By Vincent Daly
It's easy for parents to fall into a routine. You build up a certain comfort level that allows you to operate on autopilot. Yet once in a while, a harmless moment can rattle you to the core, putting your whole life in perspective. On a recent visit to the aquarium with my family, a sign, "For children 5 and younger only," unexpectedly sent me off on a sentimental journey.
I realized that my four-year-old son was approaching the end of his days as a carefree little boy. Soon it would be all about hitting the books, new friends, teen angst, driving lessons, school dances, and college graduation, then occasional visits to dear old mom and dad with wife and kids in tow. My son was growing up so quickly, and I had no way of slowing it down.
What troubled me the most was no longer being needed. My days as a superhero to my son were numbered. As a father I have struggled to balance my independence with the needs of my children, but I couldn't bear the thought of a diminished role as caregiver. It felt like I would transition from hero to zero in a blink of an eye.
When did other parents experience a moment like this? And how did they handle it? I decided to reach out for their perspective. Here are some of their thoughts:
The common thread in their responses: parents need to adapt to change. In other words, your kids grow up and so should you. This can be a bitter pill to swallow. Some succumb to spoiling or babying their child in the desire to keep them little in their minds.
Recently I've noticed my wife and I picking up our four-year-old son more than we should. His heartwarming response: "Put me down, I'm not a baby!" He's right, but that doesn't mean we stop asking for hugs. We realized we have to cut back on babying him so he doesn't fall back into old patterns. With a two-year-old girl vying for our attention, it would be foolhardy to encourage her big brother to behave the same way. Still, accepting these growing pains has reminded me that I'm getting older too.
Back to the aquarium. After my son finished playing, my wife and I took our time strolling through the rest of the building with our kids. It was almost closing time and fairly empty. The children were thrilled to have the run of the place. Countless photos later, we finally left. Both kids, overtired, fell asleep on the ride home. I realized they would indeed grow up someday. But for now, growing up was far, far away.
In the comments below, tell us about a moment when you suddenly realized your child was growing up. One person (chosen by Random.org) will win "How Families Grow" and "You Are Special" by the wise and wonderful Fred Rogers. One entry per person. US mailing addresses only. Entries must be submitted by Sunday, April 3 at 11:59 p.m. PST. Thank you!
Contest is now closed. Congratulations to Roxanne!