I Finally Get What They Mean By 'Let Them Be Little'

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
Mkovalevskaya / iStock

I’ve entered that annoying stage of parenting where every Facebook memory that pops up in my newsfeed makes me cry. I have to share them, of course, because babies — my babies — are missing from my house.

My youngest starts kindergarten this fall, and it’s breaking my heart. He’s ready. I’m not. Time is a cruel thing. When I look back, it seems I was in such a hurry for this stage of my life to come. The one full of independent kids, and silent afternoons while they’re all off doing something else and I can hear my clock ticking while I work. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy my quiet time, but I also get it now. I get why they say, let them be little.

Because having littles around really is temporary. It’s hard and doesn’t seem fast at all when you’re in it, but it does indeed end — abruptly. And I find myself now wondering why I didn’t let them be little when I had the chance.

I’m not beating myself up over it. In fact, I’ve settled into this new phase of parenting where I find myself being more patient when they have their less frequent moments of littleness shine through. I find myself saying yes to one more story, and I find myself sort of enjoying packing lunch for them in the morning even though they are capable of packing it for themselves.

I get it now. I get what “let them be little” means.

It means listen when they talk, because one day, you’ll forget how they mispronounce words if you don’t really listen. My youngest woke up the other day, running out of his room with his bedhead and blankie, and said, “Mommy! I slept weally good this night.” I found myself cataloguing that mispronunciation of the word “really” into my mind and willing myself to remember how he said “this night” instead of “last night.” I want that sweetness seared into my brain and heart for eternity.

It means moving at a snail’s pace some days because that’s what they do when they’re little. There will be plenty of time coming up when we’re all racing around trying to make it to soccer games and play rehearsal. I was constantly pushing them to speed up before. But now, I’m fine if my 5-year-old needs to turn all his Pokémon cards the exact right direction before we leave to drop him off at a friend’s house. It gives me more time to memorize the last traces of his toddlerhood before he’s out the door playing with a friend and not thinking about me.

It means begging your kids for hugs and kisses because you know that, one day, you won’t be able to kiss them in public, and they’ll wipe those kisses off their cheeks when you kiss them at home too.

It means building a fort on an afternoon when you should be folding laundry, or baking cookies for no reason at all, except to see your child’s excitement when you tell them they are big enough now to crack the eggs.

Letting them be little means saying yes more. It means that your agenda seems less important now, and theirs is the agenda that really matters, even if you really don’t feel like watching a cartoon or taking another trip to the park.

It means cutting the crusts off and putting their shoes on, even though you know that they’re capable.

It means that when they ask for help brushing their teeth because they are just too tired from a busy day of school and friends, that you really don’t mind doing it. After all, that means they still are little enough to need you. And that feels good.

It means encouraging them to take their blanket on a trip or their favorite lovey when they spend the night at their cousin’s house. It means saying yes when they fill their pockets with cars and rocks and plastic toys just for a simple trip to the grocery store, because they look up at you with those eyes that still have a hint of toddlerhood, but are turning more and more into boyhood every single day, and you want them to hang onto being little for just a minute longer.

It means you still cut up their food and make their plate. And you really don’t mind it.

Letting them be little means overlooking the disaster in their bedroom because it means they’re having fun and memories are being made, and one day, pristine rooms will only remind you what was once there, and you really will wish for the mess and clutter again.

Letting them be little means you are happy that you’re still needed. And thrilled when you’re still beckoned for snuggles.

I won’t tell new moms in the trenches to let them be little because I remember all too well how hard it was in those first few years. I remember the constant feeding, changing, and getting up in the night, and I’m not going to tell you to let them be little.

But I’ll admit that I wish I would have let them be little sooner.

I take comfort in the times I did let them be little when I had the chance though. And I take comfort in the mom I’ve become now and that my newfound perspective helps me mother with more softness, patience, and peace.

When you can finally let them be little, I think what it means most of all is that you’ve grown up as a mom too. You’re not that overly exhausted anxious mother wishing for each stage to hurry up, so you can regain your sanity with less tantrums. It means you’ve grown up, and so have they, and you want to hang on to all of that magic for just a little bit longer.

So I’m letting them be little now. And that matters — because despite how big they are getting, they’re still little enough. And I’m going to soak every last drop of their littleness up, until it’s gone.

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