We just went to visit a family member who has a new baby. Oh, the sweetness! Being a few years removed from the newborn phase, I had forgotten how little they really are.

Of course, being on the onlooker side rather than the caregiver side is much easier. We all remember when our babies were newborns, but somehow it’s hard to appreciate it when you are sore, sleep-deprived and overcome by hormones.

As my sons (who look enormous in comparison) held this little one, I couldn’t help but think of that phrase we hear all the time, “Why can’t they stay little forever?”


What is it about our children’s inevitable growth that sparks these bittersweet feelings?

Some of it of course has to do with the innate appeal of all things innocent and small. We are all attracted to babies. Even my rough-and-tumble 4-year-old was enamored by the smallness of a newborn. It’s human nature to want to watch and protect another being so tiny and new.

So it seems the bittersweet part comes in as we realize that this innocence does not last forever. The one thing I’ve noticed with my 8-year-old is not so much my sadness at his physical growth, but the slow loss of some innocence.

We try to shelter and protect, but the outside world creeps in. That loss of innocence when they learn that first “bad” word from friends at school. That realization one day that they no longer want to watch Sesame Street, but rather superheroes that have some aspect of good vs. evil. We wonder why can’t the world just all be “good” and no “evil.”

Growing up, I remember my mom always saying she wished she had one version of each of us that stayed little and one that grew up. That’s a mother’s heart—we revel in their learning new skills, but mourn their growth at the same time.

At my stage in life, I sort of feel like I have that situation, even if for a brief time. With the youngest at 4 and the oldest at 8, they are like the past and the future versions of boyhood right in front of my eyes. To me the 4-year-old is still little. He still likes to be held and will cuddle. The 8-year-old is still cuddly, but is definitely not little. His gangly arms and legs hang off of me. But his maturity is at the same time refreshing and alarming. How can this boy that was just a rambunctious toddler be discussing everything from religion to math to space travel?

Yet at each new stage, there are new challenges. It’s no longer nursing and sleepless nights, but it’s now teaching them how to manage friendships and outside influences.

How to help them learn new freedoms and remain safe. With each stage we as mothers have to stretch further, face our fears and sometimes even relive our own childhood.

Maybe this is why we cringe at the passing of time and their growing maturity—because it forces us to grow, too.

Just when we think we have our kids figured out, they change. With each passing year, they are the catalyst for our development—for new experiences, for being more patient than we thought we could, for figuring out how to love this unique person.

Why can’t they stay little forever?

Because if it weren’t fleeting, then maybe we wouldn’t cherish childhood so much.

Because if we didn’t see them grow and flourish into maturity, then how would we ever see the fruit of our labor?

Because through their development, we push ourselves to be braver and love deeper.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."


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