Don’t guilt yourself. I’ve done it, too.
After an excruciating day with the kids—one where I’ve picked up messes like I was putting out fires, got nothing but grief about the dinner menu, and settled more arguments than a marriage counselor—I’m standing at the sink, washing what seems like a hundred cups (why can’t they rinse and reuse?) and I find myself fantasizing about that someday when my kids are grown and moved out.
A future where my mascara is there when I reach for it. Where my carpet no longer exhibits the sippy-cup disaster of 2014. Where I’ve repurposed the bedrooms for my mega-office slash fitness room, go on lunch dates with my friends, and fly off to professional networking events.
Obviously, there are positives (including no more school conferences or immunizations) and it’s perfectly normal to dream about my munchkin-less future. It will eventually keep me from being lost once they fly the nest and I’m left to my own life…but I remind myself not to discount the beauty of the present.
Even on the bad days (and we all have them) I stay mindful of the short time I will have my children this close to me…even if it’s only short in hindsight. Then, each day, I make an effort to:
Realize They’ll Never be Younger than They are Today. It’s hard to hold this thought throughout the day-to-day, but if I don’t remind myself regularly, I’ll regret having missed out later. One day, our children will stop asking us to play Candyland and to take them on bike rides and for our help washing their hair before bed. Every day our children get older. Need us less. Grow. We need to mindfully foster gratitude for the relationships we share with our children at each age and remind ourselves of this blessing when we’re feeling frazzled and overwhelmed.
Read to Them (Almost) Every Time They Ask. There are times I’m forced to regrettably decline (usually when it’s already an hour past bedtime) but I make it the exception, not the rule.
Teach Them to Care for Themselves. The best parenting advice I’ve ever heard is that we’re not raising children, we’re supposed to be raising independent adults. I won’t hinder my kids by doing everything for them. Instead, I guide them and teach them how to do things for themselves.
Be Realistic but Positive about the Future. Kids (teens especially) seem to believe the world is a charmed place and that adulting will be a breeze. Because of this they tend to dream big: Oh, you’re going to move out and into a mansion with a new Cadillac in the driveway? With no rental history or credit?
It can be hard to resist pooh-poohing my kids’ fantasies, especially if I’m struggling myself. Instead, I teach them about finances, help them create a budget, and share life’s insider-info (like the difference between full coverage and Public Liability and Property Damage (PLPD). Then I let experience teach the rest. There’s no telling a teenager, anyway.
Do Stuff Just for Fun. Sure, it’s easier to just cut their toast, but squares and triangles and teddy bear faces made from banana slices and raisins are way more fun. I regularly check myself to make sure my efficiency and adult-ness don’t keep me from making the ordinary into something special.
Take Tons of Pictures. Memories that are revisited regularly are better retained and photographs are a picture-perfect way to record memories. If I don’t want to forget that impromptu campfire or school recital (and I’ve already forgotten a lot) I make sure to click lots of pics.
Teach Positivity by Example. My optimism is one of the best gifts I can give my children: to show them we live in a world shaded by our own attitude. That living in grey—or in vibrant color—is their choice. By contrast, when I’m worried or expecting the worst, I pass this on as well. I for one want my kids to feel secure in the world…and for that to follow them into their own adulthoods.
No matter how long we have left on the parent-clock, we can and should dream big for our future, dependent-free lives…we just shouldn’t make it a means to an end. It won’t be long before we’re paging through those family photographs and wondering where the hell the time went…and missing those babies that were only babies for a short while.
Author: Kristy Rice
Image: Andrew Seaman/Flickr
Editors: Emily Bartran; Catherine Monkman