Dear Parents: Enjoy the ride
I don’t like admitting this about myself, but I’m a pessimist. I dread the end of a chapter before it’s even begun. It’s hard for me to enjoy the journey because I’m too busy counting down the days until the journey ends. It could be the first day of a fabulous vacation, and I’d be battling back sadness about the fact that the trip is already almost over. It’s a dark part of my personality that I don’t enjoy.
This mentality often trickles over into my parenting. I find myself mourning the loss of a certain age or phase of my kids’ lives or obsessing about the limited number of years I have left with them under my roof. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought, well this is probably the last year for Santa. Or, won’t be long before they don’t want to snuggle up on the couch for a movie night with their parents. And while some people may find those thoughts as motivation to enjoy the moment, I’ve found that they can overshadow where my kids are in life at any given time. A conversation with my youngest son’s kindergarten teacher a few years ago changed my perspective.
It was the end of second grade for my youngest and fourth grade for my oldest. The boys and I were enjoying the afternoon at the end-of-school carnival. As we were walking around between face painting booths and snow cone stands, we ran into some former teachers, including my son’s kindergarten teacher. She was commenting on how big my son was and how she couldn’t believe he would be going into third grade. I made a sad, pouty face and lamented over how fast it was going by.
“I’m not ready for this,” I whined. “I’m not ready for big kids. I miss when they were babies.”
His teacher looked back at me with compassion. She opened her mouth to speak and I knew she was going to agree with me. And when I expected her to say, “I know, babies are the best and having teenagers is the worst,” she instead surprised me by saying something that I will never forget.
“You know, I have truly enjoyed every phase with my kids,” she said.
“Uhhh...really?” I replied, with a heavy amount of skepticism in my voice.
“Yes.” She was confident and beaming as she talked about her teenage children. Can we all just admit that’s not something we’re used to seeing? I mean, most of what you read on social media talks about the horrors of raising teenagers. They’re moody and selfish and rude to their parents, right?
As I stood there with a look of confusion on my face, she continued. She explained that in each phase with her kids there has been something new and exciting to enjoy. Conversations going deeper, their sense of humor advancing, getting to stay up later watching movies that the whole family wanted to see (not just the movies that parents of toddlers have to suffer through), the excitement of family outings that didn’t involve a trampoline park or a splash pad — she made growing up sound so fun.
She explained the glorious transition of not having to meet every physical need for her kids and instead being able to enjoy their company as people.
“I love seeing who my kids are growing up to be,” she said.
That hit me hard. I had been so focused on mourning the past and worrying about the future, that I was missing out on what was happening right in front of me. I wasn’t appreciating who my boys were at that moment.
While I still catch myself missing my babies or dreading having an empty nest, I’ve found that soaking up who my kids are right now helps push that pessimism back. I have to tell myself to sit back and enjoy the ride. Since that conversation, I’ve made a point to try to find joy in how my kids are changing and growing. I love seeing their faces light up when they get a little taste of freedom to ride their bikes through the neighborhood without me hovering over them. Or the pride they feel when they complete a difficult chore and earn their own money. Or the excitement of riding the biggest, scariest roller coaster at the theme park or going to a late night showing of the latest superhero movie. And my favorite — seeing the wheels in their heads turn as we have deep conversations about life. Not to mention the joy that comes from my kids sleeping through the night and not needing diapers changed. My hope is that by taking in these moments of growth from preteens to teens to adults, that I’ll be able to build and maintain strong relationships with my kids that are able to transition from “mom, meet my needs” to “mom, let’s spend time together.”
Afton Spriggs is a working mom of two boys, Jude and Beckett. She and her husband, Ryan, are lifelong Metro-East residents. Afton spent most of her career working in digital content for traditional media companies (TV news, magazine and radio) and now works at a digital marketing agency in St. Louis. She loves sports, trying new recipes and traveling.