Think about where you were 15 years ago. 20. Just how long ago that was. Now think about your thoughts from 15 years ago. Maybe that takes you back too far, but even that is illustrative: when we’re younger, we have a very limited conception of time… because we haven’t experienced much of it.
When you started high school, the idea of going every day to this place over the next four years seemed like an eternity. Four years was, at that point in your existence, almost a third of the time you’d been alive. But then when you started college, four years was not quite such a long stretch because you’d just done a similar bid. It didn’t constitute such a disproportionate block of your time on the planet—less than a quarter this time. And then by the time you had your first kid, however many years later, when people started saying to you just wait until they start kindergarten, four years was just a blip to you.
As we age, the shape of time changes, especially if you’re the parent of school-aged kids. Every parent will at some point hear these words from a parent who’s been through it: days are long, years are short. Indeed, the sort of time you can’t keep on your watch seems to speed up. One week, one month, one year—the measures of time are no longer so consequential because we have been through so many of them before. We’ve spent weeks on a project, or at the in-laws, or waiting for something to be shipped. We’ve endured a bad job for longer than we should have. We can count how many years it’s been since high school or college in multiples of five.
It’s a tricky thing, though, time. Because as we age, we get more comfortable with it… even as it’s slipping from our grasp. Time, as Seneca said, is what we need most and use worst, what we waste the most of. It’s critical that we understand it, that we get the right perspective on it and that we help our own kids with this understanding as much as possible.
Youth is wasted on the young. Part of that is unavoidable. It’s just the reality of a lack of experience. But as parents, we can still help them. We can pass along our perspective. We can make sure they learn from our mistakes.
Help them not to be intimidated by time… nor arrogant about it. Help them to appreciate time. To never wish away a minute of their lives, as we’ve talked about. Help them not to waste any of it.
Help them to live for it and love how much of it they have, as you do.