I took the girls to one of our favorite coffee shops last week and all around me were parents of babies and toddlers. Their little ones ran about in the grassy area out back, toddling up and down the lawn, when it suddenly hit me with perfect clarity—the sun has nearly set on this season for me.
It was a realization marked by internal tension, a mourning of the loss of one season contrasted by the joyful anticipation at the arrival of the next.
It came out of nowhere and hit me like a tidal wave.
Having five kids in 10 years means I’ve been in some phase of the baby/toddler season for more than a decade. Those years have left an indelible mark on me. They have impacted nearly everything I’ve done and have defined me in moments when I felt there was nothing else to define my work. When the nights wore long and my patience thin, when I’d changed the thousandth diaper or stripped the sheets again, when I’d held the tearful toddler or comforted the fussy baby, when I’d hit my knees in tears because I was wholly poured out . . . in those moments, I would remind myself of the high and holy calling of my role as a mom to young kids.
But now my children are getting older, and my role is changing. I still diaper a child, but it’s only at bedtime. I still hold my children, but they don’t quite fit on my lap the way they used to. My arms no longer cradle a tiny tot, and I can’t remember the very last time I nursed (something I swore I wouldn’t forget).
There’s sadness in this reality.
There’s a stark understanding that time seems to pass with greater rapidity each day. I see it in the pencil marks scratched onto the kitchen wall. But there’s also joyful anticipation because the dawning of this new season brings with it a surprising awareness that there is so much sacred beauty ahead.
There is a richness, a depth, and a maturity that is developing with my older kids that didn’t exist in their younger years. It’s true they don’t need me like they did when they were babies or toddlers, but they still need me. Only their needs now have more emotional depth. They may not depend on me to meet the physical needs of bathing and tooth brushing and feeding, but they depend on me to meet the heart needs of frayed friendships, despairing disappointments, and messy mistakes.
This is tender, sacred work, different than the sacred work of mothering babies and toddlers, but eternally important all the same. Every day I am laying the foundation for a relationship with my children that will be rich in mutual respect, spiritual growth, gracious understanding, and lifelong friendship.
These kids are growing up before my eyes.
They are developing independence apart from me, and it is both heartbreaking and life-giving. I am beginning to catch glimpses of what I’ve said all along . . . that as mothers our role is to set down roots and give them wings. I’m in a phase now where I’m starting to see wings. It’s a broken-beautiful process that has caught me by complete surprise. I am beginning to see the fruits of all the early years of labor.
So mama, if you’ve stuck with me through all these musings, what I simply want to tell you is this: it’s true when they say don’t blink because time passes in a moment. One day you’re wearing a baby on your chest and the next you’re wearing their jersey number on a T-shirt. One day you’re tending a toddler’s broken toy, the next a teen’s broken heart.
So savor this time with your babies and your toddlers.
It’s hard and exhausting and all-consuming, but the season is short. And soon you’ll wake up to find the sun is setting on your season too.
But when it does, know this: a setting sun promises a new dawn. And the dawn of a new season with older children is a glorious one indeed. It’s not easy—the demands are different. But it’s a broken-beautiful season that holds its own sacred weight, a weight of glory where babies grow up and spread their wings.