the wise speak to the weary: older mothers to new

The elderly woman shuffled down the aisle, pausing at the end of our pew as she buttoned up her coat to brace herself against the winter cold.

She watched as our toddler lunged across his father’s lap to topple a stack of hymnals, nearing knocking his already-screaming baby brother to the floor. I was trying vainly to scoop up four coats, four hats, three baby toys and – somehow – one small shoe. Gritting my teeth as people glared at our less-than-graceful exit, I caught her eyes as she lingered.

“You have a beautiful family,” she said, smiling. “I remember what those busy days were like. I had six kids myself.”

She waggled six fingers my way with a grin as she turned towards the door: “SIX!”

. . .

I sprinted out of my parents’ kitchen almost as quickly as I’d raced in, in search of a pacifier. One boy was hollering on the monitor, or another was calling for a cuddle – I don’t remember. But as the rest of the family lounged around the Sunday breakfast table, savoring the post-holiday calm and a hot cup of coffee, my mother looked up at me and smiled sweetly, sadly.

“You don’t believe it now, but you’ll have all the time in the world again some day. You won’t know what to do with yourself.”

Her words pulsed in my head as I loped across the house to the crying children. Surely she was right, but from where I stood, the promise of time all to myself seemed like a luxury I vaguely remembered from the past but couldn’t imagine for the future. Someday.

. . .

“This Christmas card is the best one yet,” F declared as he flopped next to me on the couch, both of us exhausted from the bath/bedtime circus.

I flipped open the picture of the Magi crossing the desert to read a handwritten note from a dear family friend from back home:

Your Christmas letter was fun to read – whew! You remind me of the time I was your age with kids running around the house, but you know it’s a ‘wonderful life.’ The photo is priceless – thank you for sending it. Those two little guys look so huggable; if they were near me I would have to give them a big hug…I couldn’t resist it.

As the baby fussed in his bassinet and his older brother sang himself to sleep next door, I closed my eyes and wondered what it would feel like to be a mother on the other end of these days. Alone in a quiet house. Echoes and memories to keep me company.

. . .

Sure, the stories make me hug my babies tight, thankful for the gift of now, no matter how tiring it seems.

But they also teach me of the shades and seasons of motherhood: the years I will parent them up close and the many more I will love them from afar. Someday I will be the one smiling fondly at the rowdy young family, nostalgic for the fullness of those days.

In fact I will be the older, wiser mother for far longer than I will be the rookie I am today. God willing, more of my life will be spent on the other end.

So what does that mean for the mother I am now?

I imagine I’d tell myself the same things I’ve been told.

The days are long but the years are short. They’ll be grown and gone before you know it. You’ll have all the time in the world again someday.

So slow down. Chill out. Laugh more. Worry less.

Forgive yourself. And them. And all the others muddling along beside you. You’re doing the best you can, and it’s probably better than you realize.

And when you blink, it’ll all have changed.

So thank God for now.

Posted in


  1. Peg Conway on 11 January 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Mothering is demanding at all stages, and that’s part of what makes it so meaningful. The sight of mothers and small children kindles fond memories and also a bit of real longing for me now that our three are in high school and college, and I understand the impulse to remark on how fast it goes. Instead I want to emulate the veteran mothers who listened to me, encouraged me to trust my instincts and imparted confidence. I’m finding the letting go process painful at times but there’s real joy too, witnessing my children’s growing independence. This time is also rich with new opportunities for me. I’m trying to approach it as a form of birthing.

    • mothering spirit on 13 January 2012 at 10:35 pm

      I love your perspective, Peg – to think about what the tasks of mothering (birthing, letting go, etc.) mean at every stage. And your desire to emulate the wise women who lifted you up in your day – beautiful.

  2. Carrie on 9 January 2012 at 10:42 am

    This post is exactly how I feel on my days. And I agree, in moments when I pause, that this time will change. But also, I do feel these types of comments somewhat irritating in the midst of busyness, exhaustion, and being pulled in so many directions. Maybe we could do a real service to ourselves and future mothers to think about how to share these feelings while at the same time acknowledging the reality of these full, loving, trying times?

    • mothering spirit on 13 January 2012 at 10:32 pm

      You raise a good point, Carrie. Sometimes I’ve found myself more annoyed than inspired by such comments, though later I realize the reminder to take the long view was just what I needed. Ironically, right after I wrote this reflection, I read this, which basically takes the opposite approach: This perspective and your comment make me aware of how I might come across when I give advice to pregnant mothers, for example. How do I support and encourage them where they are without pulling them somewhere else?

  3. HomemadeMother on 9 January 2012 at 12:08 am

    Such a beautiful post. I think I need to bookmark it so I can re-read it on the days when I feel stretched soooo thin and my patience is all but worn out. As precious as these fleeting days are, they can be so hard and exhausting and challenging. This post is a good reminder to slow down and appreciate the little moments that make up a life.

    • mothering spirit on 13 January 2012 at 10:25 pm

      The little moments that make up a life – so well-said!

  4. Ginny at Random Acts of Momness on 8 January 2012 at 11:22 am

    Lovely post. Do you know Marie Bellet’s song “Ordinary Time”? (I should have researched the link before posting this, but I believe you can find it on Youtube.) She sings about exactly this sentiment … it’s beautiful and always makes me tear up.

    Thank goodness for all these “older and wiser” moms who help give us this much-needed perspective!

    • mothering spirit on 13 January 2012 at 10:24 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion, Ginny -I will have to check it out. I’m basically a huge softie for any song like that. 🙂

  5. Amy B on 7 January 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I love this post! Sometimes I wish we could “spread the wealth” of this time of life. Like some day when I am fifty and I want to snuggle with my baby again, I can!:). I guess that is what grandkids are for, right?:). The hardest thing, but the best thing in life, is to learn to embrace the present. This is another good reminder of that! Thank you! I do remember my mother-in-law telling me that she used to look around in the airplane and envy people reading books. She wondered if she would ever be able to do that again. That time certainly came, and I am sure she would trade it in a second to care for rambunctious toddler! :). (Though not sure I would. I can’t wait to read a book again! Or just sit…quietly…doing nothing…Ha!)

    • mothering spirit on 13 January 2012 at 10:22 pm

      AMEN! I envy every plane passenger these days who gets to read or snooze or do anything but try to quiet a screaming baby. But I try to remind myself that there will be days – years, even – when I will give anything to have the fullness of my today-life back. And yes, I will love grand kids for just that reason!

  6. Second Chances on 7 January 2012 at 11:21 am

    Again, I LOVE this post! You have such a beautiful way of writing that is so touching.

    And it’s so true, that we need to slow down and laugh more because it just isn’t worth it to live in frustration during these short but beautiful days with our little ones.

    • mothering spirit on 13 January 2012 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks so much! I love your line about it not being worth it to live in frustration during these days…we’ve been on a lovely vacation this week during which our boys have seemed to conspire against us in making bedtime as frustrating as possible, so your words have been my mantra!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.