“What can I get for you this morning?” the young man asked. I walked up to the counter and ordered my usual Americano with cream – extra hot. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked me how my morning was going.
“Pretty good. It’s my son’s first day back to school since Christmas vacation, so it’s back to business.” I answered.
“That was always my mom’s favorite day; ‘finally the kids are out of my hair!’” he laughed, imitating a frazzled mom celebrating the return to school. I laughed, too.
“Oh, not me, I have always loved having my kids home with me.” I said, with a smile.
After he handed me my coffee I found a table and waited for my two girlfriends I was meeting.
As I sat waiting for my friends, I thought about my brief conversation with the nice young man who sold me my coffee. It’s nearly always in jest, but I always feel a twinge of sadness when I hear moms complain about having to spend time with their kids, and how they can’t wait to send them back to school after a school vacation.
I have always enjoyed and looked forward to spending time with my kids, and now that my daughter is married and moved away, and my son is in high school, I am keenly aware of how limited our remaining time is, and I want to make the most of it. I also regret not having this mindset when I was younger.
When I was a younger mom, my older relatives, and even well meaning strangers would tell me to “enjoy them-they grow so fast.” I would smile and nod, thinking I had all the time in the world. And, I was enjoying my kids, so that advice didn’t even apply to me.
Was I ever wrong.
When my kids were physically dependent on me for everything, it felt like time stood still. I was in a perpetual cycle of the same activities 24 hours a day, with an occasional shower thrown in. I was in survival mode then, but looking back, it was just a blink.
As they grew from newborns to toddlers, they became less interested in me, and more interested in anything they could touch or put in their mouths. I enjoyed our time together when they were under the weather because it meant they would actually let me hold them again.
Then school age hit, and with it, all the excitement and uncertainties of what lie ahead. Some days they were my big kids, ready to take on the world, and other days they weren’t so sure and just wanted their mama.
As my husband and I raised our kids, we were busy with other aspects of life. We both worked, were very involved with our church, the kids were involved with sports and other activities, and the every day business of living life kept us busy.
Though I enjoyed time with my kids, I also found fulfillment getting involved with the women’s ministry at church and forming new friendships. After some time, I took on some leadership roles within the women’s ministry and the white space on my calendar grew smaller and smaller.
Soon, I began taking on too much and said “yes” to practically every request and opportunity. As someone who had very low self-esteem and few friendships as a young girl, I began to feel the acceptance I missed as a teen and felt validated and important.
Though my schedule grew busier, I was still juggling marriage, motherhood, my home, and work. I was going through the motions each day as if I was on autopilot, and my family got my leftovers.
Eventually, it became too much. Big surprise.
I scaled back greatly, released some commitments, and became very selective with how I spent my time.
And one day that advice finally sunk in: “enjoy them, they grow so fast.” It wasn’t just friendly advice older parents pass down to younger parents. It was a plea – a desperate plea passed down from someone who realized they missed out on what mattered most, after it was too late, hoping to spare another parent the heartbreak.
The time between the nurse putting my babies in my arms, to when they were sitting up, crawling, and walking across the living room and then walking across the stage to get their diploma, went too quickly.
I think about how I took time for granted. Our kids grow, develop their own interests, get jobs, go away to school, and get married. You never know when you are making your last spur of the moment trip for ice cream on a hot summer night, or your last late night family movie marathon, or the last Sunday with all your kids sitting next to you at church. It just ends.
King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that all he amassed, his activities and work, in the end was meaningless.
[verse reference=”Ecclesiastes 2:10-11″]…My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. [/verse]
Some things aren’t meant to be juggled. Those things are God, our husband, and our kids. Those are the things we are to hold close.
I think of all the things I thought were important. They weren’t. They were distractions that robbed me of time with my kids. Time I can never get back.
Scripture is clear that our children are gifts from the Lord. One of my favorite passages is found in the Psalms.
[verse reference=”Psalm 127:3-5a”]Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…[/verse]
To help keep my priorities straight I made changes to my schedule and implemented some boundaries:
- I say “no” a lot: I don’t accept most of the invitations I receive to gatherings, events, or meetings. Not because I don’t like or care about the people who have invited me, or that I don’t value or appreciate the opportunities or causes, but because I know how I feel when I overschedule myself, and how my family suffers. There are so many wonderful events, opportunities, and causes to get involved with, but when I say “yes” to something, I am saying “no” to something else, such as time with my family, or the work God has called me to.
- Office hours: I work from home, but keep work during “office hours.” If something needs revisiting after office hours, I prefer to do it once the kids are asleep. I rarely schedule meetings or phone calls before or after school, or in the evening. If my son is on vacation, I am on vacation. During the summer I work fewer, shorter days, rarely taking meetings or phone calls. Consider how your schedule could fluctuate, when your child’s does.
- Screen time: I try to limit my screen time to my office hours and when others in the family are using their devices. When my kids were younger they once told me they felt like my phone was more important to me than they were, so I try to be mindful of that when I reach for my phone.
- Me time: I try to schedule time with my friends, my appointments, and running errands during the day when my husband is at work and my son is in school. Not only does it give me more time with my family, the stores are a lot less crowded during the weekdays.
I am not suggesting that our lives should completely revolve around our children or marriage, or that having jobs, hobbies, and interests are bad, but we have become so conditioned to believe that a busy schedule outside the home equals significance. But just like King Solomon, filling our calendars for the sake of fulfillment and significance is striving after wind.
Mamas, enjoy your children, they grow so fast.
Truly, I can tell you from experience…some things aren’t meant to be juggled.