It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Watching your kids grow

Sentimentality. A little sentiment can be a sweet addition to your life: the ability to conjure up the whole lovely vacation when you look at a single pretty pebble picked up from a hiking trail; a fond remembrance, a wave of affection, a wisp of nostalgia. Nothing wrong with any of that, in fact, an enrichment to a contented life.

If you can’t find your dressing table because of the trinkets, if your kitchen is buried under kid art, if your dining room a mere tunnel through stacks of treasured mementos… You have a problem.

It’s about balance and perspective.

It’s September, and with it the wave of back-to-school posts. Among them, the “my baby just went to school for the first time” posts. And among them, among the sweet posts filled with anticipation, excitement, and a little wistfulness, were the FULL-ON PANIC posts.

“My baybeeeee! My baby is leeeeeeaving me! My baby is — heaven forbid! — GROWING UP.”

Goodness, ladies. Get a grip.

Wistfulness is understandable. It’s a rite of passage, a demarcation of the end of one thing and the beginning of the next. So you pack their lunch with special care, you dress them carefully, and maybe even take a few pictures. Wistfulness and possibly some fear. You watch them pass through the doors of the school (or the school bus), and hope that the institution that is swallowing them is kind, that their time there is happy. Not everyone has a happy time there. So yes, wistfulness and some level of anxiety and protectiveness, certainly.

But full-on panic? Reams of words deploring the child’s absence, wondering how mum is going to cope, and mostly, always, consistently, ruing, decrying, resisting, mourning the fact that their baby is growing up.

Um. Growing up. Well, yes. Isn’t that the point? The idea of having a baby my whole life long fills me with horror (and also immense respect for parents of handicapped children, for whom that may be their practical life reality.) Do you really want to be the parent of a baby for the rest of your life?

School is an obvious example right now, but you see this all the time, mothers (have yet to see a dad write one of these posts) writing about all sorts of stages in their children’s lives, and every time the reaction is fear, resistance, regret, and denial that their baby could be growing up, changing. (And ultimately leaving them? Is that the root fear?)

Wistfulness is fine. A little sentimental nostalgia, recalling that moment you held their sticky body for the first time… knowing that is gone, never to return. Who wouldn’t sigh a little sigh for that? There is nothing as soft as a baby’s skin, nothing as delightful as the bubbling river of baby giggles. The fat little thighs! The dimples instead of knuckles on pudgy fists! Awwwww… So sure, a little gentle wistfulness for the speed of life. But why choose to get stuck there?

So, savour the wistfulness… and also, here’s a thought… how about excitement? Anticipation? Optimism? Sure, with each stage there are things you leave behind. (Not always a bad thing, say I, as not-so-wistful memories of a screaming colicky baby and months of bleary-eyed exhaustion swim through my head.)

But along with the things you leave behind, there are things you’re gaining. Always. With every stage come new things to treasure and savour. The Panic Moms seem oblivious to that. All the phases and stages, all the passages… they’re just bad. Bad, points of regret and sorrow and grieving.

And really, if that’s how you see it, if your child’s growth is one long chain of points of mourning for the things lost… why on earth did you have a child?

Thing about kids, see, is that they GROW.

They grow up, they learn to do stuff, they move on. It never stops. One thing after another. One accomplishment after another. One new discovery, another broadening of their capabilities, an enrichment of their worlds. It never stops.

Another, and another, and another thing…
to marvel in.
To take pride in.

You mourning mummies? I suggest a paradigm shift. You, and possibly your children, will be much happier for it.

September 26, 2011 - Posted by | Developmental stuff, parenting | , , , , ,


  1. And some of those mothers will, in no time, be pushy parents – in effect, not letting their offspring be children for long enough

    Comment by Z | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  2. It’s the balance that’s hard. I’d think my son was so mature and capable of so much and I’d encourage him to be independent. Then I’ll see pictures of him at that age, say three years ago now, and I’ll think, “Why did I push him to be so independent then when it would have come eventually anyway?” Actually finding the time and ability to “enjoy the moment” is really, really hard.

    Comment by My Kids Mom | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  3. This was a great post, especially as today is my oldest’s 10th birthday. There is definitely a wistfulness about leaving ‘little kid’ behind for good, but also excitement about seeing who she’s turning into.

    Comment by tuesy | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  4. Amen. I know some moms who have made the kid’s first day of school all about themselves – it really makes me sad for those moms (because some day those kids WILL leave home, and then what will mommy do?) and also for the kids, not given the opportunity to test their own limits and grow up without feeling guilty about it.

    I cherish all signs of independence in my boys. I try to foster it in the kids in my care. And I look forward to each stage eagerly, because I know that the relationship I have with my mom now, as a grown woman, is one of the most important in my life.

    Comment by hodgepodge | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  5. puddinggirl reblogged this on puddinggirl.

    Comment by puddinggirl | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  6. Love, love, love this, Mary! I was one of those moms that DIDN’T panic or get teary-eyed when my kids started kindergarten. By then, they’d been going to a preschool for a while, so it really wasn’t that big a deal, just a transition to a new school (with new expectations, and more of an academic emphasis, sure, but not really that big a deal). I was excited for the new beginning, their transition into something that made them a “big kid,” and proud of their accomplishments.

    Mommy guilt? Not a smidge of it! Loved my kids (who are now 26, 23, and 21), loved my time with them. Did not feel the least big guilty about leaving them with someone else, because it was someone I chose carefully, someone I respected, someone I believed would do a great job taking care of them, better than I could if I were with them full time (because I’d get “burned out,” exhausted, impatient…). I felt I was a better mom because I wasn’t with them 100% of the time, and could cherish the time we were together.

    Comment by Margie | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  7. I’m sooooo with you there, Mary, and I only have a toddler! I kinda laughed (a bit ghoulishly, I’ll admit) at those weepy back to school posts when I saw them. All those mothers, lamenting the loss of their babies…and I thought…”You must not remember what it was LIKE to have that baby home all the time!!!” Because it is not all sweetness and light. It’s a lot of hard work. And the thought of regaining some Quiet Time in our house when The Boy goes to school…well…both my husband and I are excited about the prospect! In fact, that was the reason he started preschool this year. And let me tell you…I released a yell of joy on that first day of school. 😉

    Comment by Rebecca | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  8. Thank you. Raising children is not all about oneself. It drives me insane, all this “poor momma” business. Of course I miss my big boys while they’re at school, but God, I’m happy to see them flourish.

    Comment by barneyneuberger | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  9. I’m torn about this. I am excited about each of my son’s milestones, his excitement at discovering new things, his newfound ability to play with the same toy for more than 30 seconds. But he’s 1 now, and I know I will miss these giggles, the tiny smiles as he settles his head onto my husband’s shoulders, and all the other toddler behaviours.

    I don’t want this to end, but I am really looking forward to when he learns to ride a bike, to do a somersault, to say a sentence, to write his name, etc.
    I know I’ll enjoy him at 8 years old as much as I enjoy him at 18 mos old, so why am I so sad to pass his baby clothes on to the next baby in the family? I’m actually having a lot of trouble with this, and I’m rarely sentimental. I’m usually content with pictures and my own memories.

    On his first day of school, though, I’ll be so excited for him that I don’t think I’ll worry about me.

    Comment by Kimi | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  10. I totally agree with you. I sent my youngest (almost 7) to a 2 night overnight summer camp this year… a program that his older siblings had been to before. I know a lot of kids that age wouldn’t be comfortable with sleepaway camp at this age and I totally understand (my oldest wasn’t ready for sleepaway camp until she was about 11). But I was struck by a parent friend I know who said, “I can’t imagine sending my daughter away to camp.. I”d miss her too much”. I’m thinking, “hmm, so… it’s about what’s best for you and not about what’s best for her? That’s odd.”
    I’m actually feeling more sentimental about time passing now than I did when they were little. My kids are now 14, almost 10, and almost 7, and I just love this time. They are independent enough now that there isn’t the burden of physical care that there was when they were babies and toddlers, but young enough that they still enjoy hanging out with the family. My oldest’s middle school years went like a blink and I can just feel that her last 4 years at home are going to whiz by.

    Comment by Anita | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  11. Amen!! Fantastic post!! I’ve seen moms mournful about their babes learning to walk…Isn’t that a great accomplishment, which, also selfishly, makes your life easier! Celebrate, indeed!

    Comment by Karmyn | September 26, 2011 | Reply

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