“It goes by really fast.” I could not count how many times older parents shared this advice during my oldest son’s first year. I heeded their warnings and took their message to heart. I always believed the days raising my children would fly by while leaving me with the sentiment of “where did all the time go.”
Faith and Family
This September marks the beginning of the last year that I will be parenting my youngest child at home before she goes off to college. I’ve read experts’ opinions on how to transition to the empty nest, but I don’t want to waste one minute of this year worrying or working on how I will cope with this upcoming stage in my life. I do know that it will be one of the most difficult transitions I have ever made, but I am willing to put off this mental meltdown in exchange for soaking up as much of this direct parenting experience as I can. I sure hope my daughter can tolerate my constant desire to be engaged in this mother-daughter relationship this year.
I have loved nearly every part of being a mother. I was blessed not ever to need time alone or be overwhelmed by the chaos of children going in six different directions. Although life was messy at times, my husband and I managed to keep what we thought was important very simple. As I reflect, and I will do lots of that this year, there are only four things I disliked about parenting. With some creativity, I was mostly able to avoid those less-than-favorite chores.
I did not enjoy feeding my babies solid baby food. I am without patience when it comes to putting a tiny spoon in what often were clinch lips. I mostly worked around this problem by nursing them until my children were old enough to pick up the food and feed themselves.
I did not enjoy changing linens in the middle of the night when one of my bedwetting children had an accident. I improved this problem by layering the sheets with a plastic crib pad and tearing the wet ones off to a fresh underneath.
I didn’t particularly appreciate helping my children memorize their spelling test words, and I thought that would never end. Technology and my ever-efficient daughter solved this angst for me. She spoke the words into an iPad, the iPad would repeat the word, and she practiced her spelling from there. I wish we had that technology for my other children, because I am sure I would have fewer gray hairs now.
Lastly, I hated teaching my teenagers how to drive. Why is it that driver education instructors have brakes on the passenger side of the car yet expect parents to be the primary teachers with no right side brake? How is that each of my kids couldn’t figure out where the middle of the lane was and that cars are tools, not a source of entertainment? I solved this by pushing off driving lessons until after age 16 and passing on this teaching responsibility to my ever-patient husband.
I embraced, enjoyed, and looked forward to nearly every other parenting activity. The list of my most favorite would be extremely long, so for the sake of brevity, I have picked my top three with hundreds more to follow if asked.
My most favorite family activity was attending Sunday Mass together. I think we are as busy as most families of eight, and nearly every weekend, all that lived at home prioritized Mass attendance as our foundational priority. The most common question asked each weekend was, “When are we going to Mass?” It was the “we” that I loved, and it was the gift of knowing each of us would be celebrating the Eucharist together. There were many moments of tension as we attempted to get everyone dressed and on time for church, but the gift of going as one, discussions afterward, and the meal that typically followed was the best family bonding we could do.
Secondly, I will miss our frequent trips to the cities for sports. As competitive competition goes, most of the action was down in the Cities. Several of my children participated in those sorts of activities. Watching my children compete with different kids was fun, but nothing was more special than the time I was granted with my kids on those long car rides. We recently ended our last travel sporting event, and I took the scenic drive home with a 30-mile detour to soak up every moment of car time together. What I learned from my kids and all that I was able to share with them was worth the price of gold (or should I say gas) and miles on our car. Some think travel sports are a money grab, but having that much time with your teenagers is hard to duplicate in other ways.
Thirdly, the celebrations. When you have six kids, there are so many different life events to celebrate from Holy days, holidays, receiving sacraments, birthdays, and academic to athletic accomplishments. We have rituals, traditions, and special meals for each one of these. We celebrated the first day of school, the last day of school, and feast days. We make a big deal about riding in the front seat of the car at 13 and passing your driver’s license exam. You name it, we celebrate it. I enjoyed pretending like I forgot about the special occasion and then surprising them with having everything taken care of. Since I have never forgotten a special occasion, I think they no longer believe me when I pretend to forget. This supposed forgetfulness is all part of our tradition.
Time has flown by. I knew that next year was going to come, and I am not looking forward to it. I am fine now, but I know that this next stage in life will take some adjusting. I also know that I am still a parent but would be fooling myself if I believe parenting will be the same. My first memory of a child was dreams of being a mother. Indeed, I wish I could have done things differently, and I am sure you will hear about that in further editions, but for right now, I must soak up what I have left.
I am so grateful to my husband and the dear Lord for blessing me with three decades of exceeding joy. I will worry about my emotional state when that time comes, but I am not wasting any time now worrying about how I will deal with this impending change. By God’s Grace, I have a loving husband who, too, will struggle, but I know I won’t be going at this condition alone.
Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.