I Love Having Older Kids. There's Just One Catch.

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

I love the age my kids are now.

Years ago, when my mom got married, my whole family flew out to British Columbia for the wedding. My kids were still little, but my brother’s were already tweens and teenagers. While we were still tied to nap schedules and snack times, their family was off zip-lining, hiking or fishing every day. Was I jealous? You betcha.

The kids are now 7 and 11, and we’re finally free of all the equipment we used to schlep around with us everywhere. When we see parents pushing strollers, my husband and I exchange glances, because we’re both thinking the same thing: Thank goodness we’re past that stage.

Another big change: weekends. On Sunday nights, my husband used to say, “T.G.I.M!” because we were so exhausted. Weekends are a lot more fun now. We do things together that we all like, and in the morning, the two of us can linger over our coffee while the kids keep themselves amused for the first few hours of the day. Freedom doesn’t come all at once; it comes in segments, and the pace is just right.

So what’s the catch?

Your freedom is their freedom, too.

My son goes to school on his own, his phone in his pocket, and after school, as long as he lets us know where he is, he’s free to go bike riding with his friends. They zoom around town and make stops where they like, fishing out pocket change for treats I probably would say no to.

Sometimes, on weekend mornings, he takes his sister to the diner for breakfast. It’s just a short distance away, but when they walk out that door, just the two of them, my heart gets heavy and light at the same time. I’m so proud of them. I love that they know it’s a big deal to do this, how seriously they take it, and how excited they are to go. And for the first few minutes after they leave, there’s that contented sigh as I go back to my coffee and my computer or my book, and I’m relaxed and exhilarated at the same time.

And then it sinks in. They’re getting farther away with each step.

Their walk to the diner will one day be a drive to some restaurant in another town, or the train into the city, or a car or maybe even a plane to college and beyond. I realize, as I’m sitting back, relaxed in my chair with nobody asking me for anything, that at some point, they won’t even be coming home after they go out. Home will be somewhere else for them. They won’t need me anymore, and they’ll know it.

And all that lightness gets very, very heavy.

My son is going to sleepover camp for the first time, just for two weeks, and already my heart is breaking. Maybe one year, my daughter will want to go too, and my husband and I will experience summer as just a couple again instead of having to buy our time alone together with babysitters. And it’ll be wonderful and terrible at the same time, because after the freedom of the first few days wears off, we’ll realize that we’ve successfully raised strong and independent children who can get along without us at their sides. We’ll be so proud. And, I suspect, a little bereft.

Freedom will come. We’ll go to movies again, and have late dinners and stroll around the neighborhood together. I’ll spend more time with my friends. And then I’ll come home, full of my newfound freedom, and feel the emotional pull of a house that’s too quiet.

All of this goes through my head as they walk out the door toward that diner. I try to remember that I have a whole hour to myself now, to enjoy it, and to not think about a time when I’m going to feel like I have far too many of them.

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