Twenty-four hours before my son’s fifth birthday, he looked at me with curious eyes and asked, “Mommy why the sad face?” To which I replied, “Because I’m sad you’re almost five, and you aren’t a baby anymore.”

“I’m not a baby?” he asked with a quizzical expression.

“Well you’ll always be my baby, but you’re going to graduate, get a house, start a career, get married . . . and I’m sad about those things,” I explained.

He continued to look at me with a studied expression as if he were imagining himself going through each of those life events before he asked very matter of factly, “Wait, all of those things are gonna happen when I’m five?”

“Oh no, sweetheart,” I replied quickly. “Happy birthday,” I said with a giggle as I tried to change the focus of the conversation. Then, I started thinking . . .

Why are we, as moms, always either stuck in the future or stuck in the past?

We are constantly asking them what they want to be when they grow up or imagining their wedding to our best friends’ kids. Or we think about all of the things we could have or should have done with them. Maybe we think we should have taken them to more baby music classes or not let them eat so much sugar the day before. Or we see a new mom with a baby at the park and think about how much we miss the baby stage and those long days of cuddles and baby smiles. Or we’re at the grocery store and see a dad chasing after a toddler and miss those early days of watching them learn coordination while they laugh as they sweetly tumble.  

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I often find myself whispering to myself during those frustrating parenting moments, This is only a phase. It will soon pass. And yes, not every moment of parenting is fantastic and Instagram-worthy.

However, it seems like it’s sometimes difficult to stay focused on whichever particular phase we are in at the moment.

If I think back to that cute, cuddly baby stage, I remember wishing the kids were older so I could sleep longer and have more independence. If I recall the toddler stage, I remember thinking it would be nice for them to finally be in school so I could at least have more time to clean the house or go shopping without a wiggly little person trying to escape a race car shopping cart.

And now that my kids are in the early elementary stages of life, I find myself imagining what kind of students, friends, or athletes they will be. I worry if they are being social enough, eating enough, sleeping enough, or reading enough. All because I want them to be healthy kids, but also because I desire for them to be healthy and socially functional adults. 

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But on that day before my son officially turned five, he reminded me to do one thing—live in the moment.

Appreciate the age and stage of life we are in right this moment.

I’m not sure if the choices he makes as a 5-year-old will greatly affect what career he chooses in 20 years, or if my current parenting style will impact whether or not he decides to go to college or travel the world. Right now, he just needs me to appreciate his 5-year-old personality and to make sure he feels loved. 

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He still needs me to kiss him when he’s hurt and hold his hand in crowded places. He needs me to make his lunch, read his favorite book, and play cars with him on a rainy day. He doesn’t need me to worry about who he will marry, if he will live in a big city, or what kind of employee he will be. 

There’s a saying runners often use when running longer distances, “Run the mile you’re in.” I feel like this also applies to motherhood. Experience the stage you’re in—really experience it.

Rather than being stuck in the last stage or worried about the next, just enjoy the present stage of life.

Motherhood is filled with guilt, nostalgia, and anxiety, but it’s also filled with so many special, joyful moments that if you blink, you’ll miss out on some really great experiences. And if you stop and listen to those sweet, innocent (yet honest) voices of your children, you might learn something new about yourself. I’ve learned that mothering is full of teachable moments, not just for the kids, but for me as well. And although I’ll still occasionally wonder what kind of spouse my son will be, my hope is, at the moment, for him to be a really awesome 5-year-old.

Amanda Schwenk

Amanda is a mother of two and a lifelong learner. She loves writing, running, hiking, and chasing adventures. She enjoys writing product reviews and sharing her travel journey on her blog: www.theswagmama.com.