“I’ll be really sad when you can’t pick me up anymore, Daddy,” my little man said to me the other night as I was carrying him up the stairs for bed. I told him that one day he won’t like for me to do that anymore. One day, not too far down the road, he won’t ask me to play hide-and-seek. And as soon as tomorrow, there’s a chance that he will stop asking me to cuddle with him. And before we know it, he won’t count on me to tuck him in and read him a bedtime story each night.
With a big ole grin on his face, he responded, “Never, Daddy. Never!” I’m not sure he’s noticed the fact that my dad doesn’t pick me up or tuck me in anymore. But for now, I’m happy that he feels that way and I’m going to embrace it for as long as possible.
Then there is my daughter. My middle child. As part of my routine each evening, once the kids go down, I make sure all their things are ready for school the next day. And as I was checking her computer’s battery life, the home screen was open to her latest Google search: fun things for a girl and a boy to do.
Now, this was a school computer, meaning the restrictions for what could have possibly popped up were pretty strict. The results could have been much more terrifying. I mean, laser tag, soccer, and food-eating contests could have looked very different on another computer. But the results weren’t what stopped me in my tracks. The search was.
I’m just not ready for this, y’all.
But I also know that whether I like it or not, they are going to grow up. And I think that the most important job we have as parents is to make sure that we don’t miss it. Despite what we’d like to think, there is only so much of the growing-up process we can control. They spend much more time away from us than they do on our watch. So for me, when I get the time to be with them, I just do my best to do my best. To take it all in. To be as present as possible. To not get annoyed when they crawl up on my lap or interrupt my Zoom calls. Not because it might be the last time, but because I know that they won’t care to have my attention forever. And while they want it, I want them to know they can have it.
The truth is, we can’t outrun the pace of our kids growing up. It’s happening and it’s happening faster than most of us would like. But we do have a choice in how we respond to it all. Before I give any advice, I must remind you that I’m not an expert when it comes to parenting. I’m just a single dad, doing my best to make it to 9:00 p.m., when the kids are tucked in their beds and I have a glass of wine in my hand.
Let’s be honest, growing up means a lot of things. It means more responsibility. It means adding things to your to-do list. It means getting to do things you thought you wanted so badly as a kid and realizing that they don’t seem half as awesome as you’d imagined. And my goal, each and every day, from now until my last, is to make sure I’m there for them for the awesome and the not-so-awesome. And here is the best way I know how:
- Make home their safe place. If they want to talk, be there. If they want to cuddle, be there. If they need a shoulder to cry on, make it yours. If they just want to be, let them be. Make your home the safest place on earth. A place where honesty is praised and grace is abundant. If you’ll do that, they will always come back.
- Always be their biggest cheerleader. Each new year, friends and teachers will come and go. Eventually, boyfriends and girlfriends will come and go. They will have some highs and some lows. They will have their heart broken a time or two. They will make the game-winning shot one night only to miss it the next. The one constant is us—cheering for them the entire time. Don’t let them look up into the stands only to see your seat empty. Don’t let someone replace your place.
- Allow them space to make some rules (and then follow them). The day is coming. Very soon, if it hasn’t already. “Daddy, please don’t kiss me anymore in front of my friends.” It happened to me and it will happen to you. And after the initial disappointment, we begin to realize that mutual respect goes a very long way. All kids will have different rules, but it’s important that we abide by them. Disclaimer: as parents, we trump all the rules, but give them the chance to set some boundaries and make some rules and if they are reasonable, follow them. It’s amazing how allowing your kids to do this will bring them even closer to you.
Embrace the change while enjoying the ride. The changes will come. Their Google searches will evolve. Their request for snuggles will eventually go away. So take them all in and embrace each moment. And I can promise you that more moments will come. And they will be awesome. My little man is my best buddy in the entire world. And my dad is my best friend on the planet. Some things don’t have to end. Just enjoy the ride.