By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I have good news on this rainy Monday morning. This parenting thing so many of us are grappling with and trying to do well? Sometimes, it works. Let me explain.
When my three kids were babies and toddlers, my daily goal was to keep them alive. They were constantly teetering on the edge of catastrophe – climbing things, yanking cords, snatching up everything their chubby little fingers could grasp and putting it in their mouths before I could yell “NO!” It was exhausting, often terrifying work with the highest of stakes.
Yet I never gave myself credit for it. We parents berate ourselves during the early years (or maybe all the years?) because we’re convinced we should do more – more housework, more career work, more organizing, more everything. But how could we? We were too busy herding kids away from a busy street, scooping them up when gravity bloodied their knee, breaking up sibling fights, and preventing dozens of would-be accidents by scanning for potential threats.
Looking back, I wish I’d worried less about the “to do” list and savored more of the sweet moments tucked into the nooks and crannies – the way their little arms felt when they wrapped around my neck. The way they dashed through the sprinkler and squealed as cool drops rained down on their little blonde heads. The way they could turn a pile of leaves into the peak of entertainment. The way the weight and warmth of their small bodies felt exactly right against my shoulder as they drifted off to sleep.
Once we reached the elementary school years, keeping them alive got a little easier but the workload grew right along with the kids. I spent countless hours teaching them to navigate life while second-guessing myself at every turn. Am I doing this right? Am I doing enough? Are they learning enough? Will they be good people?
Then they turned into teenagers and got swallowed by the black hole of puberty and moodiness that can leave most parents wishing for the relative simplicity of the baby days. One by one, my kids entered an emotional tunnel around age 13 – a place they were convinced parents wouldn’t understand. I anxiously waited on the other side, calling into the void, “I’m still here! I miss you! Why are you so mad all the time? Need any help in there?”
Finally, they emerged, mostly unscathed. And now they are 20, 18 and 15 years old, and I’m seeing moments that make me realize what the preceding years were all about. Now and then, I notice one of my kids do or say something so sincerely kind, so selfless and mature, so genuinely caring that my heart seizes up with the joy of it. I look at them and think, “Wow. There you are. This is the kind of human you’re becoming, and it’s incredible.”
My oldest son came home from college recently for a weekend visit. He went upstairs to drop his backpack in his room and noticed that I’d cleaned and organized it. I’d sorted stuff that had accumulated over time – trashing some of it, donating some, and putting the rest into labeled bins. Instead of falling into bed to scroll on his phone, he came to find me. I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, but he pulled me into a hug and said, “Mom, you did such a great job on my room. It looks amazing. Thank you for doing that.”
I nearly choked on toothpaste as I blinked back happy tears. After years of cleaning that felt invisible to everyone but me, this moment was huge.
Then our 18-year-old son who’s a freshman in college called to tell me he’d emailed, phoned and then went in person to the Financial Aid office to sort out a scholarship question. I listened as he described all the hoops he’d jumped through and asked if he was okay. “Yeah,” he said in a world-weary voice. “I’m just tired because this adult stuff is hard.”
“Yes, it is,” I agreed. “But you’re figuring it out.”
So, to all my fellow parents who are chin-deep in the toddler or teen trenches, hang in there. All this stuff you’re doing is working. One day, your kids will realize that “adult stuff is hard.” One day, they’ll see what you’ve done and feel a deeper sense of appreciation.
Sometimes the parenting magic happens behind the scenes, but it is happening. Keep the faith.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.