All the Reasons the Days Are Long but the Years Are Short

Call it cliche, but this parenting phrase rings true.
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profile picture of Lauren Barth
Senior Editor
December 8, 2022
mother kissing sleeping baby
Image: Studio Firma

Of all the wise words, parenting adages and corny cliches you may have heard about life with little ones, one probably reigns supreme: “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Offer that nugget to a brand new mama learning the ropes, and she may (justifiably) roll her eyes. Say it to a toddler parent in the throes of the terrible twos, and they’ll probably scoff in your face. But to the mom of a 10-year-old, this phrase hits differently.

My oldest officially reached the double-digits stage, and I can barely fathom the fact that I’ve been a mom for a full decade. How? When? Where did those roughly 3,650 days go?

Time felt interminable in the beginning—change, feed, burp, nap, repeat. But two additional kids later, and those days, those years, feel more like a blip on the calendar. The math just doesn’t add up.

Yes, the days are long, but the years go startlingly fast—for so many reasons that only reflection and perspective can explain. But whether you’re a first-time mom struggling through the colic-infused days and sleep-deprived nights, or an experienced parent watching your big kid mature right before your very eyes, the time-warp reality of parenthood is both fact and fable, and these truths speak volumes.

The Days Are Long Because…

Your own needs have been put on the back burner since the moment you got that positive pregnancy test, and self-care is in short supply. Surviving on minimal sleep and chicken nugget scraps, you’re tired, you’re hungry and you’re desperate for a little TLC.

It feels like you simultaneously do all of the things and none of them. You’ve got the weighty responsibility of keeping a helpless human healthy and happy, but the day-to-day tasks associated with this unpaid gig are repetitive and monotonous. The clock crawls, and the tedium is real—even if you feel guilty admitting it.

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By the time you hit 9 a.m., you’ve changed multiple diapers, offered multiple breakfasts, kissed multiple boo-boos and calmed multiple meltdowns—all before you’ve brushed your own teeth. You’ve read Zoom Zoom Baby a billion times and have been singing “Baby Shark” on repeat for what feels like an eternity. Your only break? An abbreviated (but blissful) round of hide and seek.

Nap time is fleeting and unpredictable—which makes it impossible to plan your afternoon. You don’t know whether you’re going to get three blissful hours to do things for yourself or 30 measly minutes to accomplish the bare minimum.

There are times you have no adult interaction for hours on end. Your communication is limited to baby babble and the judgmental voices inside your head.

Baby is perpetually fighting sniffles and colds and fevers and rashes, and helping them through these discomforts (and making it through unscathed) is downright depleting.

You need to rock them to sleep or sing song after song or rub their tiny back as they finally drift off. It’s a sweet ritual. But you’re also counting down the minutes until you can finally have a solid chunk of hours to yourself—to catch up with your partner, catch up on your shows or simply sit for more than five minutes without having to get up. Then you stay up too late and wake up too early (and not by choice). It’s an exhausting cycle.

The Years Are Short Because…

Seemingly overnight, those delightful infant rolls and that pokable pudge give way to lean limbs and long bodies. Those amazing milestones happen at a rapid-fire pace. That once floppy neck is suddenly stable and strong. Baby is cooing and giggling and interacting, and it’s thrilling and wonderful, and—if you blink—you might miss that first emotive smile.

They quite suddenly develop opinions and determination of their own. One moment, they’re your little baby who’s entirely reliant on you. The next, they’re a budding individual with unique thoughts, strong preferences and a will of steel. (FYI: This also means that tomorrow’s jacket war is going to be draining.)

One blissful night, baby will sleep for 12 hours straight. They’ll embrace naptime. They’ll self-soothe when they stir at 3 a.m. They won’t need your hand on their back or your outstretched hand through the crib bars.

Your toddler no longer has the separation anxiety that once fueled your frustration. When you drop them off at daycare or preschool, they’ll give you a quick peck and happily run off to learn and grow and play and explore—without you.

Independent play will happen one fateful afternoon, opening a world of possibilities. You’ll be able to sip hot(!) coffee and watch your little one pretend. It’s like a magical sneak peek inside their curious little brain.

You see their eyes light up when you walk into their nursery in the morning. They run into your arms when you pick them up from daycare after a long day at work. A sleepover at Grandma’s house fills you with joy and guilt. You want a break more than anything in the world, but you desperately crave that delicious moment when they’re back in your arms.

You’re “mama.” Then “mommy.” Then “mom.” There’s no warning, and this transition can sting.

After the eager countdown to your child’s bedtime, you spend your free moments scrolling through photos of their day, and marvel at how you made this tiny human being who sometimes drives you to the brink, but also makes your world turn. The days are long, but you’ll lay in bed at midnight exhausted and excited to do it all over again tomorrow.

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