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Lessons from the Parenting Sweet SpotWhat three kids in between diapers and puberty has taught me about holding on and letting go.
Lessons from the Parenting Sweet Spot
Image: Niko Kähkönen

I’ve been waiting for nine years for this parenting moment to arrive. With children aged eight, six, and three (and no plans for an infant), I have hit a sweet spot. The past summer held the experiences I expected as a mom in the summertime—tennis lessons, skinned knees, popsicles, ice cream trucks, learning to swim, fireflies, loose teeth, summer reading in a quiet nook of the house after lunch, climbing rocks, hunting for crabs under stones at low tide.

I have been waiting for nine years for a summer when a trip to the beach didn’t offer me a baby who would eat the sand or need a diaper change or need to be hustled inside for a nap. I have been waiting to tell my children about the osprey and Queen Anne’s lace and sea glass. I have been waiting for the childhood summers that I remember. We aren’t just getting through it any more. We are living it, hand in hand.

Before I get too nostalgic for the ten weeks behind me, I should note that this summer involved plenty of bickering, whining, and cajoling. They fought with me. They fought with each other. They didn’t want to eat their vegetables. They complained about picking up the playroom and putting away their clothes.

But time slowed down a little bit, and the warmth and light of the world outside came into our household and I wanted to hold on. I finally wanted my kids to stay as they are. I wanted to hold on to the moment when I noticed the freckles emerging on Marilee’s cheeks. I wanted to savor the sensation of William running to my side to put his hand in mine. I wanted to capture the sound of Penny reading her chapter books out loud to me.

Older women have seen me with my kids throughout the years, and they have often said, “Enjoy it while you can. It’s over so soon.” Or they say, with a sigh and shake of the head, "They grow up so fast." They say it with longing in their voice, as if they have forgotten the exhaustion and the poop and spit up and tantrums. As if the endless days of relentless demands don't feel like an eternity. Maybe these women remember the hard parts. But I have to imagine they instead remember the little glories of watermelon and cookouts and long games of kick the can. But even more than the memories, I wonder if they are nostalgic for the simple love involved in being a parent of kids this age.

The early years of parenting involve tireless sacrifice on the part of the parent. The baby, the toddler, can’t (and doesn’t) offer much by way of gratitude or unsolicited affection. And later on, the tween and teenager start to move outward, to reject the safety, the anchor of home. It’s now, in these years between diapers and puberty, that my kids are independent enough to recognize their dependence on me. They say thank you. They clear their dishes. They get dressed (with a fair amount of cajoling, but still…) on their own. And they expect me to love them and care for them and keep them safe. Always.

I’m still eager for my kids to grow up. I’m eager for them to all be in school full day. I’m eager for their independence—for girls who can rinse the conditioner out of their hair without my help, for three kids who can make their own breakfasts, who can stay home without me if I want to go for a quick run. I’m eager for more of the conversations we have started to have. Penny and William asked me to explain “suspicious,” “adventurous,” the origins of the Star-Spangled Banner, and “discouragement” this summer. Marilee asked about God’s love for her.

I am eager to let them go, but I finally understand all those parents throughout the years who have told me to hold on tight. I can’t hold on. I know. But perhaps once again my kids have offered me a chance to understand something in a deeper way than I ever have before. Perhaps they are giving me an opportunity to practice gratitude, to attend more closely to this moment, to this day. Perhaps they are prompting me to entrust them both now and in the future, to God’s care. My thoughts return to that ancient and simple prayer Jesus taught his disciples--

For the fathers and mothers who think this day will never end, Give us this day our daily bread.

For the fathers and mothers who want to cling to this day forever, Give us this day our daily bread.

Perhaps my children are even, once again, teaching me how to pray. And how to hold on to simple love even as I let go of them day by day.

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