One month when our five children were all small, we had three cases of chicken pox, two ear infections, one case of bronchitis, and three cases of the flu. My son John exclaimed, “Mommy, in your day people died of the flu.” At that point I thought I might die from nursing sick children. I felt like I was seeing my pediatrician more than my husband. Sick kids and the agony of deciding whether a child should go to the doctor or not is definitely a challenge of the toddler years. But it usually passes as the kids get older.
Looking back on my life, I have found one of the most helpful ways to gain perspective on your current situation is to see life in terms of seasons. We have the season of being a newlywed, the season of starting a family and the ensuing baby-toddler years, the season of raising teens, the season of the empty nest, and for some the “bungee cord” season—when you thought your nest was empty and a child comes home again. And we have the season of the golden years. What I’ve realized is that every season will have both challenges and blessings unique to that season. It is helpful to articulate the challenges and then choose to focus on the blessings.
One of the challenges of the baby/toddler years is frustration. You rise in the morning, get the house picked up, kids fed, and by evening it’s all undone again. When asked, “What did you accomplish today?” your response might be, “Nothing, I just got through it.” This sense of frustration caused by a lack of accomplishment is truly hard for those of us who are “Type A” women. And it’s really hard if you have come home part- or full-time from an exciting job where there is a sense of accomplishment.
When I had small children, I discovered that I loved to mow the lawn! It was the one thing I could do that was instantly satisfying and lasted more than 24 hours. We must not forget the blessings of these early years. One of the blessings I found is the funny things toddlers say. I remember when Libby saw the ocean for the first time. Her eyes got huge as she exclaimed, “Mommy it’s too full you need to let some of it out!” Teenagers don’t say very funny things. It’s a blessing of the toddler years. When your child or grandchild says something funny, grab a scrap piece of paper and write it down with her initials and the date and throw it in a folder to save for the future.
What about those teen years? One of the challenges of the teen years is distinguishing between swing issues and crucial issues. Deciding whether to let your teen go to a certain party is a lot more serious than deciding whether to take ballet or play soccer. Finding the balance between setting limits and letting go is a challenge. But there are blessings of these years as well. You finally begin to see some pay-off after all those years of training in thoughtfulness, of teaching manners. Your daughter may actually offer to help in the kitchen. Your son may look an adult in the eye and speak politely! In all honesty the teen years were my favorite.
And then we hit the empty nest. One of the challenges is that most of us have poured our lives into raising our kids. This is true whether we were stay-at-home moms or worked in the marketplace. Our primary passion has been for our kids and we wonder, What will my purpose be now? In a sense we may feel “fired” from our primary job. Another challenge of the empty nest years is learning how to relate to our adult children. How much do we text or phone? And when they marry our priorities must change. Our first priority must be their marriage, not our relationship to our child. It’s hard to let go. However, there are many blessings in this season. Now we have the opportunity to become friends with our kids, to have adult conversations, to learn from them and be stretched by them. And we have the opportunity to begin a fresh season with our spouse. (You have to be intentional about this!)
There are many other seasons in life: seasons of loss, of transition, and of mixed up seasons like caring for an elderly parent while raising toddlers. No season lasts forever. And God is in the midst of each season growing us up into the women He has created us to become.
A wise woman will be honest about the challenges of the season she is in but then choose to focus on (to name and look for) the blessings in the season. Wherever we are, God is faithful.
One of the themes of my life for the last 45 years has been looking at life in terms of seasons. As a result, I have written three books which may be helpful to you or to someone you know—And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement For Mothers of Young Children; And Then I Had Teenagers: Encouragement for Mothers of Teens and Pre-teens; and Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest (with my friend Barbara Rainey.) I also have a newsletter called “Wisdom for the Season.” Please visit me at www.susanalexanderyates.com, and I hope you will find encouragement for your season.