the parenting paradox

When I was in high school, I went to see the musical version of the movie Big (yes – they made that Tom Hanks movie into a musical).  It’s not an entirely memorable show, but one number stuck with me. It’s called “Stop, Time” and it’s a song that a mother sings about her sadness in regards to her child growing older. Even as a teenager, I was aware that this song was touching on a profound pain of the human experience, and I remember stifling loud sobs in the theater for the duration of the ballad.  Here’s the part that gets me every time:

Nobody warns you of this parent's paradox
You want your kid to change and grow
But when he does, another child you've just begun to know
Leaves forever
Birthdays fly - 7, 8, 9, 10
Every kid he becomes you clutch and say "Stop, time"
Hold this one fast
But it's not supposed to last
And that time has come and passed
For he's growing
And he has to go

I’m really feeling this parenting paradox at this stage of our lives. It’s tough because it feels like we are on the precipice of a new stage that I’m very much looking forward to.  We are no longer dependent on sippy cups or bottles. Three of the four can sit in boosters instead of car seats.  Two of them can swim safely well enough that I’m not paranoid about them drowning at the pool. They can all pour their own cereal, dress themselves, brush their own teeth, strap themselves into the car.  And the biggest hurdle is so close I can almost taste it: Karis will soon be out of diapers.  Oh what a joyous day that will be.  I have had a child in diapers for the last seven years.  I CANNOT WAIT to graduate from that one.  She is also slowly dropping her afternoon nap, which is another big milestone. For the last seven years, my days have revolved around a nap schedule.  The thought of planning each day without regard for a two-hour stint at home in the middle of the afternoon?  How liberating.

Mark and I frequently talk about the things we will be able to do more easily once the kids are just a bit bigger.  Go on longer road trips. Take family bike rides. Go kayaking. Travel more  SLEEP IN. There are many aspects of our pre-kids life that we are hoping to pick back up once these kids are just a bit bigger, so we are often looking forward to that time with some eagerness and anticipation.

And yet . . .

Getting to that stage means giving up so much.  I love that Karis is moving past the baby stage, but I hate that our long evening cuddles are gone – shunned in favor of laying in bed with her favorite picture books. I miss some of the aspects of having a baby, and many of the adorably cute aspects of her current stage will be replaced when she crosses over into the more autonomous stage that we’re looking forward to.

There are so many ways I want to be less needed by the kids.  I want them to gain independence and I want to transition into a phase that is less caretaking and more fun. At the same time, there is such a bittersweet sadness to being less needed by my kids.

I feel like Mark and I are living in this constant angsty tension – wanting so much for this hard phase to be over, simultaneously feeling so wistful and guilty that we are wishing it away, and then immediately grieving each stage as soon as it has past.  It seems like we are constantly sandwiched between a hope for an easier stage, and a regret that the harder stage has passed.

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I suppose the solution to this parent paradox is true for life in general. . . the trick is learning how to be content in each given moment, without dwelling on the future OR the past.  I’m doing my best to try to live in the moment and celebrate each phase of life my kids are in.  But oh, it’s hard not to look back. And it’s hard not to look ahead.

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