Of all the ways technology pushes us forward, there’s one advancement that always sets me back–the “On this day” feature in Facebook and photo apps, the one that resurfaces precious memories from the archives when I’m least expecting it, reminding me of how much I miss Dash’s pudgy hands folded in prayer at the preschool Thanksgiving dinner…
…how much I loved the days of watching the girls plie at the barre behind the classroom windows of the ballet studio…
…and how simple life was was when buckling babies into strollers to set off on excursion brought so much joy, all of life’s struggles and the world’s problems seemed to disappear.
At the same time, I love looking back at such joy. I will always treasure those young motherhood years, and it’s nice to be reminded of how far we’ve come and how much fun we had (ahem…are having). Watching our kids grow and change is a universal rite of passage for all parents, and it doesn’t come without its challenges. But after several years of unproductive longing for the past and hoarding the present, I think I’ve reached a healthy balance between painful nostalgia and “Don’t pull a Lot’s wife and look back” onward motivation. This balance hasn’t come without inward work though. I am, by nature, extremely sentimental–a characteristic that requires awareness and effort to make sure it serves as a superpower as opposed to a stumbling block. Gratitude is the greatest kryptonite to unhealthy longing for the past, but there are a few things I also implement that have helped me. A few weeks ago, a friend who cherishes so many of the same things I do about motherhood texted this: “What do you do when you get sad/overwhelmed that they are growing up too fast?” This is my response.
1. Clean and purge.
Cleaning and purging my kids’ rooms is so therapeutic. I used to avoid getting rid of old clothes and toys or changing anything about the rooms that held all the memories, but hoarding and intentionally keeping everything the same takes up emotional space and only serves as a reminder that everything is different. I love the emotional space that’s created when I clean things up, rearrange furniture and get rid of things that no longer serve a purpose. That’s space for NEW memories!
2. Write a letter.
Writing is the most powerful tool for getting unstuck. Feeling sad and longing for yesteryear? Write a letter to your old self–when you had babies. Write to that girl and tell her all that she has to look forward to. Or write a letter to your future self–when all the kids are grown. Tell her what you hope she’s doing. Remind her of what she loved. (Current letter would include how much I love watching my kids interact with their grandparents, listening to Dash practice reading, telling Lainey about my favorite mascara, picking up Nella from a playdate…)
3. Print new photos.
Choose 20 photos from this past year and send them to Walgreens. Make ornaments with them or switch out frames. Printing current photos helps me stay present and thankful for all that is now. We have a mix of old and new photos displayed in our home to help keep us in the middle–grateful for the past, excited for the future.
4. Plan something for the coming months.
A new tradition, a trip, a day outing, a day of hookie in exchange for baking and crafts. Pouring my energy into upcoming excitement keeps me from dwelling in the past.
5. Let yourself be sad, but put the kabash on it after an appropriate amount of time.
Moving forward without looking back can be revered as a sign of strength; but if you’re avoiding real emotions, they might build under the surface. Sometimes you just have to get the sads out. I cry almost every Christmas day at the end of the day, purging the emotions and sentimentality that stockpiles in December. The cry feels good, and I’m ready to move on to the new year. Pull a piece of paper out write a list of 5 things you desperately miss about the old days. Cry if it feels good. Save the letter in a keepsake box for your kids to read someday. (I miss having them in my arms all day.)
6. Text someone who gets it.
But choose someone who won’t wallow too much with you. I text my sister because she’s sentimental about motherhood too, but yet she’s so good about pushing me to be present because getting too sad and longing is paralyzing.
7. Find good examples of inspiring role models ahead of the journey.
Keep your eye on them. Become them. Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep make me excited to grow older. Likewise, I have wonderful examples of moms of adults who are strong, happy, life-loving individuals with so many wonderful things to say about motherhood later on. They’re not longing for the past…they are living beautifully in the present.
8. Raising kids who fly away from the nest is a privilege.
It’s the same tool we use to combat the sadness of aging: The opposite of aging is not staying young. The opposite of aging is dying–not having the privilege to experience growth and wrinkles and the hardship that getting older naturally brings. Watching our kids change from sweet preschoolers who excitedly wake up on Christmas morning, searching for reindeer footprints to teenagers who slump around the living room, pretending to be unimpressed is the greatest privilege in parenting. They’re living their one, wild and precious life; and it has moved beyond the days when we woke up six times a night to make sure they were still breathing. They made it, they’re making it…and we get to watch it happen. This is not what we avoid…it’s what we hope for. The new moms we see holding babies and writing those first chapters of early motherhood? They need us to keep the lighthouse lit.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…there is more. As we tiptoe (or cartwheel full force) into the holidays, that sentiment comforts and fuels me. xo