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You know how your mom, your grandma – all the more “seasoned” moms will tell you to enjoy every moment with your kids because “they grow up so fast”?
And in the middle of sleepless nights, sibling rivalry and potty training stubborn toddlers, you sometimes have a hard time believing it?
Well, it turns out they’re 100% right. They’ve always been right, just as you and I suspected.
Striving to be a more intentional parent has taught me this sage advice stands the test of time, for a reason.
I’ve changed a lot as a mom, between my first child who’s now twelve and fourth who just turned two. The fleeting nature of time just becomes more apparent after you’ve witnessed its reality more than once.
There are a lot of things I would tell my younger mom-self, if I had the chance.
Like, to not worry so much about them “becoming independent” at age 4. There will be plenty of time for that later on.
I would take more pictures; even the bad ones with my old-school cell phones will be cherished forever.
I would remind myself that I’ll miss those late-night feeding sessions with my daughter tucked contently into the crook of my elbow.
They Grow Up So Fast: Letting Childhood Linger
Looking back, I realize the need to preserve the moments today that will soon be only a memory.
But I don’t only want to preserve these memories- I want to cherish the time I have with my kids NOW and let childhood linger a little longer.
I don’t want to rush them into a world which seemingly wants their childhood to be shorter and shorter by the minute.
Here are a few ways I think we can let kids just be kids, and enjoy these years more – while there’s still time.
Encourage Free Play
Kids in today’s world are overscheduled, overstimulated and over-managed, for the most part.
I can’t help but nod in agreement with many theories speculating that the abundance of behavioral and other disorders in children may be, in part, because they have less unstructured, low-key creative time than kids did in the past.
Free play is a critical component to childhood!
There seems to be so much pressure on parents to “keep kids busy” with educational learning opportunities 24/7. As schools push curriculum further back (kindergarten is the new first grade), parents worry they won’t meet the requirements for preschool screenings and so, shortly after age 2, the race begins to keep up.
What happened to learning through play? Generations before us did this without thinking about it, and apparently they knew something we didn’t, because if you’ve noticed, kids seem to be less motivated and content, and more anxious than ever.
Related article: How to Raise Happy Kids who are Motivated to Do Their Best
Through the years, I’ve learned to be more confident in my parenting instincts. Kids need time and space to use their imaginations without a how-to manual for everything.
They need time to unplug, explore, and create without us being overly involved in the process.
I don’t spend a lot of time on the floor playing with my kids or worrying about whether their TV and tech time is educational or not. What I do a lot of though, is observe how they interact with each other and listen to them.
Are they working together? Are they moody and irritable? Are they getting outside enough?
I can tell immediately if my 12-year-old has had too much social media time (which is already pretty limited), and she will even tell me as much.
She’s much happier when she’s involved in a new art project and my 9 year old can’t contain her excitement when she’s written a new story or built a new fort with her brother.
Their behavior tells me what activities benefit them the most, so as long as I pay attention and guide them back to those things, I can let them enjoy free time that’s truly free.
I’ve mentioned before that I think sports and scheduled activities are great – but kids need balance too. They need time spent without adults overly managing them.
I’ve also noticed that many of these activities over-emphasize competitiveness as the end goal, which can be stressful in itself. Think about the competitiveness in the work environment- then imagine how it could make your kids feel!
Free play can look different depending on your child’s interests, but don’t assume that less organized sports and/or scheduled activities will have a negative impact on your child’s future success.
On that note, maybe we should redefine what success we’re aiming for with our children.
Overall, my biggest parenting goals have less to do with academic or athletic performance and more to do with raising kids who become compassionate, creative adults with integrity, and who are more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing others.
Make Bedtime Meaningful
While bedtime can be super stressful especially with multiple kids, I try to make it a priority to spend time with each child individually before bed. This takes some time, but it’s time well spent.
Kids are so introspective when they’re sleepy and it’s funny to think of all the things they’ve revealed to me over the years while sitting in a quiet bedroom after dark.
They’ve talked about their favorite memories, their thoughts about God, things that are bothering them and so many other things, completely unprompted.
My four-year-old and I have been on a storytelling kick (sans books) for the past year or so.
Books are for daytime, but night time is for telling made-up stories out loud, some with sequels that last for days. My son LIVES for these stories and the time spent with mom.
These aren’t Pulitzer-Prize winning stories, they’re mostly silly stories (with a point), but I usually make the main character a little boy his age and with many of the same interests.
This has made bedtime a fun experience for him that also helps him to unwind and know he’s loved. (Try it with your younger kids and see — you can read more details about these storytime prompts here.)
Related article: 50 Questions to Ask Your Kids to Grow Your Relationship and Their Faith
With my two older girls, they have devotional/Bible reading time and then we discuss what they’ve read.
Sometimes we just talk though and catch up with each other’s thoughts. The school year can be a hectic time especially, and we need time that’s set aside just for this purpose.
I know a day will come when they think they’re too old to be tucked in at night- so I’m soaking it in while I can!
Because even though I want a little quiet time in the evenings to myself – I enjoy the time spent at bedtime connecting with my kids.
Go with the flow
It’s taken me a long time to relax my parenting style (btw, I don’t really have one!) and understand that kids will be kids and not every misbehavior or annoying habit needs to be addressed.
I am all about setting limits and enforcing consequences, but really, if I made a big deal over every small infraction in the day, I’d lose my mind.
This is the long-winded way of saying: pick.your.battles.
You will enjoy your kids more if you don’t set unrealistic expectations of them.
For example, whining drives me crazy, but kids are kids. They’re going to whine and they’re not always going to go about their chores while whistling a merry tune.
They will beg, barter, and negotiate like little lawyers to attempt to get their way.
So I can become the No-Whine-Enforcer or I can go deaf – to most of it.
Micromanaging every behavior makes for a stressful parent-child relationship! (Ask me how I know.)
You’re the parent – you decide what constitutes misbehavior and what is normal, age-appropriate childishness. There IS a difference.
Besides, I’ve noticed that my stress level only ramps up their level of frustrating behavior! Kids feed off of, and learn a lot from our reactions to THEIR actions.
By the way, this applies to car rides, special outings…you can pretty much expect kids to act up any time you have a change in routine, even if it’s a fun activity you’ve planned just for them!
So don’t let it ruin your day – or your future memories by getting overly upset by it.
Redefine your own success
When my first daughter was a newborn, I had just started a new part-time schedule after working full-time and going to school at the same time. I was highly driven to succeed at work and everything I did in life.
Needless to say, I had a HARD time adjusting to the slower, less measurable pace of motherhood.
I remember telling my grandma one day, “I just feel like I wake up and I don’t have a defined purpose for the day! It’s driving me crazy!”.
And her obvious reply has stuck with me ever since. Pointing to my sleeping daughter, she said, “This is your purpose.”
Moms, especially working moms who are used to seeing measurable results from their effort, can really struggle when they try to replicate this at home.
The difference is, the product of our hard work, sleepless nights, discipline methods, selflessness and crazy-stubborn love won’t often be seen until years after the fact.
We might tend to think that we’re not “doing anything” with our time, when the glaring truth is that a big part of our life’s purpose is right here in the making.
It’s in the wiping of tears, the cheering of first steps, the laundry (oh, the laundry!), and even the partially-eaten meals.
If you want to hold onto childhood and soak in all its inherent goodness – this is how we do it, mama friends.
We give our all when we feel like there’s nothing left to give, and we give a little more. We pour our hearts into these tiny people – a heart which will always beat in unison with theirs.
We live in these moments, knowing they won’t last but that these children and their growing-up years were appointed for this moment in time, under our roof and under our loving guidance.
And we do it all with a thankful heart, recognizing that all seasons come to an end eventually, but our time here was spent savoring the full measure of these sacred days.
Because your mom was right: they grow up so fast. They really do.
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