Childrearing

Once Your Little Kids Are Big, Your Identity As A Parent Has To Change

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When raising babies and toddlers, there is hardly a moment in the day where you could forget you are a parent. They need you for everything. You’re making snacks, wiping bottoms, calming tantrums, finding toys 24/7 — it seems like it will never end. When it’s happening, it feels so permanent. Taking care of little kids is something where you are “all in” and it’s hard to imagine that someday, it will only be a memory. Of course, we all know how time works and eventually, you are no longer the parent of little kids because yours are growing up. Your identity as a parent changes and for some, it can be hard to swallow. I am finding myself struggling with it a little as my children grow older. And need me less every day.

Your kids growing up is a truly insidious thing. The old quote “the days are long, but the years are short” could not possibly be more meaningful in this context. Each day drags. You don’t sleep much, you’re constantly caring for your kids. Each outing requires a packed bag and pre-planning. Nothing is spontaneous and it seems like they will never stop needing you. At family gatherings, you’re chasing your toddler or changing a baby — there isn’t much time to catch up with loved ones because you’re too busy. Then, before you know it, a day comes where you find yourself at a party with a glass of wine, chatting, and no one is asking you for anything. In fact, your kids ran off an hour ago with their cousins and you haven’t seen or heard from them since. Welcome to life with big kids.

These days, I wake up to my kids playing together. I get out of bed when I’m ready, not because anyone needs a diaper changed or breakfast made. We are long past potty training and they can get their own cereal and juice. They dress themselves, they wipe themselves, they brush their own teeth, they tie their own shoes. For the most part, I worry only about myself physically. They even shower on their own save for a little help with hair rinsing. It is the weirdest thing and it comes seemingly out of nowhere. One moment, you are so totally indispensable to their very survival and the next, they’re operating independently of you. It feels both wildly unnatural and totally welcome. You’re happy, FREEDOM, finally, but something tugs at you. They don’t need you like they used to. And once that sinks in, it starts to hurt.

Of course, you’re not entirely obsolete. Your role and identity simply change as they grow. You’ll find as your kids get older that the physical demands of raising kids are replaced by emotional ones. Now, my daughter and I discuss friendships and crushes. We talk about her teachers and her math homework. We dissect episodes of Good Luck, Charlie and braid each other’s hair. My son and I play Mario Brothers together and talk over his anxieties with school and sports. We all sit around the dinner table and chat as a family and everyone actually contributes to the conversation. No babies throwing food, no toddlers refusing to eat. It’s wonderful. And also, bittersweet.

Knowing now that we are done for certain with having children makes me treasure all the more the years I spent as the mother of young children. When it’s happening, you fantasize about it getting easier and no lie, it is pretty great once you get that freedom back. Now, I am getting more comfortable all the time with my identity as the mother of school-age kids. I know that one day, this will be over too, of course, but if the fleeting nature of each phase has taught me anything it’s to live in the moment and love it all as it happens. Because you won’t ever get it back.

(Image: GettyImages)

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