The Unbearable Bittersweetness of Parenting

I have always said that I don’t “miss” when my boys were babies, because they are such wonderful young men today. To want them to be that helpless—if adorable—little baby in my arms means they are not the person I can share slightly off-color jokes with, who I can explain how interest rates work, who I can share a story about myself that does not paint me in such a great light, but will inform and teach them. And if they are toddlers, I don’t get to see how smart and funny they themselves have become, to learn from them in ways I never imagined. To want to turn back the clock means I don’t have who they are today, and so I refuse to let myself do it.

But as my eldest sprints toward the finish line of his high school experience and gets ready to both take a cross-country road trip with his friends after graduation and then go off to college, I keep finding myself tempted to do exactly that. Because if they are small, and helpless, they’ll still need me, right?

There is nothing more pedestrian than the lament of a parent soon to watch a child go off to college. I mean, seriously. It’s so basic it feels silly to even mention it.  Of course it’s bittersweet. Of course it’s something you knew was going to happen, and if you did your job right, is going to happen. But the fact that everyone feels this way doesn’t make how I feel any less gutting.  It doesn’t stop the emotions welling up thinking about the day you are one of his “to-do’s” (call mom) and not part of his everyday.

I consider myself lucky in more ways than I deserve to be, but having had the last 9 years to not work outside the home while raising my sons is an extravagance and good fortune that is immeasurable to me. It was a surprising development, as I was a committed working mother who never really envisioned a time at all when my career would not be an indelible part of my identity. Then a number of things transpired that made it both possible to think it, and then an inevitable fait accompli. So I got this precious gift of time with them, and I hope that when we all look back, we’ll think we made good use of it. I guess what I really hope is that they think we made good use of it, because I know I do.


My sons are a year apart in school, though nearly 2 years apart chronologically. They go to different selective enrollment public schools, and my eldest goes to the one closest to our home. For the past school year, he has come home for lunch most days because none of his close friends share his lunch period. It’s a bummer for him, but a treat for me. So much so that when he came home yesterday and we had a discussion about what was going on in Congress (the passage of the AHCA abomination) I broke down sobbing.  No, not about the Bill (that will come later if it’s made law) but because I am going to miss so very much having conversations like that with my son everyday. Mind you, our talks are not always about important stuff like the future of the Republic or who’s going to direct the next Guardians of the Galaxy installment. Many times his lunch time is just us sitting side by side on our laptops sharing a meme or a song or even just saying “hey” as I run out the door. But I get him for a half an hour, mostly to myself.

And the kid knows what to do when I get melancholy like that. He got up and gave me a hug and promised he would be back, that he wasn’t leaving forever. I implored him to make sure we still texted all the time and he made sure I knew all the important memes. He assured me he would.

The point of this post isn’t to tell you to “savor every moment with your kids” or to tell you “it goes by so fast.” Every parent knows this and feels it and lives it. It’s to just put some gratitude out there that for all the tears about what I am going to miss, they pale in comparison to what I have received from the privilege of being these two boys’ mom.

Even if I have to run my emotions through the meat grinder again next year when the second one goes, it will have been worth it. Always.


2 thoughts on “The Unbearable Bittersweetness of Parenting

  1. Harry left almost two years ago and it felt like a limb had been torn off. What’s worse for me is that he is so far away and time and financial restraints mean few back and forth trips across the Atlantic; six hours time difference makes for sporadic face time conversation. He has had an amazing two years to travel, and now Uni, and he has matured into an even finer young man who is happily independent. My second is about to fly the nest now – probably cross border to Canada, and while I still have one at home for a few years to come, we three may find ourselves on an entirely different continent to either of his siblings in the near future. Your post brought tears to my eyes ( again ) but I thank you for the reminder that there would be no sadness without corresponding joy in our children .

    Liked by 1 person

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