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I slosh through the snow-covered sidewalk toward my neighbor’s house with two brown Target bags in my hands. In each bag sits folded winter clothing, most notably a generous stack of fuzzy footie pajamas that no longer fit our youngest without his protruding belly pushing back on the zipper. I look down as I make my way to their house, not only due to the slippery terrain but to allow myself the last few minutes to say goodbye to these items. A moment of silence for this phase of parenting coming to an end. 

A few days earlier, I decided it was time to size up each of the kids’ closets while simultaneously purging the excess we had gained throughout the years. For anyone who has endured such a task, you know it’s no easy feat, but especially with three boys, we have kept and accumulated more than we truly need. A sickening amount, to be specific.

A clearance shirt here, a pair of shoes there, and suddenly our storage space is filled with translucent bins, each stacked and labeled neatly to easily identify the sizes of the contents within. Impulse purchases and gifts from family surely account for some of what is stuffed into these totes, but more so our storage space is a sentiment to the continued blessing of hand-me-downs from other families. 

When I first became a mom, I was shocked by how easily mothers would donate and pass along the items their babies had outgrown. “Won’t you want this back? This is too nice, I can’t take it! Isn’t it nostalgic for you?” I’d say. But they always seemed relieved of the burden and happy to help a new mom. I noticed garage sales titled “Done having babies!” as if they were shouting it from the rooftops. As if they were overjoyed to be done with the tiny plastic bathtubs and bibs adorned with cartoon animals.

RELATED: To My Friends Who Shared Their Hand-Me-Downs, Thank You For This Precious Gift

A friend of mine sits in my living room on the brown leather couch across from me. I see her relax into the leather as she discloses her growing interest in becoming a mother and the concerns she has about lack of support. Her parents are older and she and her husband recently relocated back to Minnesota, leaving friends and coworkers behind. 

“Well, I’m here for you always,” I respond in a heartfelt tone. “I’d come day or night to help you, and I’m sure we have stuff we can pass along.” 

She’s quiet for a moment, speaking softly when she finally says, “But I feel bad because I’ll never be able to pay you back. And I wasn’t able to do the same for you.” 

I feel the sting of tears swelling in my eyes, evidence of the truth behind the sentiment I plan to share with her. “That’s not how motherhood works,” I reply with a subtle smile, “It’s a pay-it-forward mentality, a chain reaction. It’s a blessing to be a blessing.” 

RELATED: Goodbye to the Baby Hangers

I text the neighbors that I’ve dropped off the bags on their front doorstep, careful not to ring the doorbell and wake their 4-week-old baby boy (or them). I walk home with contradicting feelings of grief and joy. No longer will I have onesies in my laundry or tiny socks to match and fold. No more spit up or blowouts to lay out in the sun in an attempt to fade the stains. Nothing smaller than 3T from this point forward. But alongside these revelations is a feeling of pride and peace. I’ve made it to the pay-it-forward part of motherhood. 

Motherhood isn’t meant to be a solo experience. We may have lost the normalcy of having a village to call upon for guidance and support, but we shouldn’t let that stop us from trying to make the path of parenting smoother for those to come. We seasoned parents have to press on in our attempts to reach other new parents. 

Reaching out a hand (literally) to open the door for a diaper bag-slinging, toddler-toting mom or dad working their way through a threshold. 

Reaching out with a smile or kind word to a flustered parent in the store, attempting to remain patient while squirrely kids hang off the cart and shriek.

Or maybe it’s reaching out to a neighbor with a text to ask if they’d like your outgrown hand-me-downs for their new arrival. Maybe it’s about paying it forward, and in time, being ready to let go.

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Rachel Schuehle

Rachel resides in Minnesota with her family. Her three boys keep her busy and her house messy. Any snippets of free time she finds, she enjoys amateur gardening, easy puzzles, and listening to live music.

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