There are many stages in parenting, and I have no idea which one I’m currently in.
I despise parenting advice, so this isn’t advice, in fact, don’t take it as advice. It’s just an experience I’ve had recently. Take it for what it’s worth.
When your children are born, they are very needy, and your entire life is given over to them.
Well, your wife’s entire life is given over to them. If you’re a dad, you try to help out where you can, but the blowouts and the, um, feeding, tend to fall into mom’s lap, generally.
When they get a little older, they gain some independence, and this is both awesome and terrible at the same time.
They can hold their head up on their own, they can roll over on the bed, which means you don’t have to wake up panicked in the middle of the night fearing your child has expired from sudden infant death syndrome.
But they can roll off the bed too, which means you suddenly have some freedom, but you also have a different kind of responsibility too.
Then they learn to walk, and this is exquisite, because you don’t think you can carry them through that Saturday Market one more time.
And it’s awful too, because now they can run out into the street or disappear in the grocery store.
For every ounce of independence they gain, parents get a change in responsibility. Children learn things very fast. Their brains are capable of these massive influxes of information.
As adults, we are losing brain cells and starting to slow down a bit. This has always been a strange dichotomy to me.
Then there is this interesting moment where your children are old enough to have really intelligent conversations at dinner and where you go to museums together and enjoy good food.
As a father, you look around at the dinner table at night, and you’re really proud of this little family you helped create. They’re smart and funny and fun to be around.
And it’s so brief.
If and when you recognize this moment, it’s too late. You’re already at the end of this golden age.
Our oldest son became old enough to babysit when we moved to Montana in 2007. This was a righteous blessing for us, since we hadn’t really had a nice hour or two away from the kids in years.
By the time we moved to Alaska in 2009, the kids were old enough to cook for themselves and generally police their own lives, which gave us a little more independence.
And then we moved to Chicago in 2012, and we spent the first two months really enjoying each other’s company. Of course I can only speak for myself here. But it’s really true. We had nice meals out in the big, oak-lined backyard. We watched fireflies at night and my wife and I sipped on ice-cold, bone-dry rose while the kids cleaned up the dishes.
We watched movies together on the really hot days. We went to the beach together and spent Sundays exploring Chicago’s many food choices.
And then that moment came.
I was sitting at dinner, and the kids were asking deep questions about world affairs and politics. I felt like the king of the castle.
Everyone was happy and smiling. It was perfect.
And then it was gone.
It might have flickered a little through the winter, there were a few moments here and there, but when the spring rolled around, the kids were gone.
Off to spend the night at a friend’s house or hanging out at the mall. Skateboarding with the crew from down the street, or flirting with the neighbor girls.
Even the little one, the joy of my heart, is often gone away to some friend’s house when I come home from work.
This same one used to run at me full speed whenever I got home. I had to institute a no-hugs-until-I-took-my-shoes-off rule.
When we go on adventures on the weekends now, the boys automatically opt out, and if I force them to go, they will find a way to ruin the entire experience. If you think teenage girls are moody, I have two boys who say it’s an equal opportunity emotional roller coaster.
Yes, yes, I realize this is all part of growing up. I understand that this happens. I just wish that I had paid attention enough during the times when everything was perfect. I wish I didn’t just recognize it that last time.
As I said, I have no idea what stage I’m in currently. Maybe there are a few bad ones before a good one rolls around again.
And this is not advice, merely one man’s experience. Take it for what it’s worth.
But if you look around your dinner table at night and see your kids elevating the conversation to new levels in an artful way or challenging you with good questions, stop and relish that moment for a bit.
Because chances are you’re already close to the end of it.