If there is one word that could be used to describe my feelings about parenthood, it would be “eager.” I was eager to be pregnant, and then I was eager to not be pregnant. I was eager for my child to sleep, to walk, to talk. Then I was eager to have another baby. Rinse and repeat. There was always a next thing I was looking forward to, a new phase that awaited, promising to make things better or easier.
When this, then that. When my baby is sleeping, then I’ll feel better. When he’s talking, then I’ll feel more engaged. When he’s in school, then I’ll get a little break.
Whether I realized it or not, I was always anxiously awaiting the next stage at the expense of the current one. I wanted to speed through the present to get to the promised land of the future.
Now I want to stop time for a little while, press pause, or at least slow things down.
My boys are 6-years-old and almost 10. We are in what many people call “the sweet spot.” And it isn’t hard to see why it has the name. The hassles of parenting have decreased, but the joys haven’t. They walk to and from school with their friends. They don’t need constant supervision, but they still need us for snuggles and hugs. They still come to us when they are scared or have big questions about big things. They like to be tucked into bed at night, but don’t need us to lay down with them. They say “I love you” with abandon. At this age, my kids are becoming more independent, but they still need my husband and me in all the right ways.
Don’t get me wrong, each stage brings its own joys and challenges, of course, and this one isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. We still have our fair share of tantrums, fights, and time-outs, and I still have to hound them to shower every night. But in the grand scheme of things, we are heavier on the sweet than the bitter in this phase of childhood — and in this phase of parenthood as well, because I’m calmer, more confident, and less antsy these days. We’ve hit our stride in this child-parent dance, moving a little more in sync, and not yet stomping on each other’s toes, as I’m sure we will during the teenage years.
I had been told about this magical sweet spot, and I waited not-so-patiently for many years. And now that I’m here, I can honestly say without a trace of exaggeration or hyperbole, that it is even better than I imagined. For the first time, I want to linger instead of quickly moving through.
The sweet spot isn’t just sweet as a parent, but as a child too. I don’t just want to pause here in this phase for my own sake, but for theirs as well. The world is still their oyster, but their spirits haven’t yet been bruised by heartbreak. Their innocence hasn’t yet been tarnished by the realities of the world. Their hope hasn’t been dimmed by the disappointments that are an inevitable part of life. This sweet spot seems to hold the very best of human nature has to offer, and as a parent, it is a privilege to simply bear witness to their lives as they frolic in these halcyon days of childhood. And more often than not lately, I find myself wishing there was a way to press pause and linger here for a while.
As parents, we can get so caught up in the hard work of parenting and raising our kids to not be assholes that we forget about the good work and the sweet joys of parenting. Some days, everything feels like a minor battle, and in our effort to fight the good fight, we can lose sight of the good stuff and the fact that we’re doing a good job and raising good humans. We become consumed by the busyness and rushing from here to there and putting out one fire after another, and we sometimes fail to acknowledge that, as hard and exhausting and confusing as it is, this life we’re living is good. Really good.
Every parent has their own sweet spot, I suppose. For some, it’s the newborn stage. For others, it’s the teenage years. For me, it is right here right now. And while we can’t slow down time any more than we can press pause, we can take a minute to let the goodness of this phase of parenthood sink in. We can acknowledge the happiness — the sweetness — amid the everyday chaos, perpetual doubts, and painful exhaustion.
Maybe that’s how we press pause, how we slow down time — by taking a minute in the midst of the shitstorm that is our messy, unpredictable, confusing, and chaotic-as-hell life to say, this right here — whatever it is — is good. Really good.