We were at the beach one sultry summer day when my kids were 2, 4, and 5. I was exhausted, but it was a happy kind of exhausted. I was bent over, holding my youngest, watching his sweet, chubby body float in the water. He gleefully slapped his shovel in the water as he splashed the two of us. My back hurt, and I was hot and couldn’t take a dip to cool off because I knew my kids couldn’t be left unattended for a second, but I didn’t care. I loved being needed. Then, in a few short seconds my happiness morphed into angst. I started to panic. What am I going to do when they get older? Who will I be, what will that look like?
What will I do when they don’t need me anymore?
When my kids were little, my days were filled with kissing boo-boos, feeding them, making sure they had a coat if it was chilly, applying sunscreen, and tucking them in at night. Sure, there were many days that left me utterly dissipated, but the idea of my kids not needing me anymore terrified me nevertheless.
I never talked about feeling this way until a friend confided in me that she felt the same. Up until that point I thought my feelings might not be normal. It wasn’t just about not wanting my kids to grow up too fast — I was legitimately worried about myself and how I would cope with not being needed so much.
That was seven years ago. My kids are older now, and the separation has begun. My kids have begun to pull away, to assert their independence and form their own lives apart from the little family bubble of long ago. So what does being a mom to older kids look like?
It is going to the store by yourself and getting in and out in under 10 minutes.
It is lingering a little longer in the wine aisle without fearing somebody is going to break something.
It is being able to go for a run, walk or a bike ride by yourself and telling them to only call or text you if it is an emergency. They probably won’t listen, but it’s worth a try.
It is being able to spend a little more time in the shower, doing your hair or soaking in the tub. You may still get interrupted but it is different, there isn’t as much that needs your immediate attention.
It is seeing them wake up one morning a few inches taller than they were the day before, which reminds you to savor everything.
It is missing the things they used to do, the cuddles, the funny way they used to pronounce certain words, their chubby hands.
It is having serious talks with them about sex, politics, and relationships.
It can feel heavy. It is difficult to let go and learn how to parent in a different way as they change and grow.
It is looking through their baby books and crying really damn hard.
It is being proud of them and super pissed at them, sometimes at the same time.
It is praying you made the right decisions and hoping they will make the right ones too.
It is seeing yourself in them. Sometimes it takes you places you don’t want to go, sometimes it fills you with nostalgia.
It is being able to go up to your room and close the door after you tell them to make dinner for themselves.
It is driving them around — a lot.
It is spending a lot of money on food, clothing, shoes and sports equipment.
It is all of these things. It is wonderful and hard, and some days there is a deep longing for them to be small and safe in their cribs. There are many times I would rather be wiping a bottom than dropping them off at the movies, but this is what we sign up for — the many stages of motherhood.
But one thing I’ve discovered as my kids have gotten older is that just because they have become more independent, doesn’t mean I’m no longer needed. Maybe not to keep their head above water while they soak me one shovelful of water at a time, but in other ways that are just as important, if not more.
And I really like the way it looks. All of it.