The One Thing I Wish I Knew When My Kids Were Little

A weird thing happened last week. As I wandered mindlessly through Target, I realized that my kids have outgrown the baby/toddler section of the store. I will never again purchase an item from that section for my offspring.

I paused for a moment to let that sink in, and consistent with my overly dramatic ways, I thought back to the many, many hours I’ve spent in Target over the years.

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I remember walking the aisles looking at nothing and everything all at once. I have bought more diapers than I care to think about and have found some fun deals during those trips.

I remember inspecting every bottle nipple to see if one might be the magical answer to my infant’s refusal of a bottle. (None of them worked. For any of my four children. I wondered then if I had magical boobs. Time would tell I mostly have stubborn children.)

The smell of Pampers Swaddlers instantly takes me back to those impossibly hard and, in hindsight, incredibly sweet days with a newborn…when I wasn’t sure if I would ever figure anything out…but certain that there was no greater gift than my sweet baby.

I remember taking my first walk of shame with a screaming toddler in tow. Though, it certainly wouldn’t be my last. These walks, in a weird way, represent my growth as a mom through the years. The first one ended with me in tears, hugging a kind stranger. The most recent involved my older children trying to contain their laughter as their little brother lost his crap over a Little People set.

I’ve bought pajamas for Christmas…leotards for dance recitals…gifts for birthdays…

I’ve been covered in spit up…with leaky boobs…and sometimes leaky eyes…

Given the ability to talk, those aisles of Target could tell some stories. That’s for sure.

I am still in the thick of raising children, so it’s not like my days of spending too much time and money at Target are over.

But my days of diapers, nursing pads, pacifiers, and sippy cups are.

As I think back to those long days in the early years of having kids, the one thing I wish I could have known then that I know now…is that everything was going to turn out just fine.

The baby who would never sleep eventually did.
The pacifier addiction finally broke.
The toddler who crapped his pants on the daily eventually stopped.
The tantrums gave way to more manageable emotions.
The kid who refused to learn his ABC’s eventually learned to read.
The child who was painfully shy now speaks with confidence.
And the one who was impossibly defiant isn’t so much anymore.

The amount of tears I’ve cried, the amount of times I worried, the amount of stress that my little people have caused me…it all worked itself out in time.

I know there was nothing that anyone could have said that would have made those early years of raising kids any easier. Part of being a parent is learning to navigate your own personal journey, in all its beauty and treachery. And because I am as stubborn as the children I birthed, I mostly learned all of those things the hard way.

But as my kids transition from the little years to the middle years, I am so proud of who they are. When they were little, I thought for sure I was screwing them all up. I had no clue what I was doing, and I just knew I was failing in every way.

The difficult behaviors of my children, mixed with the unkind narrative in my mind, led me to believe my family would become a colossal failure. It turns out, though, that I wasn’t as terrible of a mom as I thought I was.

These kids…
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…turned into these kids.
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(Trying to pass the time in a hotel room, evacuating Hurricane Matthew.)
(My youngest, on both occasions, wasn’t feeling it.)

My kids are turning out just fine. Better than I ever imagined, actually. My oldest is only ten, so we still have many years to navigate. I am not pretending to think that I have this all figured out or that there won’t be bumps in the road along the way. I know better than that.

What I am saying is that my children are more awesome than I ever thought possible. My shortcomings as a mom have not ruined them. Their shortcomings as children who are still learning about this big, crazy world have not impeded them.

They are far from perfect. I am further from perfect.
But, fortunately for us all, perfection is not our goal.

Outgrowing the baby and toddler section at Target is a weird feeling. On one hand, the middle years are the best. The reprieve between the toddler years and the teen years is magical. My kids are fairly independent and so much fun. There is less to worry about because they’re not trying to kill themselves by doing dumb crap like climbing dressers and jumping off couches. And yet not old enough to be doing dumb crap like texting while driving or making out with a boy in the back of a Mustang. The middle years are a treasure of awesomeness, to be sure.

But the little years…when they’re not impossibly hard…are so very sweet. Kids who mispronounce words. Although, my kids still won’t be convinced a tomato is not called a potato. Kids who require so much but are generous with their affection. Kids who can’t leave you alone long enough to pee but are so delighted with your very existence that leaving for even five minutes is too much to bear. I know it’s annoying now, but it will feel so sweet later.

You know I will never tell you to enjoy every moment of those boogery little appendages. Although I am embarrassed to admit…because of how much I hated being told that…that the terrible moments and ugly times eventually do fade into sweet memories. And I still have a four year old. Even still, I will never ever put that sort of annoying pressure on any mom. It is impossible to enjoy no sleep, enormous amounts of poop, and embarrassing temper tantrums. You can be grateful for your children without having to enjoy every moment.

What I will tell you though, especially you moms of young children, is to keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let yourself believe you are inadequate or failing. You aren’t. Your hard work and sacrifices will pay off. The moments and days and weeks that are beyond frustrating will give way to easier ones. What you are doing is worth it. You will see the reward of pouring your heart and soul into your sweet little ones. It is not easy. It is not pretty. And it is not always fun. But I promise what is waiting on the other side is better than you will ever believe.

If I could tell you just one thing, it’s that everything will be just fine.

Mama, you are doing such a great job with your kids. Better than you can imagine. Keep loving the heck out of those cuties. I promise every little act of love, every sacrifice you make, every minute of sleep you lose, every tear you wipe and boo boo you kiss…it’s building awesomeness in your kids. It’s all so important and so worth it. Just wait and see!

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