The hardest part of parenting.

heart-band-aid“I know what the hardest part of being a mom is,” Sage blurted out during dinner last night. “Oh? What’s that?”

“Well, she said, pushing her macaroni aside so she could lean forward across the table on her five-year-old elbows. “It’s when your kids grow up and then you have to give them away.”

It was hard to stifle a laugh.

I explained that mothers don’t actually give their children away–although lord knows some have considered it, oh, say at the 0-3 month month mark when an hour of uninterrupted sleep seems less likely than a Yeti in a bridal veil walking through your front door, sitting on the sofa and asking for some chamomile tea.

“In fact,” I said,” I think that while it’s a little sad when the kids leave the house, it might be one of the happiest parts of being a parent. It’s when we know we’ve done a good job raising wonderful kids that become wonderful adults, and now they are ready to go try more things on their own without us.”

“So what is the hardest thing of being a mother?” she asked.

A range of snarky answers flashed through my head, but it just didn’t seem the time.

“Knowing you might ever be hurt or sad or in pain. A mother feels all of it right along with you, maybe even worse. We’d rather take it all away from you and have it ourselves if we could. As much love that we feel, that’s how much pain we can feel too, if it’s yours. So I think that’s the hardest part of being a mother.”

“Like when I hurt my knee in the playground today!” Sage said.

“Yes. Just like that.”

We ended the night with Sage telling me she loved me infinity, and then Thalia one-upping Sage with infinity times infinity times infinity, and then Sage explaining that that’s not possible because there’s only one infinity and it’s already the biggest, and Thalia saying she really didn’t care.


38 thoughts on “The hardest part of parenting.”

  1. Good pretense of mind, I would probably default to some “funny” comeback, thus missing the moment completely. Also one of the harder parts of parenting: knowing what to do when. Still practicing!

    Love the post to whatever infinity is biggest!

      1. All that practice is helping then, Liz!

        A couple of nights back when I was putting my daughter to bed, out of the blue she said “Mommy, I love you” and then after some thought she added “even when you are fur-stated and screaming”. It tied my stomach up in a tight know. I said “I know, baby”. And in her little all-knowing tone she said, “You love me too right? Even when I am whining or crying”. I said “Yes” giving her a little cuddle and she slowly drifted off.

        Lord knows I get a hundred things wrong during the course of the day, but if that was the one thought that she could think of while trying to squeak in one last conversation past her “no-more-talking” time, I think I must have done something right that day! Keep on practicing, that’s what we can do, right?

  2. That’s beautiful.

    My son and I were doing the one-upsman thing on infinity love the other night (I usually tell him I love him “infinity plus a cheeseburger”) and he told me he loves me as much as everyone loves everything in the world. I think of that now when I need to smile.

  3. As a mom in that long transition to the empty nest, I fear Sage may have touched on an element of truth. So so so wonderful to see your kids out in the world thriving, so so so sad (sometimes) that they are not curled up on your couch. Wise beyond her years…

  4. I see my mom every day. And she still says “I just never get to see you enough.” So yes.


    Love this.

  5. You’re absolutely right, it’s the watching them in pain thing that’s the worst. That said, 1) I love your girls and 2) when mine are able to function on their own Imma throw a ticker tape parade. (You’re invited.)

  6. Lovely and true. As one of those mothers who struggled during the baby/toddler years but who is LOVING the independence and conversation of the tween/teen years, I sometimes think I’ll skip the whole “empty next” thing and just feel excited for them when they go. But in the next moment I know how naive and ridiculous (and rather pompous) that is…I don’t think any of us is immune to the painful moments, certainly not the sad ones, but not the happy ones, either.

  7. Yes, but do they love you Google Plexus? ‘Cause that’s how geek families like mine love.

    And mine’s had to deal with pain early and often, and I can attest to the fact that it is, in fact, the hardest part of being a mom.

  8. If my kids are to be believed, I’m never getting rid of them exactly. Amelia says she’s going to buy our next door neighbor’s house (it’s been up for sale a couple of times) and move in. Merrick says he’s going to marry me. So there you go. I guess it’s a better deal than my sister has in store. Her 10 year old told her he’s going to quit school to become a professional gamer and live in her basement forever.

    I think the hardest part of being a Mom is having to allow them to make their own mistakes. Not that I expect them to be mistake free, but it’s painful to see them learn a lesson the hard way…which is why I guess it’s called the hard way 🙂

  9. Sage is sorta right from my perspective.

    I’ve found the letting go to be one of the hardest parts of parenting.

    That said, I’m breaking out the pompoms and the confetti when the oldest two leave.

  10. I can tell you what one of the least recognized or addressed “hardest parts of parenting” is: working on being a great co-parent with your spouse. As an author, journalist and (new!) blogger specializing in this issue of parenting I’m amazed at how little attention it receives. For happily married couples, arguments around parenting are one of the top sources of marital strife. Too often parents receive no guidance specifically about it, other than “don’t argue in front of the kids” and “make sure you have date nights.”

    1. Interesting distinction between the act of parenting (the verb) and the feelings of being a parent.


  11. So cute! I wonder what made her think of that. lol Its hard not to burst out laughing sometimes when they are truly being serous.

  12. I think the hardest part of parenting would be not projecting your own fears, assumptions and experiences onto your child and letting them truly be their own person. I don’t know for sure, because I haven’t been able to do that yet. Maybe I’ll get the experience right before I give them away!

  13. My biggest fear used to be that I’d ruined my kids’ childhoods by having cancer (and soon, a divorce). Whenever anyone said that cancer is a “gift,” I’d want to know where I could return it, because it was surely no gift for my children to fear losing their mother at 10 and 8. And that’s really, really hard.

    But I’ve since learned a unique method called Focusing ( how to help them through the rough times, and it’s something they (and I) can do now and forever to work through the tough stuff. And if it weren’t for cancer, I might not have learned it.

    Sometimes the hardest parts are the most helpful.

    1. Thank you so much for that Jen. I think that could be a great resource for a lot of parents.

      I learn so much from you all the time; you’re an amazing mom.

  14. That is the hardest part. It also makes it even harder to hear about other people’s kids being hurt because it’s so easy for my imagination to make the leap to my kids. This morning I read about a grandmother who picked up the kids from daycare and instead of taking them to the 2 year old’s birthday party shot the kids and herself. I would definitely have never considered that to be happy news, but now it crushes my heart with fear until I breathe and remind myself that my own kids are safe.

  15. What amazing kids they are and what an incredible Mom are you!
    I’m teary feeling the pain of their pain.
    Oh if it were always about kissing knees better…

  16. My daughter was very sick a few years ago, and in so much pain. I thought it was going to kill me before it got her. It was even worse than when my mom died, and I didn’t think I’d survive that one, either. Thankfully, we all survived and I think we’re stronger on the other side of that hellish tunnel. She knows how much she is loved, because of how hard we fought to get her well. We know how strong we are, because we rose to the fight.

  17. I think the hardest part of parenting is navigating injustice and the unfair when it comes to my kids. Part of it is dealing with my children’s hurt or sad feelings…but there’s more. Skinned knees and twisted ankles are easy compared to other kids bullying mine or forcing the orthodontist to take more time to explain things to my scared 8 yr old. Who knew there were so many landmines in elementary school.

  18. At this point I’m hoping I’m not screwing things up so bad with my babe that these cute things won’t happen to me! Love it.

  19. Oh. Sweet Sage. Sweet Mama. and Silly Sisters. From the mom who recently sent her first child off into the great unknown (first year of college), it is SO sad to have to say so long. But knowing she was ready, so ready, to chart unmapped territories, was the best thing a mom could wish for. Savor these moments and thank you for sharing wise musings from the mouths of babes. xo

  20. The quantity “googol plex” gets thrown around a lot here. I’m hoping to teach mine exponents as a means of further one-upping each other.

  21. Love this post! I recently had a conversation with my five year old about how when her feeling are hurt, mine hurt just as much. She seemed to understand. She’s also very into quatifying love in levels of inifinity as well. So sweet and endearing to hear her argue that there can’t be more love than that.

  22. beautiful–your daughter is so insightful. being a huge sentimental sap, i usually shun the thought of my children, one day, leaving. it makes me sad–but, i prefer your perspective: one of satisfaction and joy at having raised capable, young adults.

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