Don’t Mourn Your Child Growing Up

Remember, but don't spend your time looking back.
Remember, but don't spend your time looking back. Photo by Jhecking via Flickr
There’s this parenting piece by Laurel Anne going on around on Facebook that’s been shared over seventy-thousand times about how you blink, and your children have already grown up. A sample:

Whether you are enjoying where you are in motherhood today or not, don’t blink. Don’t wish for anything to be different. It’s hard. I know it is, mama. But these are precious moments we will never get back. Even on the hardest of days, they never stop growing. Time never slows down. Try to find the light in your situation. One day, you will miss very much where you are right now.

Don’t blink, mama. Don’t blink.

It’s a good bit of parenting perspective, and I’m not here to knock it. That said, I think there is this tendency for parents to fixate on how fast their children grow up and not the miracle of who they become.

Laurel Anne is right that time moves in bizarre jumps between moments. Sometimes you look at your kid and it really does seem like he or she was small enough to fit in one hand just a few minutes ago. Children are like a clock that can argue with you. I don’t just mean regular familial arguing, either. No matter how much time it feels like has or hasn’t passed for you, here is this objective, living reminder that proves how the years have marched on.

That’s hard to deal with sometimes. Better writers than I have linked the process of childrearing to the facing of our own inevitable mortality. The second that they’re born, our children are a reminder that we are now and forever a supporting character in someone else’s story, and that means that when we die the story goes one without us.

It can be a hard pill to swallow, and it leads parents to mourn the loss of their babies even as those babies become people. It’s easy to pretend that those precious moments are the “real” parenthood, and everything that comes after is a net loss of that status. After all, an infant is still more of a personal accessory than an actual person.

However, rather than hoarding these moments like they are going to fill a hole in your soul. I think it’s healthier to embrace the changes as they come. From a parent’s perspective, the growing up process is like a slow-motion, never-ending birth process. Your baby goes to sleep every night, and when he or she wakes up, that child is a slightly older and more clever version.

If you fixate on the lost moments, you miss the ones that are coming up. The toddler that ran around with a bucket on his or her head might be gone, but the teenager who is, like, really into painting pictures and reading scary stories is here now. They’re a new kind of joy, not a pale replacement of the old. Every brilliant iteration is like meeting them all over again, but with just more and more of who they were always going to be added on.

There’s a quote from Doctor Who that I think about a lot as I watch my family grow. When the Eleventh Doctor regenerates into the Twelfth, he gives a little speech on the fleeting nature of life and the permanence of the soul.

We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s OK, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me.

Blink, and yes, you will miss a moment of your child’s life. That’s just the cruel reality of the slow path of linear time. If you turn your head around, though, then off in the distance you will be able to see every moment to come. They won’t be as cute, and they will be a lot less focused on you, but they will still be magical adventures. It’s okay to miss your babies, but don’t mourn them at the expense of appreciating who they are becoming. The future is alive and wild, and that alone makes it better than the past. Don’t get left behind.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner