My daughter turned 17 last month. At 18, my son is already an adult. Just typing that brings up mild anxiety. I seem to be having a much harder time with my kids getting older than I do with my own race towards old age. This past year has been especially hard. I look over at my daughter during dinner and want to cry. She looks over at me and asks, “Mom, why are you acting so weird?” Or, I find myself getting choked up as I watch my son skateboard down the street. Whenever he sees me like this, he gives me a hug and says, “It’s going to be alright, Momo.”
My partner and I could adopt; it’s something we discussed at length a couple years ago. It seemed like everywhere I looked I saw babies, and I thought I wanted one too. The more thought and discussion we put into it, however, the more I realized I didn’t want another baby — I wanted my kids as babies again. I wanted to go through all the milestones and changes and every other childhood moment and experience it all over again. But, this time it would be different because this time I would cherish each moment for itself. I find myself regretting not doing that before.
I’d say this probably began around the time my daughter started high school. Up until that point, I was just doing my mom things and not really thinking about how time was passing. I had been a mom for 16 years at that point, the longest “job” I’d ever had. Then, one day, it just hit me: my youngest child was now a teenager in high school and my time with my son and daughter was limited to 3-4 years until they both went off to college or lives of their own.
When my kids were first born, people would say “Cherish the moments. They grow up so fast!” It always seemed so cliché. Now, I wish I had given it more thought and attention. I will never again watch my son get a home run or a touchdown. I will never again get to watch my daughter’s dance recitals or see her in a school play. Gone are the days of playing video games on rainy Saturdays or finding “treasure” while exploring the beach, or any of the thousands of other moments I had the fortune of sharing with my kids. I will never make another Ostrich or Butterfly Princess costume for Halloween and take them trick or treating. (I must admit, I actually got a little teary-eyed as I handed out candy on Halloween last year!)
I had never realized how precious all these moments were until I looked back at them. There is so much I miss that didn’t seem as important as work deadlines or a clean house at the time. I get to sleep in now — something I always longed to do when they were younger. It’s not as great as I thought it would be.
I know I made mistakes in parenting; we all do. I think my biggest mistake is not taking the time to just be with my kids while I was trying to raise them to be good people. I wish I had read more bedtime stories. I wish I had gone to the park with them more often, instead of spending those sunny days cleaning the house. I wish I had let them make more messes and not cared if they got their “good clothes” dirty. The truth is, they really are only young once.
I’ve spent a good deal of their lives as a single parent. It has pretty much always been me and them. Every choice, every decision I made was done with them in mind. I now can see a time in the not-too-distant future where my decisions will be for me and me alone. And, I’m not sure how I feel about that. I admit there is a small part of me that is looking forward to the prospect of only being responsible for me. But, truth be told, it’s a pretty small part.
What I’m mainly feeling could best be likened to “grief.” You have to let go of the dreams you may have had about the type of parent you would be or the type of child you thought you would have. You have to let go of the moments you wish you had savored and realize you’re not going to get their childhood back. I’m trying hard not to let it cloud the moments I am still having with my kids: the school dances, the senior pictures, the prom. It’s a challenge, though.
As parents, it’s easy to get so caught up in trying to do the best job we can, we often lose sight of the fact we don’t have to be the best parent; being a “good enough parent” really is good enough. My kids will probably tell you I was a good mom (possibly even a great mom if you catch them in the right mood). I hope that is true, because I’m not going to get a second chance at raising them, no matter how much I may wish I could.
Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.