Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

My Kids Don't Need Me Anymore & It's Devastating

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Yesterday, I discovered that my 5-year-old son can use the microwave. He stood on his tiptoes, opened the door, pushed the right buttons, and then brought me a warm coffee. Then my 3-year-old son insisted on donning his own clothes, and he did, with only the shirt on backwards. Finally, my 7 year old read them both a bedtime story. And I am torn between thrilled and devastated because my babies are growing up. My babies are growing up, and my kids don't need me anymore.

This starts, I swear, with car seat buckles. Once they can buckle their own car seats, you’re superfluous. You’re grateful they can buckle their car seats. You don’t have to clamber over seats when they can buckle themselves in on their own. But there’s something magical about laying a baby down in his seat, popping a binkie in his mouth, and securing him in, a sweet kiss on the head before you shut the car door. Doing up their own seat is a sign that they’ve started finding their place in the world, started doing for themselves what mama used to do for them. And I'm not going to sugarcoat the fact of that reality one bit: It hurts.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent
You helped him take him first steps, the first ones running away from you. And you knew it was the beginning of the end, but you didn’t think about it, because he still needed you.

Because when they were born, the doctor handed them to you. You laid them on your naked chest and you were inexorably, wonderfully, terribly “Mama." You were suddenly, irrevocably responsible for this tiny person, a person who would expire if left in the middle of the floor for too long. A tiny, defenseless, helpless pink thing that could hardly feed itself with your help. And you fell in love. And you knew your job, you had to do your job for the baby. So you fed him and clothed him and diapered him and cuddled him and loved him, so he’d grow up to be big and strong, and everyone lauded you for it. You helped him take him first steps, the first ones running away from you. And you knew it was the beginning of the end, but you didn’t think about it, because he still needed you to go to sleep.

And then, suddenly: all those desperate needs are gone. If my 7, 5, and 3 year olds are hungry between meals, I tell them to go to the kitchen and get something. If they want a drink, they fill up a cup with water and ice from the ice maker. I lay out their clothes and they dress themselves. They even do up the buttons. Their toileting is their business. And worst of all, they don’t need me to keep them amused anymore; they’ve made up games without me. My kids play something called “Long Time Ago.” I have no idea what it entails beyond plastic dinosaurs. Their worlds have expanded beyond mine.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent
I miss the long breastfeeding sessions, the ones that take you out of real life and into baby time. I miss wrapping them up on my chest, one by one as they entered this world. I miss the tiny socks, the tiny diapers, the tiny feet, the baby smell. I’d be lying if I said that some part of me didn’t miss the dependence, too.

Of course, I cook them meals. I read to them. I make them clean up. I love on them. But it’s not the same depth of need anymore. My husband and I can leave them now to go out on a long date. We can even leave them overnight, which we’re hoping to do for our upcoming anniversary. And that’s exciting. But it’s also heartbreaking. Am I no longer “Mama”? Am I morphing into the dreaded “Mom”? It’s a kind of identity loss, this increasing independence. I’m losing something I was for seven whole years, suddenly waking up to find I've become someone else almost overnight.

And as much as I laud it, as much as it makes me happy that my 7 year old can rinse his own paintbrushes, I miss the days of baby cuddles. I miss the long breastfeeding sessions, the ones that take you out of real life and into baby time. I miss wrapping them up on my chest, one by one as they entered this world. I miss the tiny socks, the tiny diapers, the tiny feet, the baby smell. I’d be lying if I said that some part of me didn’t miss the dependence, too. It’s wondrous to know that those small creatures who couldn’t control their hands grew up into my walking, talking, running, microwaving boys. But I liked them small enough to sit in my lap and tuck their heads under my chin. It’s hard to adjust to these stretched-out, strange creatures who beg to see the Lego Batman movie.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent
They’ll always need me to love them. But they won’t always need me to rock them to sleep. And I was good at that. I was a good baby mama. Now I have to try to be a big-kid mom. It’s different. It’s hard. I feel fuddled and out of my depth.

I’m devastated, on some level, that they don’t need me anymore. Sure, they need my reassurance and my love and even some of my cuddles, but those needs dwindle as they get older and older. They’ll always need me to love them. But they won’t always need me to rock them to sleep. And I was good at that. I was a good baby mama. Now I have to try to be a big-kid mom. It’s different. It’s hard. I feel fuddled and out of my depth.

I felt the same way when they were born. I felt like I’d lost my pre-baby self. Now I’m losing my baby self, and I’m mourning it the same way I mourned the loss of my childless self. They are growing and changing. And I have to grow and change with them. But I'd be lying if I said I won't miss it.