The Bittersweetness of Parenting

It’s been a busy summer for us, one full of change, and I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but just haven’t had the time to sit down until today. WARNING! it’s a bit saccharine on the topic of being a parent. Beware. 🙂

It’s about the bittersweetness and ephemeral nature of being a parent — the overwhelming feeling that I’ve had ever since SPL was born is happiness mixed with an acute awareness of how quickly time moves, how quickly SPL is changing and growing and developing.

It seems to me that the essential nature of being a parent is building and creating, and then always letting go. Letting go of the kid that lived in your house yesterday, accepting that they’ve changed and are becoming the person they’ll be tomorrow. It’s been hard for me to explain to people without kids; it’s been universally & immediately understood by my friends with kids.

I’ll talk about it here in the context of our trip to Disneyland this summer.

Now, it’s easy to be cynical about The Walt Disney Company and the various parks and properties that they run — and I’m often cynical myself about them. But I have to say that I really love going to Disney World and Disneyland — I always have — and I really, really love going with Kathy & SPL. I love being there, I love exploring with them, and none of the machinery of manipulation of the place really bothers me all that much.

This year, with SPL being 6, was a fun mix of wanting to venture out on his own and wanting to hug tight to Kathy and me. It felt like we’re crossing a line towards more and more independence.

So here’s a story in 4 pictures.


Above and beyond everything else, the trip is a time that the three of us get concentrated, dedicated time with not much to worry about other than just being a family.


One of the best parts about an experience like this is the combination of familiar and completely new things to experience together. Above is a picture of SPL & me watching one of the parades, talking about what we saw together, processing it together.


At just 6 years old, SPL still gets excited by the characters, loves hugs and holding close. We didn’t get too many pictures of it, but lots of times SPL grabbed onto Kathy and me — he’s still small enough that he wants the safety of his parents, and isn’t really 100% ready to take on the experiences by himself.

Still, my favorite picture of the trip this year is this one:


It’s on one of the smaller roller coasters in the park — in Toon Town, and this was the very first time he was able to ride the coaster by himself (I was in the seat behind, obviously).

I just love this picture because it represents so much about the way SPL is beginning to engage with the world now — in an “arms up, even though it’s a little scary for me” mode.

And as hard as it is when on the 2nd day of kindergarten he shoos you out of the room or runs away from you across the playground — and it is hard, and emotional — again, tough to describe to anyone without kids.

As hard as that feeling is to experience, it’s also exactly, exactly the thing you want for your child. An eagerness to engage with the new, to run unafraid towards the unknown.

So for me, that’s the essential quality of being a parent. Spending endless hours building and caring, and then just letting go and watching. The wisest thing anyone’s said to me since SPL was born is this: “The days are long, but the years are short.” That seems awfully right to me, and sort of wonderful, too.


  1. well written and i understand what you wrote… not saccharine, just heartfelt.

    thanks for writing it.

    -a rookie father of a nearly 4 yr old.

  2. hardly saccharine.

    I’m sorry I’ve missed so many years of the kid’s lives, but every day I learn something from them as I watch them grow, and it’s an amazing feeling.

    I love the last picture; we were at a coaster park on Saturday, and the end of the day was a ride with the 12-year-old where she learned all about “arms up!” on the drop. it’s scary, exhilarating, and unbelievably rewarding.

    really nicely put, john.

  3. agree that it is well written….I have had this experience of parenting with my two now adult sons, see it everday professionally as I am a pediatrician, and feel it even much, much more deeply as I now have the experience as a grandparent of my son’s nine month old. To this 58 year old the years are moving far too rapidly, but the richness of my relationship with my wife, sons, daughter-in-law, and now my grandson are beyond fantastic!Enjoy the ‘roller coaster ride’of joy each day while you can! For me the ride has never ended.

  4. yes, the moments when you see your child make a decision on his own, drive away by himself for the first time, play a solo in the band, marry, choose a career, and a million smaller moments are so special – and it’s good to see that the cycle continues.

  5. It’s different, obviously, with a 10 month old, but the amount of change that happens even in the two weeks that I’m away on a trip always blows me away.

    I apparently have more to look forward to.

    Thanks for sharing, John, as always.

  6. John,

    My friend Gretchen Rubin wrote a book called “The Happiness Project” and she did a one minute video called “The Days Are Long, but the Years are Short.” Check it out:

    It’s totally in line with this post.

  7. At one level, parenting is an endless series of letting go events, from the time when we need to let them get down out of the chair by themsleves, even if it means they fall, to my current sons attempting to ride bikes without training wheels, to the not too distant future when they will be borrowing the car.

    I appreciate the blogpost because it reminds me to keep that perspective. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the long days, and somedays I am not ready to let go.

  8. Nicely done – What I think I’ve come to ~ at some point you become the one throwing your arms up. And just as scared.

  9. How true that the days are long, but the years are short!
    Staying up late, sitting bedside, as I will be doing in about 2 hours, getting people out of trouble, doing homework on Sunday eve. because she neglected it earlier, all this makes for some very long days.
    Now that mine are grown up, the years flew by.