How did they grow up so fast? How did they get so old? Parents of older kids often give the same advice to new parents:
“Enjoy every minute as they grow up fast.”
Our boys are now 17 and 15. One is applying to college and the other recently earned his black belt in Tae Kwon Do. They are so mature now and nearly launched from our nest. I am amazed by them both and marvel at who they are.
But did I enjoy every minute?
Um, no, not really.
I remember when they were little boys. It was a sweet time, but I don’t really miss it. Parenting was a challenging, bring-me-to-my-knees, slog…for years on end. It required the endurance and tenacity of a triathlete or trekker in the Himalayas. There were many moments of joy, lots of struggles and millions of unremarkable moments long forgotten with time.
Does it feel like it went fast?
Um, no, not really.
Time has a way of softening the memory of even the most difficult situations. Parents with adult or nearly adult children often romanticize the days of infancy– remembering the cute cheeks, the giggles, and the numerous “firsts”–but often forget the sleepless nights, breastfeeding struggles, loneliness, identity crises, difficulty getting anything done–even a shower, and the feeling it will never, ever, end. Time softens those recollections and shifts them to a deep recess in the memory vault.
But something important is absent in the advice to “enjoy every minute as they grow up fast.” This well-meaning advice comes from the altitude of arriving at the top of the parenting mountain and looking back over the journey as one who has survived it. When you’re just starting the parenting trek, struggling to take the first steps and surviving the first long months of the journey, being told to enjoy every minute can invalidate the experience and cause new parents to wonder how they’re doing it wrong. They must be doing it wrong, you see, for they must be, have to be, or else how could someone who has already completed this mountainous climb tell them to “enjoy” what can feel like a living hell?
So did I enjoy every minute?
Um, no, not really.
We need to speak this truth to new parents. I work with new parents a lot! They often say to me in the early days, “No one told me it would be this hard!” Instead, they were told to “enjoy every minute as they grow up fast.” With bags under their eyes from sleepless nights, cracked nipples, and nerves frayed from nurturing a colicky baby, they wonder how they could possibly enjoy every minute and how it could possibly go fast! They beg for it to go faster, to survive it, to make it out intact…parent and child.
So are you likely to enjoy every minute?
Um, no, not likely.
And that’s OK.
I am grateful for the opportunity to live through it and survive it, like one trekking difficult and unfamiliar mountains. As I reflect on my own parenting journey from my current vantage point far up the mountain, I remember the beautiful views along the trail, but also remember the moments when the journey felt like it would never end, the moments when every step seemed to disappear into another without getting anywhere new, when around each bend was simply more trail!
I’m so grateful my kids have become the humans they are. I celebrate them and their journey, but also try to remember they didn’t get there on their own!
A few years ago, at an annual check-up with our sons’ pediatrician, our doctor made a nice comment about my boys. I did my usual response, “I feel so lucky.”
My doctor stopped, put down the chart, looked me directly in the eyes and forcefully said, “It is not simply luck! Parenting is hard work and you deserve to take some credit.”
I was taken aback and forced to look at my role in raising our children. You see, I don’t like the word, “proud.” I don’t like the idea of taking ownership of another’s success and have understood the statement, “I’m so proud of you” as one of personal gratification in another’s achievement. Plus, if we take any credit for the good, don’t we then have to take ownership of the bad too? And, some of it is just dumb luck! Still, believing how our kids turn out is ALL luck steals the opportunity to exhale with gratitude that the personal sacrifices and dedication to parenting amounts to something after all!
Parenting takes a lot of effort. In order for our kids to reach where they are today, my husband and I did a LOT to facilitate their growth and development. My kids’ pediatrician was trying to remind me to take notice, to remember that for my son to be able to apply to college, it took hours and hours of homework help, many parent-teacher conferences, trips to buy school supplies, endless school forms (oh, how I won’t miss those!), thousands of volunteer hours at school and much, much more! For our other son to reach his black belt in Tae Kwon Do there were thousands of shuttle trips to lessons, hours spent waiting while he was in class, trips to tournaments, and more than a few trips to doctors for various injuries either caused by or restricting practice in his beloved martial art.
These (and many others) are the millions of moments that go unremembered and disregarded from the vantage point of the top of the parenting trek.
I did not enjoy every moment.
It did not go by fast.
Children do not magically arrive at adulthood.
My kids, like all children, were cute babies and little kids. I adored them then and now. But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed every minute! I’m grateful to be here, at this moment, from this parenting vantage point. And, thanks to the reminder from our pediatrician, I also try to give myself some acknowledgment for the hard work I put in to help my kids grow up well. It is this reminder that I also wish to impart to the new parents with whom I work. What you do matters and makes a difference, even if it may not feel like it right now.
“Enjoy every minute as they grow up fast.” Not so much.