Faith and Family: A Parental Gut Check

Big shoes and little shoes

This summer has been a whirlwind for my family. My son, Alex, graduated from college. My youngest daughter, Kacey, graduated from grade school. We moved our third child, Riley, into an apartment closer to school with three of her friends. And we celebrated the first birthday of our oldest daughter, Maddie’s, little girl—our first grandchild. 

So many firsts and lasts flying at you can elicit a lot of emotions and reflection. It certainly has for me. I find myself looking backward and recalling the cliché line, “It seems like only yesterday that we were bringing them home from the hospital.” Mostly, that comment would come from older parents whose kids were mostly grown. I’m sure I rolled my eyes at their advice, seeing as our kids were still little. 

Mistakes Were Made

And so my husband, Mark, and I went about life, raising our kids, eyes laser-focused on each day and its tasks. Little attention was paid to the bigger picture and the passing days, months, and years. In the process, moments with the kids slipped through the cracks. 

All too often, one-on-one time with the kids got overshadowed by everyday chores and what I thought were obligations. “We’ll do x, y, or z tomorrow. I promise,” I would tell the kids. “I need to get the dishes done and throw in a load of laundry.” I never gave a second thought to the fact that soon they’d quit asking me to spend time with them at all. 

And now that the kids are older, I cringe when they talk about the times I lost my temper, ashamed that some of my worst moments have become core memories for them. Sure, I could try to rationalize why I lost it when Riley refused to go to dance—the carpool was there to pick her up, she had asked us to sign her up for dance, Mark was out of town, and I was on my own with four kids—but it won’t change how they perceived it. 

Do As I Say

Perhaps all of that was going through my head when I sat down and wrote a letter to Maddie before the birth of her daughter. In it, I tried to lean into all the lessons I’ve learned over my years as a parent. “Trust yourself,” I wrote. “You know exactly what that baby needs.” “Soak in every moment.” “Chances are, you will lose your patience at some point and have to ask for forgiveness. That’s OK. The two of you are growing together.” 

Mostly, though, I tried to convey the message that her daughter will grow up too fast. “One day,” I wrote, “you will look up and wonder, How did my little girl grow up so fast? It seems like just yesterday we were bringing her home from the hospital.” When I look back now, I think that letter probably was as much a reminder to myself as it was for Maddie. That’s why this summer, even with its chaos, I’m choosing to embrace moments as they quickly pass by. I need to do that because I’m acutely aware of how long it’s been since we brought our kids home from the hospital. 

Sidebar: Advice from the Trenches

When I look backto when my kids were young, I yearn for a Harry Potter-style Time Turner. I’d love to revisit just one of those crisp fall days when our five kids went in four different directions to play soccer. Our logistical planning was on point.

Still, we were stressed the whole day. How could you forget your cleats? Now you tell me it’s my turn to bring team snacks? This game can’t go into extra time; we’ll never make it to the next one! On second thought, maybe I’ll pass.

Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few

All of our children are in their 30s now, with lives and fami- lies of their own. I’m proud of them all. But looking back, I regret the times I was impatient, the occasions when I didn’t give them the attention they needed, the times I came down too hard because their room was too messy for my taste.

Did I value grades over goodness? Why didn’t I listen more closely to what they were trying to say? Was there too much teaching about the rules of religion and not enough about the spirit of loving our fellow travelers on this earth?

Life is a balancing act, and parenthood threatens to tip the scales toward chaos every day. The cooing infant comes with unplanned diaper explosions. The gap-toothed second grader discovers best-friend heartbreak. The bouncy teen becomes a surly snot at the turn of a hor- mone. Young adults initiate the push-and-pull of becoming their own person.

What’s a Parent to Do?

No one has the magic key to parenthood, but here are some things I’ve learned:
Nag less, apologize more.
Accept them even when you don’t understand them—because they don’t understand you either.
Realize they’re not cut-and-paste copies of you or their siblings.
Remember that love is love. My kids love who they love, and it’s beautiful. Each one embodies the unconditional love of God.
A hug can work wonders, even if you have to sneak up to apply one.
It’s easy to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but in the moment it’s hard to know whether something is small or not. • You’re doing a good job. Give yourself some grace for having good intentions, even though you’ll make mistakes along the way.

Love Is (Almost) All You Need

It’s time to leave now and pick up my grandson from pre- school. Maybe lunch will be his favorite—chicken nuggets and French fries—or maybe I’ll manage to give him a healthy sandwich on whole-grain bread with a side of strawberries.

This afternoon might have a bit too much screen time, but it’s certain that there will be stories read. We’ll share hugs and kisses. There will be play time (definitely) and cleanup time (maybe).

And throughout this messy, sweet, chaotic, precious time we have together, we’ll tell each other the best thing, the only thing that really matters: “I love you.” —Sandy Howison

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