I knew this moment was coming, but somehow it arrived more quickly than I anticipated.
As I hesitantly retrieve the last remaining penny from the jar, I’m forced to face the reality that my firstborns’ childhood has now come to a close. Nine hundred thirty-six weeks have passed since my triplet sons made me a mother eighteen years ago.
Scrubbing the daily pile of dirty dishes, I was visually held accountable for how well I was spending the time I’d been given to raise my children. Two glass jars full of 936 pennies graced my kitchen windowsill, begging me to contemplate how I was investing in the fleeting days of childhood.
Dropping the final coin into the spent jar, I remember sitting in the middle school gymnasium halfheartedly watching my sons play yet another game of basketball. My thoughts were centered on what meal I was going to prepare for dinner when we got home. My eyes were focused on the emails lingering in my inbox rather than the court. The mom sitting next to me on the bleacher began telling me about the baby shower present she was gifting her expectant neighbor.
As she talked about the 936 penny countdown clock, I realized that I needed to make this gift for myself, even though I had already spent the majority of my pennies. With less than 200 weeks until my firstborn sons turned eighteen, I no longer wanted my meal planning or my smartphone to distract me from the precious moments, sometimes disguised as mundane, of raising my children. I split the pennies into two glass jars, waking up to the fact that more than 700 pennies were already placed in the “spent” jar. The coins remaining seemed so few—yet so valuable.
Each Monday, as I moved a penny into the spent jar, I contemplated how well I had invested in that past week. Had I been more present in the daily happenings, or was I still thinking more about all the tasks I needed to accomplish? Had I mostly been frustrated and angry or joyful and peaceful? Was I more purposeful in my conversations with my sons or in the plans we made as a family together?
I now see an empty jar that began full, signaling the truth—my boys have grown into men now ready to make their way into the world without me.
As I stare at the pile of copper coins, I question what our wisest investment we made while raising our children was. Was it buying the home across the street from our local public school? Was it all of the activities and opportunities that we had allowed our kids to participate in? Was it the vacations we had taken or the family meals shared around our table? Was it the sleepaway summer camp we sacrificially sent them to, the mission trips to Mexico we took, or the simple days we spent hanging out together at home? What was it that brought the most meaning to our full jar of spent pennies?
I contemplated what meaningful gift to give our firstborns to mark their milestone 18th birthday. No material item seemed worthy of such an occasion. It hit me what our best investment had been as we gifted our sons with a series of eighteen dinners, each with one of eighteen different men who have influenced their lives.
My husband and I prepared a guest list and invited one to join our family around our dining table to share a meal and stories twice each month throughout our sons’ senior year of high school. I let go of my insecurities of not being a great cook or having a super clean house to celebrate what mattered the most to us—our relationships with people. Several men flew in for the occasion, others drove across town to surprise the boys on random school nights with a cake and words of wisdom.
Every time we gather for one of these eighteen dinners, I’m reminded of the best use of our 936 pennies—time spent building meaningful connections with others. My efforts to surround our sons with strong family relationships and loving friendships is the wisest investment I made.
While raising my children, I did my best to model what it looks like to be a loving friend, family member, and spouse. I purposely involved my sons and daughter in opportunities to serve others in our home, community, and world. My husband and I proactively sought out ways for our children to be mentored and coached by adults who shared our value system. We used our vacation time to strengthen our relationships, not just entertain ourselves. We invested in experiences instead of purchasing material items throughout our children’s lives, and we now reaped the blessing of our intentional efforts to build a loving community around us.
The visual countdown clock helped hold me accountable for investing in what would matter in the end.
How we choose to invest our time will determine the details of the childhood we provide for our kids and how we, as parents, will feel when it comes time for the imminent launch of our children into adulthood.
God willing, we parents get 936 weeks to raise our child from birth to eighteen. Let’s intentionally invest our time wisely in what will matter the most at the end of full-time parenthood, and our lives- people.
( Yes! Please send me the weekly Kindred Mom newsletter with the latest podcast episodes, essays, and helpful links! )
Amy Carney is the Author of Parent on Purpose: A Courageous Approach to Raising Children in a Complicated World. Amy and her husband of 22 years are parents to five teenagers- 18-year-old triplet sons, a 17-year-old daughter, and a 13-year-old son recently adopted out of the Arizona foster care system. You can find her on her blog, Facebook, or Instagram.