A while back, I came across a description of motherhood as “one long goodbye.” Though I no longer recall the source of that quote, it’s stuck with me and is something I now think about almost every day. It’s a deceptively simplistic descriptor, but possibly one of the parenting quotes I’ve both resonated with—and simultaneously resented—the most.
Our role as parents is essentially to work ourselves out of a job: if we succeed in our parenting, our children will grow into responsible, contributing members of society who will leave our homes and establish independent lives of their own, apart from us. Our task of parenting them will be (for the most part) complete. This is the healthy and normal way of things. But that doesn’t make it easy, and it doesn’t mean I will always like it.
Watching my kids grow up—rapidly crossing off milestones, moving to the next stage before I feel remotely ready, plowing through clothing sizes like nobody’s business—has been one of the most difficult aspects of motherhood for me. While I’ve enjoyed every new stage with Charleston, and now with the twins, there is always a part of me that grieves all the stages we’ve left behind. I love each of them for who they are now, but I miss the littler selves they once were and will no longer be again.
My children are growing up too quickly, outpacing my own sentimentality and sensibilities, and though I journal excessively and max out my iPhone storage with pictures and videos in attempts to preserve every memory, I’ve yet to succeed in fully stopping time. Each day is tinged with a subtle sadness that I haven’t made the most of these precious moments, and that I’ll look back on them with regret.
When Charleston was still a baby, I heard a breastfeeding expert explain how she overcame the sadness of weaning her baby by banking extra minutes: at the end of every nursing session, instead of putting her child straight into his crib, she would hold him for one extra minute. That minute was one she savored, then tucked away in her mind and heart to be preserved for the future. In subsequent years, when she was feeling nostalgic for the time of nursing her child, she had those extra minutes to look back on, and her regret for what had passed was replaced with satisfaction that she had made the most of that special time. Her treasury of extra minutes paid lasting dividends over years that might otherwise have been indebted to remorse.
I began to adopt that practice of banking extra minutes with Charleston when he was young. I did it with nursing, but also with playtime, with reading books, with bedtime snuggles: whenever we reached a finishing point of our time together, I would give us just one more minute, intentionally filing those bonus memories in my emotional treasure box.
This practice has been a lot more difficult to implement with the twins, since double babies (and triple kids) makes for a much less mindful mama. But I still have plenty of bonus memories stored: those extra minutes of skin-to-skin time with my teacup-sized newborns in the hospital; holding them both for just a minute longer during midnight nursing sessions, their little heads tilted towards each other, tiny hands extended across my chest; giggling with them over a pile of blocks in the middle of the nursery floor; flipping through one more picture book with all three kids pressing for space on my lap.
Watching my children grow is the definition of bittersweet. It’s beautiful and miraculous and heartbreaking all at once. But resistance is futile, and banking extra minutes with them has already proven to be an invaluable tool in stemming the tides of regret.