As my son’s second birthday approached recently, I found myself looking through photos of him — clumsily walking at his first birthday party, giggling at the dog as a chubby 6-month-old and furrowing his brow at the camera as a newborn leaving the hospital. I laughed at that one, remembering how terrified we both were to embark on this new adventure. And I couldn’t help but marvel at how much we’ve both grown.
Moms are often told to “savor every moment,” right? That, and “don’t blink because it goes too fast.” So now, looking at my big toddler as he runs around and chases the dog, I’m being told I should mourn his growth. Don’t I miss the days when his entire body could fit on my chest? Don’t I miss the baby snuggles? The sweet smell of a newborn? The swaddles and the pacifiers?
To be honest, not really.
I often feel inundated with messages about clinging to babyhood — and about wishing kids would “just quit growing already” and begrudgingly permitting kids’ increased independence with each passing year, etc. But I haven’t forgotten just how hard those newborn days were. And the truth is I’ve become more enamored with my son the older we both get; watching him grow fills me with pride.
Instead of grieving as my son grows, I try to be conscious of how I interact with him, and I hope I don’t place my own feelings at the center of his life. It’s easy to want to hang onto him for my own benefit — to want to always feel the warmth of him in my arms, to hold his hand as we cross the street, to keep him close to me and away from harm. But that’s not why I became his mom. Yes, motherhood is full of sweet, tender and fleeting moments — moments in which you, as a parent, are very much the center of your child’s world. But as my son grows, we will spend a lifetime separating, and it does me well to remember that’s kind of the whole point.
He and I will always be connected by the special bond between a parent and a child, but we are also separate people. While I love the person I’ve become because of him, I also love the person I was before him, and I try to honor her daily. (After all, she’ll likely make another appearance years from now as an empty nester, and when that time comes, I’d like to still be able to recognize her.)
Raising children is selfless in a lot of ways, especially when they’re small: trading in full nights of rest for feedings and diaper changes, watching more of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood than you ever thought possible (and certainly more than any of the other shows you were once devoted to). But the truest act of selflessness is loving your child and then letting them go. My son still needs me a great deal right now, but it is my job to teach him how to take on the world without me — how to love and trust himself, how to right wrongs and be brave in the face of difficulty — and how to cross the street without holding my hand.
As difficult as it may be to accept my changing role in my son’s life, I look forward to that growth. I welcome the day when we can have a conversation that consists of more than him asking for another snack and me telling him no.
Someday, he will walk away, and I can only hope I have given him enough love and security that on that day, he knows he can always come back home. I hope he’ll know he is loved here and that while I will undoubtedly miss him, I won’t crumble without him. That I will love him no matter where his dreams take him — and that I have dreams too. Many of my dreams have a lot to do with him, but others do not.
Holding a baby is precious, but watching that baby grow is magical. Getting to know the person my son is and will become is one of the greatest joys in my life. Every birthday of his is indeed a reminder that time does go fast — but also a reminder that I don’t have to be sad about this. I’m not here to hang onto my son, whether that’s his babyhood, his toddlerhood or his teenage years. I’m here to raise him up — and then let him go.