A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a writing colleague and we got to talking about our children. I mentioned something about my kids cleaning their own bathroom, and that I loved how independent they’ve gotten even though in a lot of ways they still feel little to me. “Ah, yeah,” she said knowingly. “You’re in the sweet spot.”
The sweet spot, she told me, is the enchanted period of a child’s growing up when they are past needing you to wipe their asses and tie their shoes and pack their lunches, but haven’t yet become so independent that they’ve decided they don’t need you at all. Sandwiched between diaper bags, poopy blowouts, and unfathomable exhaustion on one side and attitude, sneaking around, and pulling away on the other, the sweet spot is the golden age of parenthood.
My sister gave birth to her third child a couple of years ago after an extended gap. There are nine years between her second and third kid. That little boy is the most precious angel to ever grace the surface of the earth, but he’s still a baby, and babies are a shit ton of work. My sister had to regress her lifestyle back to scheduling her days around naps, always having extra diapers and a snack everywhere she goes, and planning vacation sleeping arrangements around a baby who goes to bed four hours earlier than the rest of the family. And someone always has to wake up early, because babies wake up freaking early.
I have friends on the other side of the sweet spot too, friends whose kids are firmly entrenched in their teenage years. My blood pressure rises when they relay their stories of explicit social media exchanges, drugs and alcohol and sneaking around, anxiety over grades and getting into college. I still have total control over what my kids see on the Internet, whether their homework gets done, who they talk too, where they go and for how long and what time they come home… How am I going to relinquish this control?
Seriously, I’m asking. How do you do it?? I think the teen years might actually kill me.
My kids are right in the beautiful, comparatively calm middle of these two extremes. They are capable of impressive levels of critical thinking, and yet still assume I know way more than they do. Just today my son and I had a conversation about terminal velocity. He had no idea he went over my head with his talk of how atmosphere and gravity limits the maximum speed of a falling object. He still thinks I know everything, and far be it for me to correct him just yet.
My 8-year-old daughter is independent, preparing her own breakfast, cleaning her own room, riding her bike by herself to the neighbor’s house down the street. But she still needs me to do a few small things, like brush her hair in the morning before school or read that special picture book just because. When she cries, I am still the first person she runs to. I love that she still needs me like this. She is still my baby, but minus the work of an actual baby.
It’s the same with my 12-year-old. He’s gotten to where he can cook with a fair amount of confidence (and without catching the house on fire), and when he does chores, it’s a genuine help. He cleans the bathroom as thoroughly as I do and even mows the lawn. And yet he still often climbs into my lap for a snuggle. He still likes me to lie beside him at bedtime while he reads his book. He’s not a baby anymore, but he still likes hanging out with me.
Here in the sweet spot, we get to stay out late but can still keep tabs on our kids. I no longer dread the nuclear meltdown that will happen at 8:01 because my baby is not in bed at exactly the appointed time. This past New Year’s Eve we stayed at a friends’ party until 3:00 a.m. My daughter crashed on the couch with a few other kids around 1:00, and my son stayed up partying with the other big kids until 3:00.
And yet my kids aren’t old enough to go out by themselves and get into trouble. I cannot imagine the fear and frustration of waiting up for a kid who is breaking curfew. What if they’re not responding to texts? What if they’re hurt? Or worse? How do parents get through this stage??
I’m going to cherish every moment of this sweet spot. The teenage years are fast approaching, and based on the stories my friends tell, I’ve got a serious roller coaster ride ahead of me. For now though, I’ll put on my blinders and enjoy what time I have left with these sweet babies who, thank goodness, aren’t actual babies.