Scene: A child is having a meltdown in a public place; there's a full-on tantrum with crying, flailing, kicking, screaming, and / or yelling. An exasperated mother handles the situation in whatever way she's capable at the time--sometimes more adept than others, depending on the number of hours slept or tantrums already dealt with that day. An older woman (with kids who've presumably grown and flown the nest leaving her missing the days and years gone by) approaches the emotionally spent mother and her brood, smiles and says "cherish every minute of this because it goes by so quickly and one day you'll wish for these moments back."
The mother of the young child(ren) stares blankly at the well-meaning-but-completely-missing-the-mark woman. She wants to punch her in the junk but instead manages a small, polite smile and returns her attention to her family feeling more frustrated than before.
End (annoying) scene.
- Image Source: stock images freedigitalphotos.net
While I sincerely believe that women who say Cherish Every Minute are tapping into their own feelings longing for what used to be and intend to console or support an aggravated mother, it has the opposite effect. Rather than send a message of solidarity in the journey of motherhood, it says You're doing this wrong; you're not allowed to feel the way you do ... let me tell you the 'right' way to feel.
It says YOU don't get to be honest about motherhood; your truth in this moment isn't valid.
And that's a horrible thing to tell a mother.
Being a mom is hard; it's emotionally, physically, and psychologically draining. It's also amazing, wonderful, rewarding, and heartwarming ... and most of the time, when we're removed from the chaos and stress of the difficult times, we feel full of gratitude for the opportunity to be a mom and wouldn't give it up. It explains why at the end of the most challenging days we sneak into our children's rooms while they sleep and shed tears as we marvel at their sweetness. When we aren't in the throes of tantrums, meltdowns, testing limits, sassiness, and backtalk, we DO cherish the days, but it's not fair to imply that every single minute is worth enjoying.
Telling a discouraged mother that she should be enjoying the moments that make her want to pull out her hair invalidates the frustration and exasperation that is so often the truth of parenting infants, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Telling someone to cherish a clearly crappy moment is patronizing, insensitive and degrading.
I understand what's actually going on. Someone who is far-removed from the trenches of parenting romanticizes the experience. The rose-colored glasses cast a warm and happy glow over the sweet memories of cuddling sleeping babies, the enthusiastic curiosity of darling toddlers, holding hands with preschoolers ... and on and on over the years. The full-fledged fits over who gets to have the girl with long braids for playing CandyLand are forgotten. The heated arguments over who last got to push the elevator buttons don't register in the memory bank. Those moments full of angst--the same ones someone else is being told to enjoy--have long been blurred ... they're left uncherished.
When my kids head to college in a few years, I know I'll shed tears--lots of them. I'll miss them terribly when they're gone ... heck, I might even miss their dirty socks on the floor because it will be a reminder of the lack of their presence. I will miss my kids with all my heart, but I'd be lying to myself if I said I would happily go back to the worst moments just so I could return to their youthful days. Because, honestly, I don't want those back. I have no interest in reliving the infected, cracked, bleeding nipples, the struggles of potty training, the desperate fits over learning to share and waiting a turn, the exhausting evenings of struggling through homework and school projects. I don't want those moments again because they sucked. Big time.
No parent wants to hear someone say they they should be cherishing the crap ... because, let's be honest--you can polish and shine a turd all you want, but at the end of the day, it still smells like shit because that's exactly what it is.
We shouldn't have to paint everything with a rainbow-colored brush pretending parenthood is all puppies and happy clouds. We're allowed to be honest. No. We SHOULD be honest. It's an important part of our journey--as parents and as humans. With the good comes the bad, with the victory comes the struggle. It's all part of the process and everyone is entitled to experience that genuinely.
Rather than diminish another parent's truth or experience by telling them to "enjoy every minute," here are a few alternatives to that annoying phrase:
"I remember those days. Don't worry, they don't last forever."
"It gets better. It really does."
Or you can smile and say nothing.
Here is my request: No matter how much we clamber for the good ol' days, let's vow to never tell anyone to Cherish Every Moment. Let's refuse to make someone else feel badly about how they're handling life and parenthood. We should support each other in this journey, not impose our truth on someone else. Because, when you tell someone to enjoy every minute, it makes them want to punch you in the junk.
Author's note: Because I have seen this occur strictly as a phenomenon among mothers / women, I primarily used that terminology in writing this. That's not to say that fathers / men might not be engaged in this behavior. We need to be supportive of all parents. We should all be doing what we can to lift one another up. Period.