10/08/2014 04:40 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2014

Changing (Parenting) Seasons

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I love this change of seasons. By the time I've finally input my boys' extracurriculars into my iBrain, our Midwestern Indian summer cools down for crisp mornings. My kids settle in to their classrooms, the new routine becomes more familiar, and we can enjoy our walk to school among trees turning Technicolor.

Though I adapt fairly well to changing schedules, and welcome the swap from sweaty maxi-dresses to cozy sweater coats, it's the metaphorical changing of seasons with which I sometimes struggle. In fact, as my kids grow, they seem to spin through the seasons of their lives far faster than I can anticipate. They leap ahead, while I lag behind trying to acclimate.

A decade ago I became a new mom, and somewhere along the way, I dropped the "new" and began considering myself a veteran. I can finally swaddle a baby with confidence, though my 7- and 10-year-old are reticent to indulge me in that practice. For the most part, I know how to care for my kids when they fall ill, and trips to urgent care are mercifully less frequent than during their toddler years. But much like the evergreens that keep their needles regardless of weather, I cling to a few skills I've mastered as a parent, and then find myself flummoxed when my children outgrow them.

I recall my despondence when our parental efforts to make a safe space for big brother's toys -- he was a preschooler with a new baby brother -- resulted in him becoming an older, entitled child who didn't know how to share with his toddler brother. On the advice of a friend, we instigated a new rule: "Everyone shares in this family." Big brother surprised us by adapting readily. The season had switched in our home, and this adjustment helped calibrate our whole family's temperature.

Yet, I seem to forget to keep an eye out for signs of impending change with my kids. Not long ago, I noticed how many times a day, for months, we disciplined our younger son for bad language. As we doled out consequences, we failed to recognize a positive. Taken from a different vantage point, our 7-year-old was choosing to express himself verbally instead of physically -- something we wanted to encourage. We found ourselves reevaluating once again. The rigid parenting that previously gave our young children structure and discipline, now required some fluidity to allow for their maturation into complex people with complex thoughts. We needed a more nuanced parenting approach that was flexible regarding words expressed indirectly in frustration, while still firm about words directed at someone in anger.

My older son began fifth grade, which means his season soon changes from boyhood to preteen. Recently, he held a tissue out the window while we sped down the interstate. Just as I warned him against it, the tissue flew from his hand . I snapped at him, with a warning that littering is against the law, and that we could get a ticket. I turned to look at him from the front seat, expecting backtalk, only to find him inconsolable. When did I become so uptight, anyway? Exactly how many Safe-T-Pop suckers did I devour at his age on the way home from a doctor's appointment, only to lose the stick out the window? Forgetting to take a nuanced approach, I'd held onto my knee-jerk discipline reaction. No apology from me could compete with his fear and shame over "But I could have hurt our family." Heart. Stomp.

I'm learning how to weather these changing seasons as a parent. I'm not a new mom, I'm not really even a veteran mom. But, I'm becoming the mom my children need today, as they evolve into their independent selves, and we traverse the sidewalks of our ever-evolving seasons, together.