I hear myself often opining that my kids are growing up too fast. I say it when they show off a new skill I didn’t know they had, when they show a new level of maturity or ask a question that indicates nuance and complexity I hadn’t noticed before. I hear other parents say it all the time too—we see our littles growing up and we get sentimental and sad even as our pride overflows. Our kids are supposed to grow up—that’s exactly what they are designed to do and we would undoubtedly grieve if they did not—and yet we talk about growing up as this often more bitter than sweet experience that we as parents must endure.
But what about our kids’ perspective? We were all kids once—do you remember what it felt like to grow up? How eager you were to be older than you were, or how sad you were to leave your childhood behind? There’s no one right way to feel about growing up. I was reminded of this tonight when a late night visitor came plodding into my bedroom to talk.
“Mommy, can we spend some more one-on-one time together soon? I just feel like I don’t get to spend enough time with you and I’m growing up too fast.”
I almost chuckled and was about to remind my sad little munchkin that just today we spent more time together than usual, which was probably what prompted the desire for more, but I stopped when I noticed the crocodile tears pooling and winding their way down soft cheeks.
This was not a moment for chuckling and giving a quick pat on the back and sending back to bed. The things that keep our kids up at night are as poignant to them as the things that keep us up at night are to us. This was a moment to take seriously.
So we talked. I held my precious child close and let the tears fall. I shared that the sadness is strong, but it won’t always feel like this. It’s good to be reminded that hard things don’t last forever.
And then I grabbed my journal and opened to a fresh new page and I said “Can you get creative with me?” At the top of the page I wrote Growing Up Too Fast and along the side of the page I started writing categories.
“If growing up too fast could be symbolized by a color, what color would it be?
There was confusion at first and I encouraged giving it a try. And then eyes grew serious and I knew I was being taken seriously, just like I took my little one seriously, and the answer came: “Blue, because sometimes it’s sad to grow up.” I wrote the answer down.
“If growing up too fast were an animal, what animal would it be?”
“A bear. I heard somewhere that bears don’t get to live with their mommies as long.”
“If growing up too fast were a place, where would it be?”
“Home, because you’re going to have to miss home and leave it when you grow up.”
Together we sorted through a few more categories, and then we sat back and looked at our work. We counted out the number of years already gone by. We counted out the number of years left until reaching eighteen. We sat together. And there we were, sitting with the fact that we have more years to get to eighteen than we have behind us and still sometimes growing up happens too fast for our taste and sadness enters in uninvited.
I don’t remember being sad about growing up. As a kid I always felt like I was responsible for everything anyway so I might as well have the advantages of adulthood to help me cover my responsibilities. Tonight I’m glad to remember that not every kid can’t wait to grow up, and that sometimes the bittersweetness we parents feel as our babies grow through the years is shared by the babies themselves. Hard is hard, whatever the age and whatever the reason. It won’t stop the growing, but recognizing it might make it a little bit easier. I’m not really sure. What I am sure of is that I will keep spending the time, keep noticing the moments, because my kids are growing up. Maybe not actually too fast, but it sure does feel that way sometimes.