Life is Long

My wife attended a conference recently and reconnected with some old acquaintances.  One she hadn’t seen for years, a woman who’d been home raising her kids.  She’d been absent from the conference circuit, but now her kids were grown and flown.  She was back to working full-time, traveling, going to conferences, the whole shebang.

She was a hero to many of the conference-goers, who struggled with work and kids, trying to find a balance, the right course.  The easy answer most reached for first was ‘both’.  Work and family.  My time and their time, all the time.  And who can blame them?  Who doesn’t want everything, if they can get it.

Well, it’s easier to say than to live.  Reality has its way of intervening in our plans.  Yet, here was a woman who seemed to have done it, to have both family and career.  They asked her:  “How?”

“What people forget,” she said, “is that life is long.  There’s a time when your kids are young and need you at home.  But that time is not forever.”

While her kids were young, she stayed home with them.  She kept her finger in the profession, working a little here, a little there, when and as she could.  Her kids grew, and she had more time to devote to professional endeavors outside the home.  By the time her kids spread their wings and ventured out on their own, she was ready to go full time.

So you can have both, she said, just not at the same time.

It’s a good lesson from a mother that we fathers should pay attention to.  Life is long, but childhood is not.  As Scripture tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”.  Eccl 3, 1.  God “has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.”  Eccl 3, 17.

This is the season for us to spend time with our kids.  That’s inconvenient occasionally.  We’ve got a lot of things we want to do, especially with work.  But inconvenient or not, childhood can’t be re-scheduled.  Our kids’ childhood is now.  They’re growing right now, their childhood is flying by right now.  It won’t be here forever – it won’t even be here all that long.

Work will.  We treat work with the breathless franticness of a 40 yard dash, when in truth we’ve got a marathon in front of us.  What’s the rush?  It’s not like we only have 5 years to cram in a career’s worth of work, so we have to squeeze the job into every possible moment, morning, noon and night.  After our kids are grown and gone, we’ll still have many, many years of work ahead of us.  Probably decades.  But we won’t have our kids with us.  For the kids, there is only now.  Time with our kids should be first.  That’s the finite resource.  Not work.

I once heard a great half-time locker room line from Lou Holtz:  “You’ve got 30 minutes to play, and a lifetime to remember.”  This is that time with our kids.  In their appointed hour our kids will go, leave home, and get on with their own lives.  Our lives will change, too.  But life will still be long, and filled, hopefully, not with regret for what could have been, but with the memories we make now.  This is a special season, of springtime for our kids, of new beginnings for new lives, of young souls growing.  Like every springtime, this one will pass before we know it.  But while it’s here, there is beauty and warmth and the fresh zeal of new life to be had, if only we will embrace it.

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  • Thank you, Jake.

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  • Yes, life is long, but you only figure out how long as you age and piece it together. Perhaps we should listen a little more to those who have a few more decades under their belts. Various details of everyday life are different now, but the broad brushstrokes remain. We live it forwards, learn it backwards, and head to the confessional to smooth out the mistakes. Excellent piece, Jake, thanks.

  • elkabrikir

    Pregnant with my 12th child, I have a different perspective than that which Mr Frost presents. I will have mothered my children continuously for 44 years before the youngest is “grown and flown”. I will be 47 when my baby is born. I’ll be about 69 when he/she graduates from college. By then, God willling, I’ll have grandchildren to assist in their Journey to God.

    I am not waiting for my children to grow up and get out before I begin my “real” life and my “real” career. Society, and indeed the tone of the article, suggests that mothers embrace their children’s childhood for the sake of the child; and, that moms can/should embrace the moment because it is fleeting. However, a prudent mom, in order to stay sane, provide for retirement, and bring meaning to her life, constantly keeps an eye on the door which will one day open to her “real career”.

    I reject that philosophy for myself. My mother once asked, about 5 children ago, “Don’t you ever get tired of changing diapers?” I replied, “You’ve got to do something with your life. What is a more noble work than raising human beings to the glory of God. Somebody has to change diapers for a time. Why not me?” (Okay, so I will have changed approximately 52, 600 diapers over the course of parenting my kids, I’ll admit it’s a lot of Huggies!!) God’s vocation for women is written into their bodies. Through his mercy, I am living this vocation of raising a large family. It is my life’s work. I do “have it all”! For, I have the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding through fulfilling God’s Will for me. If the woman highlighted by Mr. Frost is living His Will, then she “has it all” too.

    With respect to fathers, who have a different role written into the language of their body, Mr Frost makes excellent points. In the case of a father who is supporting and raising a large family over decades, the vocation requires constant vigilance and excellent rectitude of intention. There are no “throw away” children in a family…that is children who were emotionally or physically neglected because dad or mom was too busy.

    Thanks for the reminder that, despite the seemingly eternal springtime families enjoy, to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.

  • Claire

    Elkabrikir, congratulations! I didn’t know you were expecting again. When are you due?

    I totally agree with you that motherhood doesn’t have to be something that we do while waiting to have a real career. What I love about motherhood is that it’s both a role and a profession. I don’ understand why some people view it as boring and unfulfilling. The challenges are endless. It takes a lot of creativity to learn how to handle the situations that arise all day long with kids, and it’s challenging to do it skillfully and with grace. As far as wanting to work outside the home for a sense of autonomy, I’ve never understood that either. Running my own household and guiding the life of a child is the most autonomy I’ve ever had in my life.