Underwear. Shorts. T-shirt. Stuffed animal. One by one my son packed each item into his Batman suitcase, mumbling under his breath about the unfairness of life.

“Okay, Mom, I’m leaving. And I’m not coming back!”

Then off he went, out the door, his chubby little hand pulling all his apparent worldly possessions behind him. He was five when my son “ran away” from home…to the stop sign at the end of our cul-de-sac.

My hubby and I watched him leave from the front lawn, shouting out our proclamations of love and well wishes. Lest you think I’m a crazy, we knew full-well our type AAA would turn around before walking out of eyesight and realizing we weren’t coming after him. Allowing him to stomp off and protest was our way of affirming his frustration.

After welcoming back our mini-prodigal, we listened long and hard to all his complaints: he’s always the one getting in trouble, little brother gets away with everything, little sister gets way too much attention, and he never gets to do anything fun.

Oh, the stresses and strains of being the oldest with all of five years under his belt.

So we told our mature-beyond-a-half-decade little boy we understood his concerns and showered down love like rain upon him. We explained how some things in life are difficult by default.

Those of you with kids in the youngish stage can surely relate to the throes of childrearing multiple offspring. Kids tug our mom-hearts in every direction as we try to manage our days and keep our sanity. Emotions related to infractions, frustrations, or accidents tend to grow exponentially because of exhaustion and the feeling that of no end’s in sight. I lay awake for nights on end after our son’s pack-up-and-leave incident. Guilt and sorrow overwhelmed me.

However, what I’ve learned looking back, now that my three kids are in their twenties, is how much truth lies beneath the statement, “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a tiny incident of a kindergartener packing a bag and stomping off in a tantrum.

Decades later, I’ve realized how some – okay, tons – of my worries, fears, frets, and overanalyzing ways caused unnecessary stress and angst. This is not to say that the burdens we feel in any stage of parenting aren’t valid. We can only relate to where our feet our planted, therefore every struggle is relative and real.

I do wish someone would’ve told me years ago not to sweat the small stuff when motherhood overwhelmed me to the nth degree. I guess a book by that title did come out during my mad dash of raising littles, but I recall an inability to apply the principles. They sounded foreign with so much responsibility weighing on my heart, you know, ensuring the heath, livelihood, and safety of three human beings.

Which is why I’m saying to all of you, “Try your best not to sweat the small stuff.” Tomorrow will have enough big problems of its own, and raising teens and young adults requires full-mettle moxie. You might as well conserve your energy now so you have the strength to navigate the pressures of later.

Here is a rundown of a few things to consider today as you prepare for the intensity of the future.

What matters now:

1 | Love.

2 | Basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter.

3 | A place to call home regardless of 8,000 Lego pieces, goldfish, cheerios, singleton shoes, and dirty diapers scattered all over the floor.

4 | The ability to shower every few days. Having clean insides – heart and soul – goes a lot further than fresh hair and flowery armpits.

5 | A vehicle that gets from a to b. Who cares if seventy-nine library books, half-full juice boxes, scraps of food, and wrappers slide all around the floor at every turn.

6 | Love.

What matters later:

1 | Love.

2 | Knowing the health of your child’s self-esteem.

3 | Awareness and action plan against all the evils competing for your child’s soul: porn, drugs, alcohol, social media fantasy land, bullies.

4 | Warning signs for mental illness and a resolve to get your child necessary help.

5 | Open lines of communication about all things with a spirit of non-judgment and loving support.

6 | Love.

My small lists are not to say huge problems don’t exist for parents of young children, or to claim that the teen and young adult years come wrought with automatic strain. Every possibility exists on a vast spectrum of experience, but when we look at the “what matters later” list, those types of problems carry a lot of weight. When we release some of the little stuff that goes along with raising young kids, we have more willpower to absorb the big-time shock and awe of stewarding young adults.

I’m encouraging all of you younger moms to do things differently than I did. You are strong. You are brave. You have what it takes to get through each day just doing the simple things. Love every moment, stay present, and know that when the future comes and big problems surface, you can handle it after rising above these little struggles now.

I’m cheering you on from an empty nest while trying to stay strong parenting from a distance. We both can do this!