It happens way too often.
Every day, somewhere in suburbia, an exhausted, unshowered mother wrangling one or more small children is confronted by a thoroughly rested, impeccably groomed older woman and told to “Enjoy every single minute! It all goes by so quickly!”
Whenever this happens to me, I am tempted to reply:
“Really? Every minute? How about when I am digging vomit out of my ear at 2 a.m. while my sick child cries in anguish and her sibling comes running into the room stage whispering, ‘Did she barf again? Where is it? Can I see it?’ Is that your idea of a good time? Is it, Brenda? IS IT??”
Of course I would never respond that way. And to be honest, I understand what they are saying, even though it is — in my opinion — a dumb thing to say to someone who may be having an incredibly difficult time responding to the demands of parenthood.
Most parents I know are appropriately grateful for their children. They understand there are plenty of people who want children but can’t have them and many who have had children and lost them. They are aware these people would gladly give their right arms to experience even the hardest parts of parenting.
But you can have gratitude and still find the experience of parenthood overwhelming at times; the two are not mutually exclusive. Spending every single minute in a state of grateful maternal bliss is mentally and physically impossible, at least without a lobotomy.
Also, it’s incorrect to suggest time passes more quickly when you have children. The good times do. The hours spent cuddling and laughing, playing games and reading stories are over way too quickly. The birthdays and Christmas mornings are finished before they start.
But the hard times drag. When your children are ill or in pain, when they are scared or sad, it doesn’t feel like time is flying. When you haven’t had a decent night of sleep in years, can’t remember what it’s like to eat a hot meal uninterrupted, or think of hygiene as spritzing yourself with body mist, parenthood stretches ahead of you in an interminable purgatorial sentence.
My children are 7 and 9. When I look back at their baby photos, I am amazed at how much they have changed over the years. But not once have I thought the time has whizzed by or exclaimed, “Hot damn, those days when you used to crap your pants and then smear the walls with your feces were over way too quickly!”
I may get slightly sentimental when I hold up their newborn onesies, amazed that they were ever so tiny. I may miss those baby giggles and what it felt like to rock them to sleep in my arms.
But I also remember the hard parts: the hours of colicky crying, being constantly on call, the lack of sleep and free time, the frustration of not being able to understand what they needed.
I’m sure that as my children grow, the memories of the hard times will fade. When they move out and on with their lives, and all that longed-for free time comes my way, I bet I will miss even the worst times. By then I’m sure it will feel like their childhoods went by in the blink of an eye.
However, I vow never to accost a bewildered young mother and tell her to enjoy every minute. Because if she’s having a bad day, she doesn’t need to feel guilty for not enjoying it. If she’s having a great day, she doesn’t need to be reminded that it will all be over soon.
Instead, what I find myself telling young mothers is, “Hang in there. You are doing great.”
Which may or may not be a compliment coming from a woman with mismatched shoes, a smear of poster paint across her forehead and a crazed glint in her eyes.