In a little less than a month, the youngest of my three children will turn ten.
This is a happy milestone for her as she finally reaches the coveted status of double digits. For me, this impending milestone is bittersweet; it has forced me to reckon with the fact that I'm no longer the mother of young children.
I have no interest in glorifying the past decade. When one has three kids in under five years, it goes without saying that there will be some challenging passages to navigate.This was especially true for us with no family nearby who could lend a hand and very little disposable income to allow us childcare reinforcements. Much of it was exhausting and some of it was downright exasperating. To be clear: I don’t want to go back.
Just last week, I saw a mother struggling with her toddlers in the Target parking lot. I immediately recognized the distraught look on her face. Her little ones were antagonizing each other and ignoring her attempts to assuage the conflict; one even bolted from the shopping carriage as she wrestled the other into his car seat. As she retrieved her youngster, and wrangled him into the car, I heard her admonishing both kids that they had lost some special privilege or another.
There really is no way to lend a fellow parent a hand, in situations such as these. But there is something I would have liked to have passed on to this woman, had the opportunity arisen. In case there are any parents of young children reading this column today, let me share something a very wise woman, who I’ll call Karen Conley (mostly because that is her name), once shared with me on the topic of parenting.
This advice was dispensed when she bumped into me in the produce section of Shaw’s. We were exchanging pleasantries and I suddenly burst into tears. My upset, on this day anyway, had nothing to do with the escalating price of produce. I was, of course, completely frustrated with my young kids and I was convinced that my lack of parenting finesse was going to lead to their ruin.
Karen, a mother of several boys and twin girls, handed me a tissue and calmly imparted the following three precepts of parenting:
1. Try to identify the joy in parenting, even if this joy is something really small. Pause for a few seconds every day and delight in an expression on your child’s face, or pause to smile at the way she reads to her dolls, or relish in the gusto with which your toddler attacks his big bike, the one with the new set of training wheels. If parents don’t take the time to consciously appreciate the good stuff, parenting simply amounts to a whole lot of hard work.
2. Each day – even the ones that go badly – acknowledge something you did well as a parent. Give yourself a small pat on the back. Perhaps you found a reserve of patience when it was most needed – like just before dinner or bedtime. Or maybe you chose to read your email later and pulled out the Lego blocks or Connect Four. Perhaps you said “what the heck, we do have time to bake cookies after all!” In the course of a day, you will have given many things to your children. Stop and acknowledge at least one of those things.
3. When it goes badly, and it will – at times – go very badly, try to re-connect with the little one in question. Own your part of the debacle and tell him or her you’re sorry. Offer a reconciliatory hug. Promise that you too will try harder. Just reach out across the abyss and connect.
Have I incorporated this wisdom into my parenting on a daily basis over the past decade? No – not even close. But I have been mindful of what Karen shared with me and I can attest that her words have made a meaningful difference. In fact, they still resonate with me, these many years later.
I do pause and take pleasure from the little things. Just yesterday, my girls were snuggled together on the couch. The little sister rested her head on the big sister’s shoulder. I took this moment in; it made me happy. Occasionally, I will admit that I did something well, in parenting. And it does make me feel better to stop and acknowledge this. As for the reconnection piece, sometimes my kids need a little space before they are ready to be in connection with me after a rough passage, but they know I am available and willing, when the time is right.
So, parents of young children, I hope these words are even a little bit helpful. The days are long when toddlers abound. Yet, it really does pass by all too quickly. One day, in the not too distant future, your baby will also turn ten and you may sadly admit that you are no longer the parent of young children.
Trust me, it’s a bittersweet realization.