A friend was relaying a conversation her husband had with their son about the relativity of time. Why, her son wanted to know, did it seem like summer lasted forever when he was younger? His father replied that when he was little, two weeks was a huge percentage of his life at the time; now that he’s older, it’s a smaller percentage of the life he’s experienced so far.
I’m taking that idea and applying it to parenthood. Glennon of Momastery said it perfectly in a piece that wasn’t much related to being home with one’s children after all but is still a good piece regardless, Save Your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions:
Today has been a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were moments when my heart was so full I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was CERTAIN I’d explode. I was both lonely and absolutely desperate to be alone. I was saturated- just BOMBARDED with touch and then the second I put down this baby I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed with so much to do. Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst.
Being a parent of young children can feel like it’s too much, drawing itself out forever. Sometimes it’s as if you can’t possibly imagine what it would be like to not be constantly needed, whether it’s by a nursing newborn or a three-year-old tugging your hand toward the playground. It can, sometimes, feel like an eternity before you’ll get to be you again and think two subsequent uninterrupted thoughts.
How much time do we really spend having small children over the course of our lives? Using the Social Security Administration’s estimate of my life expectancy (85.5 years), I determined that, considering one single child, 21% of my life will happen during that child’s first 18 years. The first five years is 5.5% of my life; first two years is 2.3%, and the first six months, just 0.05%. (I know, it’s not quite accurate, but the math required to figure out how many years I spend total with a certain number of children at any given time is beyond me. 50% of my life ago, I could have figured it out; not anymore.)
Putting it into that perspective sort of makes me feel even worse about the times I spend feeling that it is an eternity and mourn a loss of self, but guilt is not productive and guilt is not my point. It is not exactly the perspective I feel in my life at this moment, either, as I’ve been a mother for 17.6% of my life at this point; 52.9% of my life so far has been spent as a child myself.
What I want to say is: This is why you should hold your baby. This is why adults need to respond to a baby’s cries. This is why it is worth it to take the time to sit and heal after you’ve had a baby and concentrate on breastfeeding instead of housework. Grown-ups can have the perspective of seeing that this is a small part of their lives overall. While I have been a child over half my life, those days are but distant memories, and for those new lives we bring into the world, their first day is 100% of their experience.
Being a parent of young children can feel like it’s never enough. While we may not always feel it, we can see that these early days of parenting are not forever. Sometimes, it can help to step back, do the math, and see that this is but a short season in our lives. And those times it doesn’t help? Then it’s time to step back, find a way to recharge, and take care of ourselves so that facing tomorrow might be a little easier.