If you have children, you’ve surely received this bit of advice multiple times. It’s a favorite bon mot, offered usually from wiser, older, more experienced parents and grandparents.
It has happened to me in a group on Facebook, a grocery store, a public building and sitting on a park bench; a well-meaning, grandmotherly-type woman observes me in a moment of frustration, exhaustion, boredom or discipline. Or a kindly grandfather smiles at my baby’s bright-eyed, toothless grin. One grandfather at a playground actually flat-out told me one day, “Put down your phone, Mom. Look at your children.”
“Enjoy them while they’re little,” the voices echo. “They grow up so very fast.”
Except sometimes I don’t. Enjoy them, that is. And in reality, the passing of time does not change – it is ploddingly, excruciatingly consistent.
I remember with my first baby I couldn’t comprehend spending a moment without her. In fact, I didn’t. She was five months old before I left her with her dad while I drove the nanny home – away for 30 whole minutes and I cried at the separation. (I worked from home then, too.)
When daughter the second was born, I wore her everywhere. I had an active two year old to keep up with! We almost were never apart, as she was one of those babies who cried whenever anyone else held her.
But I was secretly thankful for the one hour drive to preschool four days a week – I’d leave her then six month old self home with daddy instead of listening to the poor thing cry the whole way there and back. I never expressed how much I relished the solo 30 minute drive home.
Flash forward to today and I have three vibrant, energetic girls and a thriving, demanding business, encompassing hobbies, community commitments and true friends. I also have slowly realized that I don’t get my internal energy, rest and reward from other people: I get it from being alone.
I have lovingly devoted my life to these children and give so very much. In the classic attachment parenting style, we bed share, breastfeed past two years and baby wear.
The problem with this advice, however well-meaning, is how dismissive it is of us as whole people, people with identities and lives outside of parenthood.
The problem with this advice, too, is it that it’s dismissive of all of the stages of life. Does that mean I won’t enjoy my children when they’re teenagers? Adults? Becoming parents themselves? Of course not. That’s not what they really mean. But then what DOES this advice mean?
It’s a wistful wish – “Spend more time doing the good stuff and less time doing the drudgery.” I totally get that. I truly do. I have no doubt that in my later years I’ll yearn for more of these totally in-your-face, 24/7, waking up to a foot in the face years.
But I can’t ignore my other needs. In many circles, this is referred to as “filling your own cup.” I’m a much better mother when I
have alone time to think, knit, listen to a podcast, volunteer without children or *gasp* go out for a of glass a sangria with friends.
A friend once texted me that she was at the beach. By herself. Without her two daughters. And no, she didn’t want company.
I’ve also started a journey into mindfulness that allows me to be present and participate in meaningful, ordinary moments with my each of my children.
Parenting is a job that never, ever ends. It takes some of us years to adjust and healthfully respond to this job. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our kids… it just means we love ourselves, too.