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Dear Mom, You Are a Woman Beyond the Child-Rearing Years

Photograph by Getty Images

As any mother knows, it’s never helpful when some supposedly well-meaning strangers stop us in the grocery store when we’re in the midst of trying to curb the 2-year-old knocking over the entire apple display, to utter those familiar words:

“Enjoy it, momma. It goes by so fast.”

We flash a tight, polite smile while we fight off the urge to yell, “You think I don’t know that?!” all while wondering how many hours it is until bedtime.

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Living life as a mom is a very strange combination of love and frustration, boredom and busyness, satisfaction and discontent. It feels at once that life at home with littles will stretch on forever and flashes by in an instant when you are left bewildered as your baby is suddenly refusing to hold your hand at school pick-up.

I’ve been in the trenches of motherhood for six years now, and while I can safely say that I’ve known all along how right those grandmotherly types at the grocery store were, I’ve also felt like this stage in my life has trumped all others. I know, rationally, in my head, that I was once a woman who drank beer in Belgium and swam in a fountain in front of the Eiffel tower and a woman who will one day, have all the time in the world to write the next great American novel. But I honestly feel like I can’t picture her.

I worry that I’ve taken the “enjoy these years” sentiment to heart so much that I’m afraid to even look past them.

I feel like this stage in my life, of having a belly just a bit too squishy for my liking and basing my work hours around the baby’s feeding schedule, is my “real” life. Surely nothing mattered before I became a mother and surely nothing that follows after this toddler and preschool stage will be as important, right? I mean, why else would everyone drop those “enjoy it now!” guilt bombs on me as I cruise through the cereal aisle? It’s because this is the “best” time in my life, right?

We've idealized the period of mothering young children so much that it’s become hard to look past it. I have a hard time imagining myself as anything but a mother of young kids, that woman who’s always pregnant or breastfeeding or herding a load of kids in and out of the car. I’m in the thick of it now and I really do love this stage, as hard as it can be. I worry that I’ve taken the “enjoy these years” sentiment to heart so much that I’m afraid to even look past them.

I asked my grandmother recently, a woman who raised nine children by the time she was barely out of her 20s, a woman famous for once having two babies in the same year, if she remembers that time in her life a lot — if those precious years seared a memory of love that never faded.

She paused for a moment, thinking about it and then casually shook her head.

“No,” she said simply. “I really don’t think about it.”

Her answer shocked me. What? She didn’t think about it? Her life wasn’t defined by those early years of raising babies and toddlers and preschoolers and sleepless nights and worries and self-doubt and car seat recalls? How could this be? She didn’t prescribe to the sentiment that her self-worth was directly related to her identity as a mother?

When I thought about it, I realized how short that time of raising little kids really is.

With my grandma’s simple answer, I realized that here was a woman who lived the stereotypical life of a stay-at-home mom, raising a bunch of little kids, and she bucked the notion that what is actually a relatively short time in our lives is the best time in our lives.

And when I thought about it, I realized how short that time of raising little kids really is. For example, I will most likely be raising my little kids at home alone before they are all in school for about 10 years total. That’s it — 10 years, one decade of what is hopefully a long, fulfilling life. If I live to be at least 80, that’s but a blip in my stretch of years.

Will my life be defined by the 1/8th of it spent raising little kids? Or will this stage in my life simply be that — one stage, with each stage bringing its own joys, challenges, beauties and heartaches?

I won’t always be this mom, the one constantly cleaning up spilled cups of milk and wiping down sticky chairs. Someday, I will be that elderly woman in the grocery store, too. And when I see her, the mom I once was, I won’t burden her with the guilt of pressuring her to enjoy the best years of her life.

Instead, I will smile at her and remember the days gone by.

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Because life will always move forward. And I think it’s the best we can hope for as moms. To learn to live in the moments we are in, smile at the past, and bravely face the future—

Whatever it may hold.

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