I’m looking through photos of my kids from when they were very little. I see them splashing in the tub and wonder if that was the last time I gave them a bath. I see them covered in spaghetti and can’t recall the last time they relied on me to feed them. I see them in that adorable outfit and think that very well may have been the last time they let me pick out their clothes. Part of me is feeling nostalgic for the days when my kids were small. But another part of me is thinking, Hallelujah!
Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely still some tugging at the heartstrings looking back at the days of when my kids were tiny. And yes, I will definitely feel a heavy heart when certain eras of our life are over – a final dance recital, graduating from high school, the last night they spend at home. But it seems that for years when my kids were small all I heard was how I should enjoy every moment, how babies don’t keep, and the infamous, “You think this is bad, just wait until they leave and you are all alone.”
Every stage will have its ups and downs, and I think every parent has a stage they enjoy the most. I don’t want to spend my life thinking that because I didn’t enjoy every moment of the baby/toddler stage that it’s all over. I am finding that my happiness is growing along with my kids. Here are a few reasons why:
I have a lot less guilt.
I was terribly hard on myself when my kids were little. When I my daughter was born with a cleft palate I tortured myself over that one dose of cold medicine I took before I knew I was pregnant. I was supposed to be the perfect host, how could I have put my baby at risk like that? It broke me.
My oldest would wake up from his naps and spend 30+ minutes angry and crying. I would offer hugs and snacks and in return was given screams and kicks to the wall. I couldn’t imagine that this was normal behavior, clearly I must have been doing something wrong. My feelings of inadequacy weighed on me so heavily that I spent day and night feeling like I was drowning.
Now that my kids are older I have let go of a lot of that guilt. I see their actions as a normal part of their development. Are there things I have done that have had an impact in shaping who they are becoming? Sure. But just as I can’t pat myself on the back for all of the good things they do, I can’t keep blaming myself for their undesirable actions either. They are not perfect robots under my control, they are human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own. I can now see that we are all growing and learning together.
I like having my body back.
My body looks nothing like it did before I had kids, but after many years I am happy to have it back. I can close my eyes and feel the weight of my babies in my arms, see their sweet face, and recall the feel of their soft skin. It’s a perfectly serene memory until I think about feeling stuck in a rocking chair, unable to pee because if I put down my adorable bundle of baby they would instantly express their distaste by wailing loud enough to wake the dead. I don’t miss my knees and shoulders being covered in snot. I like being able to wear a skirt without worrying about a toddler pulling it down during a 5 o’clock witching hour meltdown while I am making a dinner that is sure to end up on the floor. I enjoy being able to take my body outside of the house and keep it out as late as I like without dooming the adult left behind to a night filled with shrieks from a tiny person whose opinion is deeply rooted in the belief that the bottle left behind is an insult and simply won’t do.
As a stay-at-home mom, I had someone touching me all of the time. Hitting touches, grabbing touches, pulling touches, and yes, lovely cuddly hugging touches, but it all still added up to the fact that my bodily autonomy was completely erased. I had not realized how touched out I was until I found myself unable to remember the last time I had hugged my spouse. The beauty is that my older kids still hug me, snuggle with me, put their head on my shoulder, but I finally feel in control of my space again.
It’s not an end, it’s a beginning.
After my first son was born I had not completely found myself yet, and I assumed that the person I was at that moment would then be forever frozen in time. I would always be 20 pounds overweight and tired. I would never learn anything new or do anything for myself again. I was being a “good” mom by letting every part (as small as those parts were back then) of myself go so I could fit into my new role as mom. A role I was under the assumption would fill all holes in my life leaving zero longing for anything else. How could I possibly need anything else when I had gotten something everyone told me I needed and something I had very much wanted?
Then things started to change. The end of the baby/toddler years made space for the beginning of self discovery. My time is no longer spent dealing with diaper changes and feedings, and instead filled with homework and activities, but with increasingly independent kids, I can now take the time for myself that I need and the future feels open to possibility.
I feel my authentic self starting to take shape. I no longer have to paste on a happy face and pretend everything is perfect. If I’m sad or upset, I can tell my kids what I’m feeling and they know that I’ll be ok. Even if they are still sometimes sad when I leave the house, I have ended the feeling of guilt and replaced it with the knowledge that they know I will return and will be just fine.
A lesson in discovery.
The babies are growing up. It’s what they do.
If you are in the throes of early parenting and not finding it exactly how you thought it would be, take comfort in knowing that this stage will pass.
If you feel like the early years are flying by way too fast, simply enjoy the moments you are given and know that you will have many more memories ahead. They may not look the same, but they will be there and some of them may surprise you. You may find a cup of coffee lovingly placed on your bedside table by your kids, you could discover that your tween needs just as many hugs as they did when they were three, I bet you will find that they start teaching you more than you teach them.
Maybe you will rediscover you.