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Dear young mama,

First, let me apologize. I am guilty of saying “enjoy every minute” and “they’ll be grown before you know it”. I have since stopped, as it was apparent how much you all hated it. I am sorry. It was never meant to make you feel bad. It was, in all honesty, more of a recollection than advice.

Trust me, I haven’t forgotten how incredibly hard it was to raise littles. It’s exhausting.

I will always agree that it is the most difficult job you’ll ever have, albeit the most important. I remember the long days void of adult conversation, the diapers and meals, the endless messes and clean up, the fears and doubts, the days without showers, the sleepless nights, and always wondering if you were doing a good job or if you were raising future delinquents.

The days seem incredibly long and the minutes seemed to tick by slowly. You have no time for yourself. Not a minute where someone doesn’t need something from you and you just want to be alone. You are literally “touched out”. Trust me, I remember. “Our time” disappeared and kid time ruled.

And then, before I knew what happened, the diapers were gone, everyone was conversing in full sentences, and I wasn’t needed quite as much. Soon after, the school bus came, and they were away all day. I finally had some time to myself, but I couldn’t wait until they got home. I couldn’t believe how much I missed them.

I still had all the questions and the fears—was I doing the right thing, sending them to the right school, listening enough, being patient with the homework, trying to love more and nag less? Was I instilling lifelong values, growing their faith? Did they have enough responsibility? Was I doing too much for them? Not enough?

It became clear to me that alone time wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, so I took a job with flexible hours and drove them to and from school each day. And then, our daughter began driving and my chauffeuring job was close to being done. They were involved in sports activities and off with friends. I didn’t get that “after school” conversation anymore. They were growing independent and I was proud of the people they were becoming but missing those times when they crawled into my lap and just wanted me to rub their back or stroke their hair. To dry their tears or rock them to sleep.

We took all our vacations with them, we loved having them all to ourselves on those trips. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. There was a whirlwind of recitals, dance competitions, football games, hockey games, proms, banquets, and concerts.

Then, one graduated and was off to college. We felt like we were leaving a funeral when we left her at school that day, driving away and listening to Kenny Chesney sing “There Goes My Life”. I sat in her bedroom and cried. I missed her presence, her companionship, her joy. We still saw her frequently, but she was grown up and she was pursuing her dreams. She went on to marry and move to another city. She was only two hours away, but it felt like a world apart to my mother’s heart.

And then our second child graduated and joined the Army. We dreaded his departure for months, and when the time came, we again were so proud and yet, so lost. When we dropped him off for his flight to boot camp, we were so distraught we missed our turn and ending up in a neighboring state. Now we were truly all alone.

Hadn’t we wished for some time to ourselves when they were little? Didn’t we want to be free to go out, take a vacation? To sleep in?

After all, they had grown up and our jobs as daily caretakers were done. But a funny thing happened. We weren’t the parents who were delighted that the kids had “left the nest”. We missed them. We didn’t know how to be a family of two, instead of a family of four.

It was a very hard time, learning how to adjust to a new normal. In truth, we hated being empty nesters. We missed not only them but the friends they so often had over to the house. We missed the sporting events and the comradery with the other parents. Slowly, we came to grips with it, and we learned to cherish and look forward to the times we spend as a family on holidays, at the lake, and during leave time from the military, but it would never be the same again.

Now that I can sleep in, I don’t. I’m up most mornings before the sunrise—alone with my thoughts.

One minute they were little and the next, they were gone.

Mothering was my job for all those years. It was my identity, and when it was done, frankly, I didn’t know who I was. Sure, they still needed a mom, but not like they used to.

What they needed now, was unconditional love and support. Availability. A listening ear. A safe place to land and a forever cheerleader.

So, when I said, enjoy every minute, it was because I was missing that time in my life. You see, a lot of things didn’t occur to me back then. I guess they should have, but I was too busy raising our kids to think that far ahead. It didn’t occur to me that I would have to get up early every day, or that they would grow up and leave.

But most of all, it never occurred to me that one of my children would die before I did.

Our son John passed away a few months before he turned 25. He was injured during his time in the Army, and he came home broken. His pain led to opioid addiction and he died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in his room—the same room that held his crib and changing table. His toy trucks and tractors. . . and the room that now holds all the mementos of his too-short life.

So, when I see you in the grocery store or at the park, or I stare too long at you and your precious kids in Target, trust me when I say I’m not judging your mothering. I’m not trying to give you unwanted advice or make you feel less than.

No, I’m remembering those long last days when everything was right in my world.

When tragedy had not visited.

When I could still somewhat control the outcome of the day.

When chubby hands cupped my face and little voices told me I was loved.

No, young mom, I’m not judging you; I’m wishing I was you again—if only for a few minutes—to hold them and stroke their hair, to feel needed and depended on, to protect them, and tell them everything would be alright.

When I see you, I’m reminding my younger self that life is indeed too short. To enjoy every minute you are given. To hold on to the moments, because they will indeed, pass way too quickly.

You may also like:

Savor These Moments, Mama, Because Time Flies

The Nights Are So Long

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Kristin Schlegel

Kristin and her husband have been married for 30 years. She found writing to be very therapeutic after losing their son, John, to the opioid epidemic at the age of 24. She hopes her writing will help other bereaved parents know that they are not alone.

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