“It goes by so fast.”
Since the time I had my first baby, I've heard this ever-popular adage. Complete strangers at the grocery store, grandparents at the park, other moms at the doctor’s office or fellow pedestrians on a stroll—they are all apt to offer the same piece of advice, and I imagine you’ve heard it too: “Enjoy this time, it goes by so fast.”
I’ve long realized that at the heart of this parenting journey lies one of the greatest challenges in life—letting go. Yet, I’m not sure I had any idea what that really meant.
One year ago, I found myself with post-pregnancy hormones pumping through my body, a three-month-old guaranteeing I would not get an uninterrupted night of sleep, a creative three-year-old whose favorite activity involved filling cups of water and inevitably spilling them all over the house and a five-year-old about to venture off into the cold harsh world of kindergarten (which was actually sweet and wonderful, but bear with my mama-bear emotions of the moment).
The prospect of sending my little boy off to kindergarten sent me into a minor existential crisis, primarily because I recognized what this meant—that my days of being the main influence in his life were eventually coming to an end, dissipating with each passing day. (Again, slightly dramatic? I blame the hormones…)
It's not the academics I worried about or the many hours of separation. It was the letting go—the knowing that so much of his daily life would become a mystery to me. What would his world be like? I wondered. Would he be kind? Would others be kind to him? Would he be confident? What would he be?
With each emerging question, I became more determined to prepare him for this upcoming journey into kindergarten. I spent my days trying to “train” him for the looming transition ahead—a season soon to come when I would no longer be present to teach or coach him through any given situation.
But somewhere along the way, I realized these efforts were about more than just teaching. If I was honest with myself, I wanted to guarantee certain behaviors, choices and outcomes, which of course, is both impossible and misguided.
When I first became a parent, I did what I do best—research. I was ready to meet this parenting challenge head-on. I would be informed, I would be intentional, I would be ready. So, I asked my older and wiser sister for some sage parenting advice: What parenting books should I read? What do I need to know to prepare for being a mom?
But she quickly turned the question on its head. What do you need to know to be a better version of yourself? What do you need to read to grow in love for God and the world around you?
I didn't fully grasp it at the time, but the layers of wisdom in her response continue to be peeled back with each new stage of parenting. Every time I focus on fixing my child or producing the "right behaviors,” I come up short. However, when I set my mind on modeling character—kindness, honesty, respect, forgiveness, self-control... all those qualities I try so hard to instill in my children, but too often neglect in myself, it may not guarantee the outcome, but it guarantees a change in me. And ultimately, my children will learn more from what I show them than what I tell them.
As it turns out, letting go doesn’t just mean hugging my children goodbye as they leave for college. In reality, parenting is a series of daily letting go’s—letting go of my ideas, my preferences, my failures, my expectations and my control; and instead, allowing my children to grow, learn, fail and get back up again.
Perhaps this post falls short of answering the ever-nagging question of how to be a better parent. But maybe this is precisely the point. Maybe that isn't even the question I should be asking. Behind the promptings of my sister's words is a larger question: Not “how am I becoming a better parent?” But rather, “Who am I becoming?”
Amanda Lahr is mom to Joseph (6), Eliza (4) and Helena (1) and Editorial Lead for Bittersweet Monthly, an online publication that creatively and artistically tells stories of social good. She lives in Alexandria, VA, attends NCC's Potomac Yard campus, and loves tennis, Jeopardy, pretty cookbooks, Cubs baseball, spreadsheets, Ethiopian food, and her wonderful family (though not in that order).