can give them tools and hopefully some self-confidence. We can believe in them, hope all the lessons we’ve tried to teach, and all the love we’ve given, can guide and help them discover what amazing people they are.
But then we have to let them go and realize it’s up to them. And that is the hard part.
We have to have faith they are going to thrive, be happy and healthy—we don’t have control over anything but our thoughts and it’s scary.
So, when an older woman, who has been there, and experienced that says, “Enjoy every moment,” it’s because they’ve been through it- they’ve seen it. And they are trying to tell you the years in which your kids are small, look up to you, and can be soothed by your love and reassurance are, by far, the years you will look back on and wish you could rewind and relive again.
I know this because I am now the woman who bites her tongue every time I see a young mother struggling in the grocery store trying to get her kids behave so she can get through her list.