By Eric Myers
I was still processing the lesson from the woman in the hallway when I took my kids to see my parents for a long weekend. Knowing we were in town, my sister, Julie, stopped by with her kids so the cousins could spend the day playing together. It was a beautiful sunny day and the kids were outside playing in my parent’s backyard. The adults were in the kitchen gathered around the kitchen table watching the kids through the sliding glass door.
“Do you guys remember when we were that age?” Julie asked, turning away from the glass door to be able to watch their replies.
“I don’t,” my dad offered quickly. “I don’t remember hardly anything of when you guys were small. It all goes so fast.” My mom turned to him and, half laughing but half serious, challenged his memory.
“Oh, come on,” she joked, “Seriously? You don’t remember anything?”
“I don’t,” he said shaking his head and meeting her half laughter with his own. “I really can’t. You kids just grew up so fast. It all just goes so fast and before you know it, it’s over.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” my mom countered. “I mean, for me, I was around you kids every day all day long,” she said, and then she paused. I could see she was thinking. “Yeah, I would agree, it goes fast,” she finally said but then her half laughter started again and she said, “but I wouldn’t say it went too fast!”
“Oh, I would,” my dad offered again, “It goes fast.”
“That’s just because you weren’t there to see most of it,” my mom said laughing.
He laughed too. We all laughed. But amid the laughter and upon reflecting on that conversation around the kitchen table that day I believe a major insight was revealed that should make parents shudder, men especially. It does go fast. Our lives…they go fast. Our kids, they grow up fast. And the perspective from which you view the growth spectacle of your kids’ lives will make all the difference when this time has passed.
Two perspectives were shared that day, one from a dad and one from a mom. To be more specific, one perspective came from a work outside the home dad and one from an at-home mom. The dad’s perspective was one of a busy young executive when his children were small - he worked full days, he traveled some, he made sacrifices for his family in the form of his being out of the house to financially provide. The daily demands of his work world simply took him outside the house during the day, every day. However, the end result for my dad is the end result for every ‘work outside the home’ dad, which is, that the time they have to be around their kids is severely limited. Because it is so limited, it seems to go by that much faster. Of a twelve-hour day of potential contact time he saw about three.
The second perspective, on the other hand, was from a mother who was a full time at-home-mom. She woke up with the kids and she lived with the kids all day, every day. She handled the tantrums, she survived the playgroups, she answered the ‘why’ questions, changed the diapers, cleaned the messes and prepared the food. She oversaw and orchestrated virtually every element and activity of each day. Unlike my dad, the end result for her is the end result for most every at-home mom, which is, when the day is over there is a feeling of completeness. They look back on their day with a degree of exhaustion, but without any regrets. They saw it all. Of a twelve-hour day she saw all twelve.
For the moms this ultimately leads to a confident sense of satisfaction in knowing that they didn’t miss anything and, when a particular stage is over and a new one begins, they are ready for that new stage. They can move forward with fond memories of yesterday and with an expectant openness for whatever comes. But, for the dads, their situation leaves them with a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction in knowing that they are missing a lot, and when a particular stage is over and a new one begins, they are not as ready for the new stage. They move forward with a sense of progress, yes, but also with a sense of missed opportunities and a desire for things to slow down.
The bad news is, unfortunately, things don’t slow down. Fast forward thirty-five years and you have two very different responses: “it went too fast” vs. “it went fast, but not too fast.”