There’s a wrenching scene in the haunting novel The Sweet Hereafter (not to be read for the faint of heart). A widowed husband is folding up the clothes of his late wife. He’s struck, holding her things, just how physically small she was. This tiny person he loved and misses, she took up so much space in his heart, occupied so much of his waking thoughts. Because men spend so much of their lives intimidated by women, he writes, they come to see them as much bigger than they really are.
In a sense this is true for our kids, too. They take up so much space in our lives. They have such big presences. They are so loud. But we can easily forget—as we reprimand them for knocking something over, as we yell at them for making a mess or sneaking out—that they are tiny, tiny people. They barely have control of themselves. They are dwarfed by us physically, by our experiences, by our confidence in the way things will go.
So we have to be careful. Whether they are teenagers or toddlers, we can’t forget how small they are. When they fall asleep in the car and you carry them to bed, take a second to notice their size. As you pack up their stuff to take them to college, take a look at just how little stuff they have—because their life is still so new.
The smaller you realize your kids are, the kinder you will be. The more protective and patient you will be. The more you will appreciate how hard they are trying to figure things out—themselves, their relationships, the world. Then the more impressed you will be with what they can do, and the more forgiving you will be of what they do wrong.
They are so tiny. Don’t forget it.