Karis turned six this week. It’s my first year of having all four kids in school. And I’ve been mentioning to people all year how it feels like we’ve really turned a parenting corner.
For the most part, my kids are really easy right now. Everyone can dress themselves. Everyone can make their own breakfast. Baths need only minor supervision. Those crazy-making irrational tantrums that inspired my asshole parent hashtag are mostly a thing of the past. My kids can be reasoned with. They understand logic. They are growing in empathy and generally can be trusted to be safe and kind.
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. Most of the kids can ride in a car without a booster seat. I ditched the stroller. Everyone can pull their own luggage. Everyone can swim well enough that I’m not paranoid about them drowning at the pool.
Things are good.
And yet . . .
Getting to this 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, but probably the one I miss most is the physical closeness.
My kids may all be over diapers, but they are also over long cuddles. Karis was my hold-out . . . I could at least count on her to want to lay in bed and snuggle. And even the other physical forms of affection are waning. No one wants to play “I’m going to eat your neck.” No one wants a raspberry or a kissing attack from mom. They want their independence.
My wishlist for Mother’s Day? An old-school cuddle from my kids.
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 ask every night if any of them want to cuddle while I sing to them . . . a routine that used to be cherished. Now, they all want to retreat to their rooms to read.
I know this is a normal stage but if I’m being honest, the transition away from the physical closeness inherent in parenting younger kids has been hard. I’ve had to find new and different ways to connect, and they don’t come as easily for me. My boys don’t want a hug or a cuddle, but they’d love a basketball partner or a bike ride with me or even an undistracted conversations with me. I’m having to give up affection for other kinds of connection. It’s still valuable connection, but I have a lot of wistfulness about the change. I never thought I was a mom who relished having babies. I love finding shared interest with my kids and watching them change into these unique little people. But, sappy as it sounds, I miss holding them. And the thought that this stage is over is something I am grieving.
I feel like Mark and I are living in this constant angsty tension – wanting so much for hard phases 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.
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 fall into a puddle of tears when I consider that I no longer have a child who wants to curl up in my lap at the end of each day.
If you have older kids, I’m curious to hear how you navigated this transition. When kids move past the cuddly phase, how do you find that level of connection?
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