“Enjoy them now while they’re young — it goes by so fast!”
As the father of four kids — ages 2-8, inside the “cute zone” — this is a phrase that is said to me nearly every day, especially if I have one of my kids in tow. It’s almost always said in a kind, well-meaning tone from a person who is looking to connect with my fatherhood in some way and pass down some advice from the perspective, perhaps, of an older parent who wonders how time went by so fast for them and missing having those little kids at home.
I hear it a lot. A lot. And it’s probably in my top five most-disliked comments. I won’t say “hate,” because I understand it comes from a good place, but… I am not a fan of that statement. I wish people could understand why, but I’m not going to get upset at them in turn. Instead, I usually take the vantage point of a youth pastor who has worked with kids across a large age range and respond, “You know, there’s something great and something terrible at every age, isn’t there? Always something to appreciate no matter how old they get.” It’s a perspective-type answer.
But here is why I — and I assume many parents of younger kids — really, really ha… dislike this phrase.
First of all, WE KNOW. I mean, don’t you think we know this? Kids grow and develop at an astronomical rate in the first few years of their life. They go from being a large pooping potato that can’t hold up their own heads to intelligent, personable small people who have figured out how to manipulate with winsome smiles and strategic temper tantrums. And all this within a year or two.
We know it goes by fast. We see it every day. If we don’t remember, then Facebook is right there with “Here’s a picture of you and your tyke from four years ago to make you feel bad that time has progressed.” Thanks, Facebook.
Second, it sounds kind of condescending. Well-meaning, I know, but that’s how it sounds — like we are missing something as parents and could be doing something better. I was only appreciating my kids at 90%, I could go another 10% to get maximum memories!
Finally, it seriously — and I want everyone to hear this — stresses parents out. Every parent I’ve talked to about this phrase feels utterly stressed out by it. We love our kids immensely and yet when they’re young, they consume us. They consume our time, our energy, our worry, our efforts. And now we have to be concerned 24/7 that they only have a little time to be young and cute and cuddly before they apparently turn into hideous grouchy ogres who hate us. Or something.
What can I do with this statement, this advice that I’m given? I already hug my kids, play with them, talk with them, pray with them, do fun things with them, give them individual attention, take pictures and videos of them, encourage them, provide experiences for them. But I need my life too, as a person and as a husband. My kids aren’t my idols and they aren’t the centerpiece of my life. I can’t give everything I am to them and not fail as a husband and as a person. I trust that I’m teaching them what I need to, that I’m giving them the love that they need, and that I’m there for them so that they know it. We have our funny jokes, our silly traditions, and our routines. We spend every Friday night doing a sleepover together in the living room, every Saturday morning making pancakes, every Sunday morning going to church, every Wednesday enjoying a family game night.
I enjoy my kids. I cherish them. A part of me inside weeps when I think about how I used to get all three on one leg when I was sitting or how they used to doddle around like drunken aliens. I realize time has gone by and it rips me, but I can’t do anything about it. I can’t hear this advice and somehow stop time. I can’t enjoy my kids any more and not cause issues elsewhere in my life. So as well intentioned as it is to say this, it’s utterly useless to me.
What I can do is to be the best parent I can be today. To hug them when they first come downstairs, to see them off to school, to chase my two year old as a giant monster, to ask them how their day was, to read with them, to ask them about their interests, to take them shopping with me, to show them how to do all sorts of little things, to build them up and discipline when needed, to provide for them and be the adult they need, and to spout all of the corny dad jokes that I’ve been stocking up for decades.
My goal isn’t to see my kids stay little and cuddly forever. My goal is to see them grow up to be compassionate, intelligent, loving, sacrificing, wise men and women who love the Lord and will be wonderful parents of their own some day. I will enjoy seeing that as much, if not more, than I enjoy being the tickle monster today. I just have to be OK with the change that comes with parenting and be content and thankful for the great things that their age, whatever it is, is providing right now.