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When they were little, it was so hard.  It was so hard to have someone need you so much.  We all want to be needed, a little bit.  But then we are faced with caring for someone elderly, someone ill, someone newborn, and we get overwhelmed by being needed so much.  And that was what it was like in the beginning.  The quiet nights when it was just me and a single baby, rocking in the glider with a bottle, were sweet.  Were baby shampoo and crusty formula sweet.  The louder nights when it was two babies and two parents awake, swinging them in a side hold with our mouths constantly echoing Dr. Karp’s lesson of “shhhhhhhhhhhhh,” those nights were hard and it felt like it would never end, that we would forever be sleep deprived and guessing at their needs.

People would tell us that we had no idea what was coming next; that we didn’t know how easy we had it.  And they were frankly wrong.  It is not necessarily harder, but it is different.

Perhaps it feels harder because the problems now grow roots down into the tender places of our psyche, into the dirt of our souls.  When they are hurt by friends, it is not just about their hurt.  It also makes you question whether you gave your child the right emotional tools to cope with other people.  And if you trace that path back far enough, you finally ask yourself quite simply, “am I doing a good enough job as a parent.”  When they are struggling in school, it’s not just about their grades.  It’s about whether you are spending enough time working on the core skills needed to get through all the onion layers of education.  And again, if you trace that path back far enough too, it ends up at the same question of whether you are doing a good enough job as a parent.

It was easier when we had all the power.  When we controlled the situation.  Our child would take a toy from another child, and we would be right beside them, teaching a lesson in real time, making them give the toy back.  But it was also hard to always be on, always be working, always be teaching.  They knew nothing.  This was the time to lay all of the groundwork.  But laying groundwork is hard.  It is tedious to try to teach someone who can’t really comprehend anything beyond this exact moment in time why it is good to share.  It is like watching a cooking show in a foreign language.  You get that it has something to do with food, but beyond that, it is gibberish.

It is harder now when we need to place control in their hands.  By which I mean that on one hand, our lives are easier; we no longer need to take care of every small thing.  They have stepped in and made the decisions we used to make, and by default, we can step back and do other things — I can take a shower in the morning and pour myself a cup of coffee; tasks that seemed impossible to get to when they were babies.  But I send them off to various places — to school, to parties, to playdates, to classes — and they now have the control.  They need to suddenly remember watching that foreign cooking show and translate it into a meal.

They have all the tools, but now it is their choice to decide whether or not to use them.  They can choose to ignore everything I tell them when we’re in front of one another, and the person that reflects on is not just them but me.  Think of every story about a misbehaving child and the question always asked is, “where were her parents?” or “what sort of parent raises a child like that?”  You would think that we would stop asking that question knowing full well that our parents are currently no more in control of our behaviour than we are of the next generation.  But we can’t help ourselves, even though we know that autonomy is a lot more complicated than simply regurgitating what our parents tried to teach us.

The twins make 1000 choices every moment of every day.  We talk about our choices constantly, reducing this entire concept to a single letter “Y” that I sometimes leave on a note in their lunchbox or written on their hand in Sharpie or simply say one last time before they leave my car.  It is shorthand for the idea that every single person on this earth has two possible lives — the one she leads and the unfulfilled life that isn’t accessed because of choices she makes.  Each decision takes us to a fork, and I want them to take the path that is going to bring them what they desire in life: friends, success in school, a thriving computer company.  I make them sit and think about that other fork; that road not taken.  The one that takes them far away from everything they think they want, like some secular version of A Christmas Carol.

Sometimes I use the last five minutes before pick-up worrying about what they’ve done while we’ve been apart, even though the worrying is meaningless.  The minutes have already occurred, the decisions have already been made.  Maybe it’s just the anticipation of waiting to hear how they used that control, how they processed those lessons.

I believe that it will get harder than this.  By which I mean that it will be easier than those first two years when they needed me so deeply, and it will be harder than those first two years when their entire world fit inside my world.  So when I use the term harder, I mean that it will be more painful to have my heart tugged out of my chest, dragged away from me as the twins grow up and become entirely separate beings from us; from each other.  A long time ago, I had the physical pain of sleep deprivation; and now I have the emotional pain of watching someone process and internalize my words; internalize my lessons.  And I need to face how well I’ve taught them.  And I need to let go and understand that even if I delivered the information perfectly, the knowledge can still be lost in translation.  And I need to own the times that we all do take the right fork in the Y, and put ourselves closer to the place we want to be.


1 BigP's Heather { 12.18.11 at 8:52 am }

My sister told me when Katherine was born that it wouldn’t get easier, just different. It just feels so hard again at each stage because I have to learn. To play catch-up and figure out this new phase. Every time I get a grasp on something, she changes it up. Life changes it up. New teacher, new routine. New teeth, new sleep pattern. Etc. Keeps me on my toes.

*Of course, she is only three so I retain the right to change my mind that it is indeed harder as she gets older.

2 Esperanza { 12.18.11 at 8:56 am }

What a powerful post. As the mother of a 1.5 year old, I really felt this line echoing in my chest, “it will be harder than those first two years when their entire world fit inside my world.” I can feel my daughter’s life already pushing past my own, becoming its own separate entity. Already we comment on the things that make her her, and while we can attribute some parts of her personality to each of us, only she carries each quality in the precise amounts and with the defining affect that makes her her, our daughter yes but a unique individual as well. She is her own person and watching that person emerge from the routines of care we’ve created to nurture her is both empowering and terrifying. I’m so thankful that I still get to stand by her and make every moment a lesson, that I can still swoop in and keep her out of harm’s way (at least from the bigger dangers) because the idea of her being out in the world and doing that for herself leaves me breathless. 

It’s a good thing these small creatures we are entrusted with grow at the rate they do. I think we, as parents, need the time to adjust to their burgeoning independence as much as they do, maybe even more so. 

I’m up right now, at 5:45am because my daughter was scared and needed me to console her. Holding her, singing to her, watching the fear melt from her face, I told her that I’d always be there for her. And, in one sense I will be, but in so many other senses I won’t. And that’s hard to accept. 

Thanks for a great post. 

3 Courtney { 12.18.11 at 10:10 am }

I love this post. That is all! 🙂

4 Queenie { 12.18.11 at 10:32 am }

You are a great mother, and your kids will turn into great adults who make great choices. Not every time, because no one does–but the majority of the time, which is all anyone can wish for.

5 Kate { 12.18.11 at 10:57 am }

What an insanely great post, holy crap, truly. Wow.
I will remember the Y forever.

6 Hope { 12.18.11 at 11:40 am }

What Kate said.

7 Tigger { 12.18.11 at 12:25 pm }

Oh lord. I already worry about whether or not I’m being a good mom and the Boy is only 8.5 months old! I’m going to worry myself into the ground if it doesn’t get easier. Which, I know it doesn’t. My husband is 31 and his mother STILL worries about him. The first year we were married she would call him every day, at the same time of day (about the time his hand hit the door on the way into the house) to see how his day went and if everything was okay. Used to drive me NUTS!

8 gwinne { 12.18.11 at 12:26 pm }

I love this post. And I agree that it’s not necessarily “harder” to have older kids, just hard in a different way. Sometimes I think that those early days aren’t really about parenting at all; they’re simply about making sure another human being survives by having basic needs met (not much different than taking care of a plant or an animal). But at some point, it becomes about emotion and power and choice and a whole host of complicated other stuff…

I really like the Y idea.

9 Foxy { 12.18.11 at 1:45 pm }

My husband and I took custody of a 17 year old family member this past summer. The hardest part for us was realizing that we really don’t have any control over her and the choices she makes. To make it even harder, she didn’t have a foundation of guidance to base good decision making on. It has been really hard to pick up the pieces and attempt to provide that guidance so late in the game.

Its been an incredible learning experience for us. And the value and importance of those early lessons, that early foundation, all of the work that you are doing with your children NOW is SO important. SO important. SO valuable. It is the kind of foundation that will last their whole lives.

Life is made of so many teachable moments.

10 Chickenpig { 12.18.11 at 2:03 pm }

This post was wonderful and absolutely true. Having newborn twins, and then toddlers was incredibly hard. Now that they are in school the emotions are harder because it is out of my control. But I’ve got to say, everything is easier with SLEEP. I don’t mind dealing with the PPTs and the IEPs , the homework and the getting ready for school battles because I get a full night’s sleep! I never, ever want to go through what I went through in those first four months. And I’ve had a daughter since, and I’m pregnant with another…but twins? NO WAY.

11 HereWeGoAJen { 12.18.11 at 2:35 pm }

Love this post.

12 Jen { 12.18.11 at 4:24 pm }

What wonderful words, Mel. And for every gut-wrenching day our children tell us they chose the wrong path and ask for help straightening things out, there are heart-singing moments when we hear about how they got something so right. We can look at them glowing with pride, and think “I was a part of that.”

13 Still Hoping { 12.18.11 at 4:40 pm }

I wonder about these types of things and my babies aren’t even here yet. 🙂 I love the “Y” discussion and how you’ve made it a part of their everyday lives. We could all remember a little more frequently that some of our choices have eternal repercussions.

14 Mo { 12.18.11 at 4:54 pm }

Mel, I’m stealing the “Y” from you when my kids finally come.
You are an amazing mom.

15 Trish { 12.18.11 at 5:32 pm }

wow, I nodded all the way through this post.
Robbie is only 3.5, but already the feeling of him exerting his independence, or making poor choices, or getting his feelings hurt is so emotionally difficult.
And of course, now I have a 5 week old, so I’m doing the physically hard “sleepless” thing all over again, too.
Personally, I think the older ages are hard in a different way, but also really like the good parts, getting to know their personalities and rejoicing in the good choices and happy times. Babies are a little less rewarding in that mostly you just hope they don’t cry, but that’s just me. I know a lot of people who reaallly love the sweet baby snuggles more than anything in the world (and they are nice, I must confess) it’s just a matter of preference.
But really.. I think parenting is just plain hard. Infinitely worth it, but definitely hard. Probably because we just want to do it right SO badly.

16 Mic @ IFCrossroads { 12.18.11 at 5:42 pm }

Wow. What a powerful piece. Your writing always makes me pause and think. I love that .

17 jjiraffe { 12.18.11 at 9:40 pm }

This post sort of stunned me. My twins just turned four, and have been hovering on the brink of becoming independent. They need me, still, for many things like food, clothing, water. They question me too. All the time. They have inherited none of my passiveness and all of my husband’s brassy chutzpah.

But the Y: I am terrrified to let them make the dumb mistakes their father and I made: the thought of my son traipsing through war-torn countries to see injustice firsthand (his father, not me) or my daughter pinning her romantic hopes on men unworthy of the hem of her pants. I know that’s what parenting is.

But hell, it scares me to death.

18 Justine { 12.18.11 at 10:39 pm }

When I used to advise students in college, I would see parents who berated themselves for raising the child who was failing out of school and parents who refused to believe that their child could make poor choices. I always thought that both kinds of parents were wrong *and* right: while they laid that foundation, they had to understand that at some point they were no longer the sole influence over decision making, and that they had to let their children make mistakes. You do the best you can, you make sure they know they are loved, and then you send them out into the world with a lunchbox. My daughter was holding on to my hair for dear life about half an hour ago. Some day, I will no longer be her world. And that is both a beautiful and terrifying thing.

19 a { 12.18.11 at 10:57 pm }

My daughter is too much like my husband sometimes – she doesn’t realize the impact of her actions on other people. She can certainly figure out the effect for her, but other people? Not so much. It’s hard to send her off to pre-school, know that she’s going to have to learn some hard lessons that I’ve tried to teach her but that she’s just not interested in learning. Most of the time, it turns out she’s doing just fine and my worries are in vain. But sometimes…

I’ll have to try to implement your Y idea – maybe she’ll respond to that.

20 md { 12.19.11 at 1:29 am }

AWESOME post. love the Y!

21 Elizabeth { 12.19.11 at 8:07 am }

I think I need a Y tattoo on the back of my hand so I always remember this. (Along with a tattoo that says “…beyond the scope of this project” as I try to swallow the ocean and regurgitate it into my dissertation.) (Wow that was a lovely metaphor… I like the Y better I think!)

22 Turia { 12.19.11 at 9:11 am }

This post really resonated with me this morning. Thank you, Mel.

23 Trinity { 12.19.11 at 5:20 pm }

Today is my son’s first birthday, and in lieu of a gift this year we asked friends and family to contribute a small item to a time capsule for him. We plan to have him open it on his 18th birthday. This whole project has filled me with unexpectedly intense feelings, and this post really tapped into those feelings. I am wondering, who will my son be when he is 18 and opens this time capsule? Who will I be? What will our relationship look and feel like? I expected that the time capsule would be something fun to put together, something fun for us to open up with him many years from now… Instead I find myself filled with anxiety over how my parenting over these many years to come will shape him. It’s so hard to imagine that future version of us because the demands and the tempo of our lives will be so incredibly different.

24 StacieT { 12.19.11 at 6:07 pm }

Beautiful post. Truly. I’ve tried to tell myself that things will get easier with my twins. Like you, I’ve found that things are harder. I worry about them more, which didn’t seem possible when they were newborns.

25 Bea { 12.20.11 at 7:29 am }

Ah, when did you start using the Y? At 3.5 I look at PB sometimes and think gosh, what a little brat, where are his parents? I suppose at 3.5 most kids are still working things out. And truth be told, though other kids have different faults, they often still have faults.

Stop me, before I write a post about our day. I was embarrassed at the post office, the cafe, the pharmacy and the park but at least my child wasn’t the unimaginative bitch who told the 3.5yo that the shark tank he was pretending into existence wasn’t actually there and that he was dull to play with. Thank goodness, this time, I was on hand to confirm that I could see it even if she couldn’t and that it was incredibly fascinating. And then to bundle him into the car and take him straight home without a turn on the swings when he continued to muck up despite warnings. That is the short version.

Anyway. Do you think it turns out in the end?


26 Bea { 12.20.11 at 7:30 am }

One thing I will say: I am a lot more optimistic about the setbacks when I’ve had more sleep.


27 Kathy { 12.20.11 at 8:24 am }

Wonderful post Mel! I love the “Y” concept and will definitely be adopting it to use with my children.

28 eve { 12.20.11 at 5:11 pm }

Yes, I love the “Y” and often leave messages in my son’s lunch…so now I’ve got a wonderful new inside-message for him. I was watching my kids being simulatnaeously spoiled and loved upon by their visiting grandparents today and I thought to myself that they really are walking manifestations of my heart. I felt all the joy of those tickles. I think infertility fooled me into believing that it was the getting-there that would be the toughest. It was certainly the most painful…but as far as shear effort – I find I have to keep myself mindful every day that I am writing on my children’s heart with permanent ink.

29 nursejayton { 12.21.11 at 6:26 pm }

wow, im so looking forward to having twins!

30 kh99 { 12.22.11 at 2:58 pm }

I am late to this post, but wow is it reverberating with me this week. My son is 2.5 and we’re dealing with some behavioral issues at preschool, and I have started to dread 11 am because that tends to be when we are called to come get him early. We’re trying hard to improve his behavior and he’s such a sweet boy, but I worry that he isn’t being seen how we see him.

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