The Sadness of Motherhood

boys at window

Kid 1 and Kid 2 in younger years

Tomorrow is the first day of school, and another summer draws to a close. As a mom, this is always a bittersweet time of year for me.

On one hand, we had such an amazing summer: we bought a new cartook in a dog, went camping, and did fun things nearly every day. It’s hard to say goodbye to all that fun!

But on the other hand, it was also a crazy summer. On top of all the fun stuff, I had a household and life to manage, a podcast to launch, and a blog to run. Many days were as exhausting as they were exhilarating. 

Sure, I had a choice. We didn’t need to go out as much as we did. I could’ve registered my kids for a slew of camps to give me a break and keep them occupied. That would’ve been easy and relaxing. But that’s not what I’m after. 

So what is it? Why did I willingly take my life from unscheduled and slow to fully committed and bursting at the seams? (I am an introvert after all, and the energy drain from non-stop activities is real.)

The answer lies in an unavoidable truth: my boys are growing up fast. Too fast. And the sadness I feel from this is a constant reminder of the finite amount of time I have left with them.

The sadness of motherhood

It doesn’t hit often. But when it does, I feel as if all the air has left the room. It’s a crushing sense of sadness. A pining for a time long gone. It’s the reality that my boys are growing up. And they’ll never again be the little people they once were.

The sadness comes at the most unexpected moments… when I hear Rainbow Connection, sung by my childhood friend Kermit the Frog; when I see two little brothers holding hands and running around a playground; when I notice that my 14 year old, once small enough to fit in the crook of my arm, is taller than me; or when I realize my youngest, now 11, is starting his second-last year of elementary school. 

How did they get so big in the blink of an eye?

I remember the little giggles. The adorable and impossibly-tiny-sounding coughs. The smell of their soft little heads as I read to them before bed. The crash-into-you bear hugs after a long day of kindergarten. I remember all of it… all those precious moments.

There are so many, and at the same time—not enough. 

I’ve already carried them up to bed for the last time. Felt the weight of their little bodies in my lap for the last time. Splashed with them in the bathtub for the last time. All these little moments of everyday life—already done and gone for the final time.

How does a mom ever get over this sadness?

They can’t stay little forever 

“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”

The above quote is from The Tail End from Wait But Why. In it, Tim Urban puts the idea of finite time with loved ones in stark perspective. It reminds me how close to the ‘tail end’ Kid 1, at 14 years old, already is.

Knowing this made this summer extra sad for me. It was the first time that Kid 1 spent so many days with his friends—away from us. Yes he’s 14, and in high school. This is all totally normal! But it doesn’t make me any less sad.

I try to focus on the positive: we’re lucky that he’s mostly happy to hang out with us and his much-younger cousins. He’ll still play tag and run around a playground. But more and more, he’s choosing friends or time alone over time with us. 

And Kid 2 isn’t far behind, with less than two years until he hits his teens. Soon enough, he too will be off having fun with his friends; too cool to hang out with us. My heart already aches when I picture the end of our summer days together. 😭

I thought I was ready for this

I knew this sadness would come, and I prepared myself so I’d have no regrets. I spent every moment I could with my little boys. I stayed home with them, raised them, never spent more than a couple of days apart from them. 

I’ve thrown myself completely and happily into all our summers and vacations together. We’ve laughed, played, and explored. We’ve made forever memories and connected in ways we can’t during the madness of the school year.

In short, I’ve done my best to be fully present with my kids as much as humanly possible. 

And yet, I still find myself mourning for who they were; trying to reconcile my rational thoughts with my emotions. Of course they need to and should grow up—that is the goal of parenting! I just wish there was a way to hang onto them for a little while longer. 

Perhaps this is as it should be

As my boys grow older, so do I. And with age comes wisdom and greater capacity for introspection. In recording my thoughts here, and in speaking with other moms, I’ve come to a realization. 

We as mothers feel this sadness and ache whether we work or are home full time. Whether we’re with our kids on evenings and weekends only, or we spend every waking hour with them. It never feels like enough. 

So maybe the sadness of motherhood isn’t something that can or should be prevented. Perhaps we’re meant to feel it. It’s what makes the memories sweeter and the present worth savouring—sticky fingers, tantrums, and all. 

The sadness of motherhood is what pushes us to keep making time to be with our kids (even if it’s sometimes hard).

What I want for you

I’m 41 now, and my kids are 11 and 14. I’m a little more advanced in age than most parents in the FI community. And let me tell you… the years have flown by. Our children are only little once. There’s no rewind. When we look back on the many years of our lives, the time we get to share with our children is so very short. 

I hope that by sharing my story, others will find comfort and support. And that new and expectant moms can know what’s ahead. Perhaps it’ll be the thing that sparks you to fully pursue FI. Or it’s confirmation that you’ve already made the right choices for your kids and family.

Whatever the case… as we busy ourselves in the pursuit of FI, let’s not forget to check in with ourselves and our families. Make sure we’re living life in a way that’s true to our values—whether it’s to be with our kids as much as possible or to show them that moms can love and pursue their careers and still be amazing parents.

In doing so, you’ll know that the sadness of motherhood isn’t about guilt and regret. Instead, it serves as a reminder to savour the moments you’ve had and still have.

Share your story

Where are you in your motherhood journey? Does any of this resonate with you? How do you deal with the sadness of motherhood and letting go of our little ones?

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  • Reply
    September 2, 2019 at 9:33 am

    Awe this is so sweet! I was looking at my toddler and thinking he is growing up so fast already. The best time is when they are little babies and you just hold them haha 🙂

    I remember reading that article, it was really sad when you realize how little time together there is.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:30 am

      GYM: little babies are so sweet and nice to cuddle. Toddler GYM is growing up really fast—I remember I started following you when you were still on mat leave with him! 😲

  • Reply
    September 2, 2019 at 9:50 am

    I feel your sadness! My eldest is in university (but still living at home), then two others in high school and one still cuddly but tall 10yo. Time goes so fast.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:35 am

      Kari: I bow down to you… four kids?! Wow. I would’ve loved a larger family, but I think it would’ve done me in to have more than the two we did! As a mom of university-aged kids, can you share some thoughts on what we can look forward to as our kids reach those ages?

      • Kari
        September 6, 2019 at 6:35 am

        Hi Chrissy! I’d be happy to share about university aged kids! We live in Toronto and my eldest goes to Ryerson, so she’s still living at home. My second is now in grade 12, so he’s looking at schools both close to home and farther afield, so he may be gone next Sept. We had a taste of that this summer, as he was a camp counsellor up north for 8 weeks. Of course we all missed him like crazy.

        Their needs are so different, with an age span of 9 years. The youngest still loves bedtime stories (and when it’s Harry Potter, the older ones drift in too). The eldest had some culture shock in first year university last year, as her high school was non-semestered. So she was used to courses that lasted 10 months, and suddenly the term was over in 12 weeks! You have to be really on top of the work. Their scheduling is more complicated, with university classes not on a 9-3 schedule like public school, spare periods in grade 12, late starts for different kids on different days, and then part-time jobs and other activities on top of that. Thank goodness for shared online calendars! And great public transit, so they can get themselves where they need to go. They are all taking more responsibility and becoming more capable of doing thing with parental advice, but on their own. My son who just entered grade 9 has a timetable issue and he’s going to guidance on his own to get it sorted out.

        Teaching them how to drive in Toronto. That might be the source of my new grey hairs. I’m really hoping for self-driving cars before I have to go through this 4 times!

        Financially, there’s navigating the complexities of how to withdraw funds from your RESP in a tax advantageous way. And helping them budget for university expenses, and track their own spending.

        Overall, it’s really exciting to see their adult personalities, how they negotiate issues at school, and how they deal with friends who thrive on drama. And to see them find their passions and pursue those as careers (I was much less sure of who I was at that age). There’s so much information about babyhood and childhood. But no one prepares you for how to let them go.

      • Chrissy
        September 8, 2019 at 10:45 pm

        Kari: I LOVED this snapshot into your life! It sounds busy but rewarding and definitely not boring, ha ha.

        Despite missing the sweet moments of the baby and toddler years, I do also look forward to the older years and watching my boys grow. Reading about your experience is helping me let go of some of the sadness (and even feel some excitement about what’s still ahead).

        Thank you for taking the time to share. It was helpful!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    That’s a lot different than how I feel. Sure, I miss our cute little baby, but life is so much easier now that our son is 8. For me, I’m enjoying my time with him for now. I’m also looking forward to having more freedom when he goes off to college. Maybe dads aren’t as attached to their kids?

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:37 am

      Joe: It’s so interesting what you’ve shared here. I have a friend who’s a work-from-home dad. He spends a lot of time with the kids, and feels the same as you! He loves them, but doesn’t get it when his wife cries about the kids growing up. My husband on the other hand, feels the same sadness as me—maybe even more so. But he works full-time. So I wonder if that’s a factor as well. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply
    Baby Boomer Super Saver
    September 2, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    Letting go is bittersweet. Our daughter is 22 already, and just recently moved out. I’m comforted by her words that she enjoys spending more time with us now! This post reminds me of the limited amount of time we have to spend with any of our loved ones. I’ve felt sad about the fact that my nieces & nephews are not as close to us emotionally as they could be, just because we live so far away and don’t see them as often. My parents are aging & I wish I lived closer to them, too. One aspect of being debt free and on the path to FI is that it gives you much more room financially to be able to travel to see family, which I have been trying to do more of over the past few years.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:43 am

      Kathy: a lot of parenting is bittersweet, isn’t it? Your daughter’s comment gives me a lot of comfort too. My kids’ music teacher has said the same thing about her young adult children. The time together is so much more precious and you just focus on being together (as opposed to when they’re little and you’re constantly wiping/wrangling/feeding/etc.) So true about the limited time with all of our loved ones and the freedom of FI. It helps all of us live our lives fully—without having to wait until we’re too old to do so.

  • Reply
    Kim @ The Frugal Engineers
    September 2, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Our only child is in first grade, and I’m not sentimental for the baby or toddler days. I had plenty of time home with her when she was little, and I’m loving the freedom and routine with her in school. Ask me this question again when she moves out as an adult though lol

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:47 am

      Kim: The baby and toddler days were very hard for us, so I also can’t say I’m sentimental for all of it! And as much as I love our summers together, I won’t deny that I too love the freedom and routine with both kids back at school!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    So well written. I’ve enjoyed so much time with my kids and I’d still say it hasn’t been enough. But, it’s rewarding to see them doing well and growing into their own. I think motherhood really challenges us to mature in many ways. And “living life in a way that’s true to our values” is one of them.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:53 am

      Ana: Thank you for your lovely comment. For sure—motherhood is an incredible and worthy challenge. My husband once read something on Reddit that said: “Did you ever realize, that while you were growing up, so were your parents?” As I look back on our photos and realize how much we’ve grown and changed, I realize how true this is.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    I do love this post Chrissy! You really sum up so many feelings I have about my own boys growing up. This summer, the oldest started wearing bigger shoes than me, and I was just explaining to the youngest today that it would only be another year and he would “never have to sit in his car seat ever again” in his entire life. That instantly made me feel misty eyed.

    Also – I am a huge fan of The Tail End post. Every time I’m feeling overwhelmed or short on patience, I think of the week chart in that post, and how truly little time we get to spend with our kids. It immediately brings things back into perspective.

    Thanks so much for writing and sharing this post!

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:58 am

      Phia: Those “last times”, even when they’re mundane, get to me every time. Thanks for taking the time to comment—I’m sure you’re still catching up after your trip to France!

      • Kari
        September 6, 2019 at 6:38 am

        I find most of the “last times” you don’t know are the last until much later. Like the last time they come to snuggle in bed. You don’t know that you should treasure that moment.

      • Chrissy
        September 8, 2019 at 10:47 pm

        That’s so sad and so true Kari! 😭

  • Reply
    September 2, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    What a lovely post! I’m not quite there with my kids but I’m sure they’ll become teenagers sooner than I realize.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:59 am

      Bob: It happens so fast!

  • Reply
    September 4, 2019 at 7:07 am

    My kids are 6 and 8, and maybe that’s too close to the baby years, because every year they get bigger, I’m just relieved. I’m not sad, I’m excited as they grow into more interesting people. Every night I sleep though is a beautiful gift after three years straight of not doing that.

    Maybe someday I’ll be sad, but probably not as sad as I am excited and happy. I’m so looking forward to the “tail end” – it looks pretty fun, based on my mom’s experience.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 10:03 am

      Anna: Thanks for the comment. Admittedly, I feel the same as you most days—relieved and excited for who they’ll become. The baby and toddler years were undoubtedly some of the hardest in our life. Sleep really is a beautiful gift that you don’t full appreciate until you have a newborn or two!

  • Reply
    Jaimee Grante
    September 4, 2019 at 7:27 am

    you had me tearing up with this one big time because I am feeling exactly what you describe and my kid is 2! Seriously, as I see him running around and being more independent as time goes by I feel a mix of joy, pride and sadness. I live the moment fully but part of me gets all nostalgic about his baby days. But you are right, I think this sadness is our reminder to be in the moment and not take it for granted. We completely adjusted our live and work situation with the intention of being as present as possible for parenthood. In retrospect it was crazy all the changes we made in my last trimester and his first few months and the crazyness was totally worth it.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 10:06 am

      Jaimee: It sounds like you’ve made important choices based on what you value most—which is time with your little boy. When we do this, even when it’s hard, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It just feels right and leaves us with no regrets. Thank you for coming by to comment! I look forward to following your story on your new blog. (Congrats again on launching!)

  • Reply
    September 4, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    This hit home for me, I always feel a bit of sadness when the kids go back to school. They grow every day, that event of taking them to the first of school always drives it home.

    Everyone warns you the time goes by so fast, but it still catches you off guard. It’s exciting to see them grow up and go off to middle school.

    However, I miss the days of rushing home from work to push my daughter on the swing while my wife got dinner ready. It broke my heart when my daughter started school and after a few days she told me “daddy I don’t need you to push me anymore, I learned to pump my legs”

    • Reply
      September 4, 2019 at 9:05 pm

      Michael: Your comment made me teary… it’s extra hard to let go when our kids tell us it’s time, but we’re not quite ready.

      It sounds like you’ve been very involved in your daughter’s life. That the best gift we can give to our children (and if we’re honest—ourselves!)

  • Reply
    September 6, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    Love this! Also in my forties but with a tween daughter and a 3-year-old, so with the little one I’m really, really conscious how precious those early years are. I think I missed them with the older one because I was so anxious about parenting. I can identify so much with all of this – we need to be mindful of the time we get to spend with our kids and really treasure it because although “the days are long, the years are short,” as they say.

    • Reply
      September 8, 2019 at 10:56 pm

      Misfire: It’s a gift that your kids are a little further apart in age. How wonderful that you can see the baby and toddler years of your second child with a more mature view.

      I so agree with the saying you mentioned—that the days are long but the years short. I often repeated it to myself in the challenging early years of motherhood. It’s a powerful reminder to keep things in perspective.

      Thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment!

  • Reply
    September 13, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Just spend as much time as you can with your children! I was a working mom but my husband & I spent all our free time with our 2 boys (Boy#2 is Chrissy’s hubby). I remember the first time we had time alone – our older son (17 at that time) had bought season tickets to BC Lions through his school and he took his brother (16) along. Dad (hubby) and I had a free evening! First one in 17 years…. he asked me if I wanted to go see a movie so we tried to find something we wanted to see since our boys always chose the movies we went to. Then he asked if I wanted to go for dinner… would you believe we did not even know where to go for dinner since we always gave our boys the choice? Well, it was a pleasant evening but something was missing….. we missed our boys…. it was bittersweet. It took me a long time to get used to being an empty-nester but I survived. Now I have grandchildren to enjoy!

    • Reply
      September 16, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      You’ve always been such a dedicated mom and grandma. M and I are lucky to have you and didn’t need to wait until our kids were 17 to have a free evening! Thanks for the supportive words. 🙂

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