In my opinion, one of the most difficult contradictions for a parent to resolve within themselves is this: while your son or daughter will always be your child; your son or daughter will not always be a child.

It’s exciting to watch them grow into young adults and make their way in the world–experiencing new adventures and meeting new people and learning more about what makes them happy and why. We have children knowing that one day we will let them go.

But as we watch them go, we’re seeing not only the person they have become, but a composite of all the stages that have gone before.

If you look close enough, you can still see that newborn all wriggly and a bit red and brand new. Look again and you’ll see that infant learning to sit and crawl and laugh. Look further still and you’ll see that toddler taking those first tentative steps that turn into a run before you know it. The preschooler, the kindergartener, the elementary school student, the teenager–they’re all there, too. You can’t help but look at your child –at any age–and still see the baby that slept in your arms.

But far from being sad, this phenomenon gives a parent great joy. No parent lives under the delusion that they can keep their child a child forever. That’s not the way it works. Our purpose is to make sure we’ve provided the foundation necessary for our children to go boldly down a path of their own making. However, nothing can stop us from keeping that child a child forever in our mind’s eye. Because then we have the best of both worlds.

We have the privilege and the pleasure of creating new relationships with these people we’re so proud to have raised. And we have memories etched permanently on our hearts and in our souls that allow us to never forget that we were there from the beginning.

Always and forever, that sweet child o’ mine.