If you’re a parent, you know that people can sometimes tell you things which are not helpful at all (and instead, drive you crazy or stress you out). My great friend Marie, who helps parents over at Create Balanced Life, has some words of wisdom on this. Here’s what she has to say about that one annoying thing people tell new parents – her least parenting advice – and what to think about instead.
There is one thing certain about becoming a parent: plenty of people will suddenly feel free to give you advice about anything and everything related to child-rearing.
As a mother of two, I’ve heard it all – or at least a lot of it. But here is my least favorite piece of advice, and also the one I’ve been told the most:
“Enjoy every minute. The time goes by so fast!”
It’s such a well-meaning thought. As a person who embraces mindfulness and tries to be in-the-moment, I appreciate the sentiment behind this thought. I would love to enjoy every moment of my kids’ precious childhoods unfolding in front of me.
But I have to be real with you. When I hear this statement I want to burst into tears.
I’m trying to enjoy it. Really I am. But I also haven’t slept. And I’ve had a child attached to my body and/or breast for most of the last few years. And I want to love them intensely and find joy in the moment, but in the meantime I’m scared and guilty that I’m doing it wrong.
I’m trying to enjoy it. Really I am. But I also would give someone a million dollars for a whole hour all to myself, with no demands on my attention. A whole hour without someone who needs me to care for them. And childhood is amazing, but my body, mind, and soul can only handle reading Elephant and Piggie books 10 times in a row before I’m ready to break.
The reality is that that a lot about parenting (and, frankly, being a child) that isn’t fun. I do embrace the joyous moments of my son’s laughter as we make funny faces, or the precious moment when my daughter read a whole sentence for the first time. Those are the memories I hold onto and cherish. These are the moments when “enjoying every minute” makes sense to me.
But in between those moments are the other ones. The moments in potty training where my kid just peed on the floor for the fifth time in an hour. The moments when my three-year old is having a royal tantrum at the store when I was this close to being done with the shopping. The moment at 3am when my nursing baby got me up for the fifth time, and I realize that I won’t get a solid hour of sleep before my alarm goes off at 4:30 so that I can nurse her again before I have to get ready for work.
Those moments? Knowing that they “go by so fast” doesn’t help, because in those moments it feels like an eternity.
I’ve struggled to come up with a cliche that captures these moments and can help me through them. Cliches might be, well, cliche. However, they also serve a purpose as they blithely remind us of a reality beyond our specific situation.
My little cliche is this:
“When they’re eighteen . . . .”
I used it in the worst moments of potty training when I told myself (and my husband, and anyone who would listen), “She won’t pee on the floor when she is 18!”, and “She won’t wear a diaper when she is 18!”
I used it during those early, sleepless nights. I would rock my son in a chair, bleary-eyed and think, “When he is 18 he will sleep through the night.”
Last night I used it as I flossed my son’s back teeth, trying not to get bitten and trying not to yell as he looked around distracted. “When he is 18,” I thought, “he will floss his own damn teeth.”
This little cliche of mine helps me get through these rough moments way more than “The time goes so fast!” ever will. When we’re in these challenging parenting moments the time can’t go fast enough. These moments aren’t about joy; they are about the hard work of raising a child. In these moments I need a solid reminder that these phases have an end point. I can say with certainty that I will be flossing my son’s teeth for a while, and probably wiping up poop and pee for my youngest for a while too. But I know that those moments will end by the time they are 18. The time in between may be a bit of a blur, but somewhere in there the transition will happen. Knowing that helps me get through the rough patches.
A simple and elegant example of just one of the paradoxes of parenting is clear from this story from All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior:
“But here’s the thing,” says Paul [on of the people Senior interviews]. “I would bet that if someone did a study and asked, ‘Okay, your kid’s three, rank these aspects of your life in terms of enjoyment,’ and then, five years later, asked, ‘Tell me what your life was like when your kid was three,’ you’d have totally different responses.” With this simple observation, Paul has stumbled onto one of the biggest paradoxes in the research on human affect: we enshrine things in memory very differently from how we experience them in real time.”
When I remind myself that someday these challenging moments with my children will fade, I’m also reminding myself that my memory of this time will almost entirely different than my actual experience of it. I won’t remember the flossing and the poop. But I will remember playing at the park, baking together, and building entire worlds with Legos and Lincoln Logs.
If I’m humble enough I won’t turn into one of those people who says “Enjoy every minute. The time goes by so fast!”
But I know the truth hidden in this annoying advice. My time with my children as children is limited. The days are long, but the years are definitely short. I’m enjoying every joyous and fun moment of parenting I get. And there are way more of those moments than the no-so-fun ones.
But there are days when I look ahead to the future and find comfort in the fact that, someday, my kids will be old enough to wipe their own behinds and floss their own teeth. Even if it doesn’t happen until they’re 18.
Marie Levey-Pabst thinks we need to stop trying to find balance in our lives and start creating it. That’s why she developed the Create Balance Method: a tool that any working parents can use to create balance between parenting, professional, and personal sides of life . . . on their own terms. Marie is also a writing teacher, mother of two (mostly) adorable children and an unapologetic Star Wars fan.
You can learn more about Marie, and find her teaching and encouraging parents from all walks of life on her website, Create Balanced Life.