Monday morning. 5:40. Cup of coffee. My desk in a corner of the basement. Life is good. And this morning I find myself pondering the fact that my kids are getting older. It is inevitable, of course, but what once felt like a crawl to adulthood seems like it has become a sprint. Just this weekend my youngest turned eight years old—no longer a little kid. She’s become too big to pick up and toss around. Or maybe I’ve just become too weak to even try. She rarely comes over to me anymore to plant herself on my lap for no other purpose than that she needs a cuddle and the reassurance it brings. Maybe she doesn’t understand that I need the cuddles too.
It was with a twinge of remorse that I realized I can’t relate to her as a little kid any more. For so long our love language has been the language of absurdities: “Mommy says you don’t want birthday presents this year, so mommy and I are going to use the money to go out on a date.” We used to have such fun with these, teasing one another back and forth with increasingly absurd statements. Now all I get is rolled eyes and the one-word exasperated exclamation, “Daddy!” I guess it’s time to stop, time to find something new, time to learn a new language.
I also have a son who is choosing the high school he will go to next year, and a sixteen-year old girl (well, she’s actually eleven years old, but she may as well be sixteen). And at this phase of life, I am finding parenting so easy and so difficult all at once. I am finding parenting such a joy, but a joy that is mixed with new kinds of sorrow. I know now that there are some kinds of sorrow a parent can only experience as his children grow up and grow older. There’s the sorrow of missing what they used to be, and the sorrow of seeing them make the same mistakes I made once upon a time.
Parenting was grueling in the phase dominated by midnight bottles, night terrors, and endless dirty diapers. It was grueling but predictable. It was exhausting, but primarily on the physical level. We didn’t have to serve as counselors and psychiatrists. If we were up late into the night, it was to walk and bounce a baby to sleep, not to counsel a heartbroken little girl about cruel words blurted by her best friend. What kept us awake and sleepless were the cries of simple gas cramps or hunger pains, not the cries of emotional pain following a bad decision. When a toddler crosses boundaries it may require a brief and simple punishment; when a teenager crosses boundaries the result may be much longer-lasting, much more complicated, much more sorrowful.
Aileen and I pray as we crawl into bed at the end of the day. We try to, at least. This used to be our time to ask the Lord to keep our children healthy, to give us wisdom to know how to train them in obedience, to help keep us from growing exasperated with another late night and another two-in-the-morning diaper change. Simple stuff in retrospect. Raw and real, but simple.
Now when we pray we are asking the Lord to give our kids wisdom to negotiate the problems they have caused in their own lives because of their own immaturity and foolishness. We are asking the Lord to give us and wisdom as we consider issues that will have a life-long bearing: Christian high school or public high school? Computer science (the route with the great career possibilities) or history (the route that inspires both joy and passion)? We are asking the Lord to give our children patience and godly character as they learn to live in the presence of those who are spiteful and mean. We are asking the Lord to give our children godly character to go along with their profession of faith in Christ.
The Lord was so good and so kind to us through the little kid phase. It was difficult at times and there were days or even weeks at a time when we went through life with that dead-eyed look you see in so many new parents—parents whose children have kept them up too late every night for a month. But God was with us and he worked in us. We grew in faith and love not despite this time but through and because of this time. We have no doubt that he will do the same as we parent bigger kids and teenagers.
But I do miss playing with them. Not pushing toys around the living room floor. I’ve never been able to tolerate the kind of playing and am almost always able to intercept it with, “How about daddy reads you a story instead?” It’s the playful playing, the absurd playing, the nonsense playing. The kind of playing only little kids and their parents enjoy.
Life is good. Parenting is a joy (when it’s not agony). God is sovereign. And now it is time to wake them one-by-one, to rouse them for devotions, to get them their breakfast, to send them to school. Suddenly that most mundane of routines seems like it may be the most important thing I do today.