Parenthood isn’t only big moments

My oldest son turns 5 today. I’ve been feeling a little sad about that because, well, I’m not there. I’m in California this week for a project. I’ll be there for the party this weekend, and I bought the presents. But other people brought special snacks to pre-school today and had a little family party tonight.

There’s a certain narrative I’ve heard many times about people scaling down careers and such with parenthood because they don’t want to miss milestones. The first step is a big one — think that “Cat’s in the cradle” song about how his son “learned to walk while I was away.” But here’s the thing: I’ve watched two children learn to walk now, and am starting to watch a third. In every case, learning a new skill is a long process. There are a few false starts, something that could be a step, regression, something else that could be a step, and finally, after weeks of almost walking, actual walking. You could miss all of that, but you’d have to be gone for a really long time. And to be sure you see the true first step in all this, you’d have to glue yourself to your kid’s side. You couldn’t even go to the bathroom.

That’s why I think parenthood is less about discrete milestones and more about just being there. A lot. In the long run, the fact that I’ve eaten lunch with my son most days for the past year will probably matter more to our relationship than watching him open presents on one particular day. In 5 years, there have been many bedtime stories, many boo-boos kissed, many scurrying trips to a McDonald’s bathroom, and some moments of absolutely transcendent joy. A birthday might be one such moment. But so are others.

Have you missed any major milestones? How did you feel about that?

8 thoughts on “Parenthood isn’t only big moments

  1. Definitely a bond built over time. And over time whoever spends the most time in parenting gets the most bond and reward.
    It is hard to be away from them but hard to have them on you all the time too!

  2. I never like to link to my blog in a comment, but I wrote a post saying the exact same thing about milestones being more a process than a definitive moment ( My kids are in daycare full time, but I never felt that we missed a milestone—because the first time WE saw it, and experienced it with them was, in our minds, the time that counted. Also,being in a job that requires frequent weekends/holiday work, I’ve had to “reschedule” many holiday/personal celebrations (including my own birthday)—as long as it happens, does it really matter what the calender says? I could’ve spent countless days miserable that I was missing out—instead I spent them looking forward to celebrating later.

  3. I believe it’s telling that in my own childhood I don’t remember the trips to Disney but I do remember snuggling with my mom in bed in the mornings and her teaching me how to read

  4. Missed a Halloween when the boys were younger and it definitely hurt me more than it bothered the boys.

    PS – I can’t believe your 3rd is anywhere near walking! #timeflies

  5. While not a parent, I think the message is powerful and applicable in any/all relations: consistency. Being there throughout, and not hovering, crowding or smothering is the delicate balance most seek to achieve. Similarly, we’d like to be there all the time for parents, siblings, spouses, etc., but cannot so consistency is key.

    Ana’s correct, the “first time” exists when all experience it together. I doub’t the child’s going to chirp, “that’s nothing, I’ve been walking for weeks”. 🙂

    Great post.

  6. Love this and it’s oh so true…I remember the first time I heard my youngest say ‘ma’. I thought I had imagined it so I didn’t say anything to my in-laws. Well, they heard him say it the next day and after that they kept trying to make him say it for me. They obviously felt bad because I wasn’t the “first” to hear it (even though I think I was!)

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