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Image by Matt Hoffman

By Jami Ingledue

I am surprised by the grief. 

I see squishy toddlers with their face chub and their arm rolls and their tiny shoes and something in me aches to have one in my arms again, their hot sticky face next to mine, their tiny arms around my neck, the smell of their hair in my nose. That smell! What is it about that smell, and don’t even get me started on baby head smell. 

And that longing in my mind starts to take form into a wish for the haggard parent, not exactly these words but roughly: “Enjoy every minute.”

God help me. 

Someone please slap me, hard, if I ever actually say these words out loud. The last thing I wanted to hear when I had a batshit crazy toddler (aka “little dictator”) was that I should ENJOY being barfed on at 3 am and screamed at and never sleeping through the night and spending every waking moment trying to keep him from annihilating himself. I mean, you’d have to be insane or a total masochist to enjoy that! 

(Those of you that had sweet, calm toddlers can just keep that to yourself thankyouverymuch. Nobody wants that shit here.)

And yet, there it is, that ache, bubbling up in my heart, how I wish I could have just ONE DAY with that little dirty-kneed boy snuggled on my lap again. It hits me with a gut punch of intensity, this longing I don’t understand.

I guess it’s the very intensity of it that makes parenting littles both so hard and also so precious. They are an extension of your body, even if you didn’t happen to grow them inside you–they are formed and molded by your physical touch, and this closeness is quite literally the basis for their healthy growth. Your love becomes part of their body and mind, forever. What a beautiful communion, what a sacred duty! And applies to anyone who loves a child, not just a parent.

But it’s intense and it’s also draining. It’s easy to forget how much we watched the minutes slowly tick by while we tried to entertain them or at least keep them from tearing the house down, counting the minutes till naptime or bedtime when we could finally have just a few minutes of peace, just a few minutes to feel like our actual selves again, those selves that just disappear into parenthood, until we start to wonder if they will ever come back at all. 

And for many of us, our identity slips away as well. Perhaps particularly for mothers who leave or change jobs so they can undertake that biggest of unpaid jobs, raising a human. Our previous identity falls away, often painfully, and we start to grow this new identity that involves being so desperately needed all the time. 

But as they get older, it starts to shift again. They don’t need us as much. We find ourselves home alone more while they’re experiencing the world, starting to make their own life. And that’s as it should be, of course. We all have known mothers who couldn’t let go of that identity, or that control, and the damage it does is deep and lasting, a sort of stilting of the soul for both parties. 

But the grief of letting it go! It’s compounded by the (rightful) dread of the teenage years, and all the heartache and sleepless nights that will entail. And now they need you in a completely different way because they need your presence but also your absence–your solid mass, still there like the side of the pool they can hold onto when they need it–but the deeper they go into the water, the harder they have to push off, and the further they move away from you. Yes, they are kicking you and then leaving: teenage parenting in a nutshell. And of course we WANT them to get further and further into the water! But oh, how the kicking can hurt. And we’re not ready for the pain, we’re never ready. 

But it also opens something. Parenting is like tending a garden, and as the intensity of tending the younger kids starts to fall away, space opens up for a deeper kind of tending. If we can do it well–and not everyone is privileged or healed enough to be able to, god knows–then parenting is a creative act. 

“In creative work–creative work of all kinds–those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward.” – Mary Oliver

What more beautiful creative work than growing souls? What better way to make the world go forward, not just around, than growing humans who are well-loved and, in turn, loving? 

As our kids get older, the backbreaking ‘tending’ work of pulling weeds and keeping the tiny seedling alive eases, and space opens for more meaningful interactions. It’s still hard, but we’re not as consumed and exhausted. We can watch them unfurl–watch with openness and curiosity, and a spirit of discovering who they are and what they need, never boxing them into being merely an extension of our own egos. This is a deeper and more subtle art than feeding toddlers goldfish crackers a million times a day, for sure, and so are its benefits. We can approach it with humility and gratitude that we get to see the world again through their eyes, and never pretend like we have all the answers, because in the end we only have our answers, not theirs. But what a privilege to walk with them down their own path, to enjoy seeing their sense of humor develop, to talk through their daily slings and arrows, to help them navigate relationships. Offering our love and our presence, which, in the end, are the two things they (and really all humans) need the most. 

The grief is still there, of course. And god knows we can’t always bring ourselves to feel thankful for teenagers. But like everything else, it’s better if we can keep the big moments, the eternity moments, close to our hearts, and let the rest go. Acceptance takes practice, but also restores the most joy to our lives. We can get better at it; one of the great gifts of age, if we accept it. 

I’m sure I will still get misty-eyed when I see squishy cherubic toddlers, and still sniff baby’s heads whenever I get a chance. But that’s as it should be, after all, because children ARE beautiful and wonderful (especially when you get to leave them screaming in the grocery store and go home).  And with practice I hope I can do it from a place of appreciation and love rather than grief and sugar-coated nostalgia. 

But still, if you ever hear me tell an exhausted mom of an insane toddler to enjoy every minute, please slap me. Or get the toddler to slap me. After all, it’s what they do best. 

Jami Ingledue lives on an acre in rural Ohio with her husband and son, dogs and chickens, and has a grown up daughter living on her own. Jami owns Dancing Bee Market & Studio in historic downtown Mt Vernon Oh, where she makes natural soap & body products and sells a curated selection of local handmade items. You can find her online at


  1. Dave Altman

    Just brilliant. I want to send it to my (grown) kids, who are in various stages of love and denial about marriage and parenthood. May I have permission to send this along? It was really one of the finest pieces I’ve ever read about parenting, about letting go and holding on. As a father of three and grandfather of seven, I am still learning about both. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you so much! Of course, share as much as you like.

  2. Anonymous

    Beautifully written as always, Jami. After spending two weeks with my six grandchildren recently I’m sorry I didn’t read this beforehand. I will be sharing with my adult children for sure. Thank you.


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