The Seasons of Parenting

Fall starts late in Northern California. This year it was in the 100s into early September (and hit a record-breaking 116 where we live!), was still in the 90s during early October, and did not change to cooler temperatures until just before Halloween. We went from summer weather to fall weather with no warning at all (unless you obsess over the weather apps, which I don’t). Now fall is almost over and winter temperatures are already upon us. Again with little warning. 

One day it’s hot summer weather and then the next day you are looking in your closet for your warm coats, gloves, and mittens. Then some of us start getting really comfortable in our sweatpants/jeans and big cozy sweaters as our winter uniform and realize we are going to have to wear a bathing suit soon for that spring break vacation we planned in the dead of winter. 

It’s just like parenting. Sometimes you change into the next season of parenting with little or no notice. Like when you pat yourself on the back and secretly think you are the best parent ever because you finally have mastered your baby’s sleep routine and then she starts teething and you realize you are back at square one with sleepless nights and maybe this parenting thing isn’t such a piece of cake after all. 

The changing of seasons got me thinking about the seasons of parenting and how I define them.

Winter is when your kids are ages 0-4, the time of baby and toddlerhood. It can be cold and dark with lots of uncertainty and sleepless nights but there is a lot of beauty in it too. Winter parenting is a time to marvel at how your baby grows and changes every day, focus on what’s important in life and make changes accordingly, take time to snuggle with your baby, brag to everyone you know about your baby’s first word or step, and try not to spend too much time waiting for the season to change because when it does you can’t go back. I compare it to my favorite winter activities of curling up by the fire with hot tea and a good book, watching a movie as a family, snow skiing, and having snowball fights. There are many things I love about winter but it’s not my favorite season of the year and, if I am being totally honest, it was the hardest season so far of parenting for me. I try to block out how many times we were up in the night putting our kids back in their cribs/toddler beds or just as many times I just gave up and slept with them in our bed or theirs (please don’t judge, I just wanted sleep). Winter to me is a time to slow down, eat too much, and spend time with family, but sometimes you just put your head down while you keep plugging along in the dark looking forward to daylight savings and the wonders of spring.

Spring is when your kids are 5-9 when they are in early elementary school and are more independent than they were as babies and toddlers. The sunshine starts to show through behind the clouds as your kids are able to express their needs (sometimes too much!), tell jokes, and you look at your little humans and think you are starting to rock it as a parent. Spring is also a time for new things and you start to give your children opportunities to discover what they enjoy. In our house that was mainly sports sprinkled in with some musical theater and cooking classes. This is the time that your kids try (and often fail) new things as it is a time of new beginnings. At this stage, you can’t wait for your kid to stop crawling into bed with you at night but then it stops with no warning and you didn’t get to savor the final night. Things change so fast in this stage that you may forget to appreciate where you are at that exact moment. You hear a lot of people tell you, “Enjoy this time as it will go fast” but sometimes you think, “I have been exhausted for 6+ years, I’m trying to herd cats every day, I’m just trying not to be fired at work, these thankless kids don’t appreciate all we do for them, and if I have to make another peanut butter and jelly sandwich I just might lose it”.

We want them to be more independent but we are not always willing to give up the absolute power we have had over them for the last 5+ years. They start to bloom into their own beings but sometimes we look fondly back on the winter of parenting.

Summer is when your kids are 10-17, the late elementary through high school years, the time I am in now.  We have one in late elementary, junior high, and high school. This is when they become well…fun. You can have real conversations with them about life and what is going on in the world. You can watch movies and shows with them that you actually enjoy. They have opinions about everything and may even give us fashion advice (thanks to twelve-year-old Lucy I have started to dress a little nicer and wear earrings again, and I even asked her if she could pick out a few clothes online for me to wear to up my fashion game). They become the go-to for technology (“Jackson, can you please fix the TV, it’s not working?”) They start to have skills (our 10-year-old, Ellie, is a blossoming chef and can cook a three-course meal, although somehow she can’t remember to pick up her dirty dishes scattered throughout the house or clean the kitty litter).

I’m not saying it’s all unicorns and rainbows all the time because it’s not but it’s a time I’m really trying to be present in the moments after the fog coming out of the winter and spring of parenting and I’m not sleep deprived for the first time in 16 years (although now I’m getting to the age that my hormones are causing me not to sleep, which just means the sleep conspiracy is continuing).

I love watching my kids do all of their extracurricular activities at this point because we no longer have to push them into finishing a season of a sport/activity that they committed to. They have started to figure out their own passions which are not extensions of our own anymore and they are becoming, we hope, passionate and self-motivated in their explorations of what drives them and what they choose to spend their time on. We are just winding down an amazing fall with our three kids in five different sports (yes, we know we are overscheduled but they are doing what they love and we are giving them the gift to do that) and I have loved every second of watching my kids play soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, water polo and compete in swim meets. Jackson just turned 16 and was the assistant coach this fall for 10-year-old, Ellie’s, soccer team while my wife was the head coach. How cute is that?

This is the time when I want to spend extra time with my kids because they are fun to be with (most of the time). But don’t get me wrong, just today my 12-year-old said the following three things to me in a very tweeny voice, “Why didn’t you didn’t charge your phone overnight? You are a psychopath”; “You are really chaperoning my field trip? Why???” and about something I said that I can’t even remember what, “Why did you say that? It makes no sense”. We have driving, dating, navigating good and bad high school choices, college applications/decisions, and so much more new, scary stuff coming up soon but I’m loving the season of summer parenting. 

Fall is when your kids are 18+. It is in our near future as we now have a high schooler but we are not there yet.  It’s the time of letting go like the leaves falling off the trees. We are not letting go yet in our house but we are intentionally starting to do less for the kids. They have more responsibilities around the house and I really have to remember not to do too much for them as it is no longer in their best interest to be waited on hand and foot. In the fall of parenting, we send our kids off to college, work, or whatever adventure awaits them after high school, with, hopefully, the confidence that we parents have laid the groundwork to send kind, caring, and self-motivated people out into the world. Although they may lose some leaves along the way, stumble and, sometimes, fall as they go into the next season of their lives, we hope that they push through and bloom again in spring.

Seasons are complicated but mostly predictable, just as the stages of parenting are, but remember that you won’t always be stuck in one season and you will move to the next season whether you are ready for it or not. Maybe we all do need to heed the advice of “Enjoy this time as it will go fast”.

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