Two years.

Dear friends,

Nineteen years ago, our first child was born. I can remember with vivid clarity the concentrated emotion surrounding that event. For the first two years of Kate’s life, her father and I had a laser focus on her every need, emotion, and developmental milestone. Any new parent knows the feeling I’m talking about. It was frightening in some ways, but magical in so many more. We were a family of three — perfectly contained, thoroughly in love, completely content.

Then Parker came along and the whole dynamic changed. A family of four is entirely different than a family of three. And when the siblings are born 2-3 years apart, as ours were, the children can become their own self-contained unit, far more content to entertain each other and less needy of their parents’ attention. We were blessed that Kate and Parker developed a close relationship and enjoyed each other’s company right up until the moment Kate went to college.  We’ve been the four amigos for a very long time. (Well, 16 years to be exact.)

So it occurs to me now that — just as we enjoyed two years alone with Kate when she was a baby — we will now have two years alone with Parker. We’re a family of three again — two parents with a laser focus on one child.

I know. Kate will be home for holidays and such . . . and we’ll always really be a family of four, Lord willing, but it feels once again like we’re a family of three.

For example, there’s only three voices in the dinner conversation now. And only one of them is our child, so we’re naturally more attentive. It’s interesting, lisenting to this solo son’s voice without an echo or an interruption or an aside from his sister. In some ways, he’s on his own two feet for the first time since he was born. I wonder what he makes of it. I hope he’s enjoying our  undivided attention.

I’m certainly enjoying giving it to him. I’m enjoying listening to his voice with a new ear, one not distracted by another child’s concerns. I’m enjoying his company in a way completely different but just as satisfying as that of his sister so many years ago. When Kate was an only child, I read Dr. Seuss to her. I played with her. I cuddled her. Now that Parker is an “only” child, I watch reality television with him. I discuss social media with him. I seek his opinion on politics, community events, and family priorities.

Two wildly different stages of parenting, but still one deeply satisfied and appreciative mother.

With gratitude {for two years — then and now — as well as all the years before and after},

Joan, who just discussed with her son his essay comparing the sociological imaginations of Socrates and Forrest Gump and thinks adult conversations with your children are awfully cool



  1. Darn , Girl you can write, makes me wish I’d paid attention in school. D&H

  2. Don’t feel bad, Don. At least your pal Henry is quite the writer!

  3. Perhaps we need to imagine some new aspect to the idea of having/being a doula, craft a new parental support response, develop a series of classes to help us learn how to breathe through these very different sorts of labor pangs? Because you could see this shift as two new births having taken place in your family.

    Watching your Kate take her place in the world is a form of birthing with similar risks and potentially even more amazing rewards.

    Then there is Parker, standing newly born in your regard – now out from under the shadow thrown by his elder sister’s bright light.

    How wonder filled these old-new ways in which you connect-disconnect-reconnect and yet always remain, “family”.

    • Deb — I love the doula idea! The “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” franchise illustrates how much parents crave advice and guidance. But I promise we need it just as much in these later years (if not more) as we do in the early ones.

      • Shirley Carle says:

        You describe this parental experience very well, and I identify with it in many ways. Believe me, you have many years ahead to enjoy that special relationship you have with each child as they mature. I certainly am blessed that way with my offspring.

  4. What a cool way to look at it. What a gift!

  5. afterthekidsleave says:

    Yes! My kids are 11 years apart, so we had a much longer “only child” period at either end, but I know exactly what you mean. Enjoy this new phase!

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