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Don’t Squander the Little Years

Tiny kids are hard. By tiny I mean the first, say, three years of life. The age when they are factories of need and vacuums of love, yet can’t even offer the decency of an occasional “thank you.”

The endless demands of parenting little ones can feel heightened by the fact that this is often the very season of life—late 20s through the 30s—when budding careers are most demanding and precarious. The need to be tirelessly devoted outside the home can tempt young parents to be less devoted inside the home.

And so it’s really easy to make the mistake of wishing our littles were older, wishing we could just skip ahead five years or so to the season when they’re actually rational humans who don’t need diapers, car seats, and perpetual attention.

But to do that is a great mistake. It’s rejecting a gift from God, wishing it were something else, forgetting that he knows just what we most need.

Here are six reasons not to climb into a mental time machine and pine for the future but rather climb out and re-enter the present, this ordinary and challenging day, with simplicity, gratitude, and contentment.

1. Discontent Is a Bad Habit

If you constantly wish your little ones were older, then when they are older, you’ll just do the same thing in reverse and wish they were younger. And then you won’t have enjoyed any of the seasons of parenting, and you’ll regret it when they’re out of the house. And your kids will know you didn’t enjoy them, because they will have smelled it on you even if you never said it, and they may be gone from your life for good unless there’s some deep repentance from you to their face.

Time and affection aren’t added bonuses to helping kids develop; they are the basic, key ingredients.

If you let a mindset of discontent with your kids’ ages settle into you now, it may be difficult to break out of that when they’re actually the age you think will be easier.

2. The Older Ages Won’t Be Easier Anyway

The demands are different, not easier. Yes, you’ll get more sleep later on. But parenting older kids requires a deeper wisdom and is more multifaceted. Little kids are physically demanding, but older kids are emotionally demanding.

3. God Teaches Us Through Specific Circumstances

God teaches us things through parenting tiny kids that are different from what he teaches us through parenting older kids. We see something of the heart of God in loving helpless sinners when our hearts fill with love just by looking at our gurgling infant. We get a glimpse of how God hears his children’s prayers when we hear our children cry out and realize nothing can stop us from rushing into their room to help them. We learn patience, patience to wait and let the child grow—watering the sapling with love, taking each day as the day God has for me now.

4. You’re Helping to Wire Your Child’s Brain

Psychiatrists and medical professionals will tell us that it’s the early stages of life, the stages when humans are little sponges that soak up love but can’t yet give much back, when attention and affection normalize them for life. It’s like anything—invest now and earn dividends later; sow now, reap later. Load them up with love and affection and their brains will mature and develop in the ways they’re meant to. What oxygen is to their lungs, love is to their brain.

Time and affection aren’t added bonuses to helping kids develop; they are the basic, key ingredients. A 1-year-old’s brain is getting wired properly when constant love pours in.

5. You Represent God to Your Child

Even more deeply: at some level, to your 1-year-old, you are God—you, their supreme authority, are daily constructing a portrait of who God is. They can’t read a Bible yet, so your face looming over their crib is all they have. When they’re old enough to finally imagine God as something beyond you as their parents, their first intuition about who God is will come from the way you treated them. When you love your 1-year-old with unblushing, rapturous affection, you are preparing them to believe the Bible when it speaks of God’s heart for his own in that way.

Your kids’ first intuition about who God is will come from the way you treated them.

6. To God, We’re Babies

And he doesn’t hurry us up. He enjoys his children in their spiritual tiny-ness. And when, like our infant children, we don’t love him back, his response is more love.

Your kids, even while they are so young and needy, don’t diminish your life—they enrich it, if you will collapse into enjoyment of them. They aren’t a wall, preventing you from doing what you want to do. They’re a doorway, beckoning you into a fullness of life that reflects nothing less than God’s own care and affection for his people.

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