You never know what comments you’ll get from strangers when you take small children to the grocery store. The most frequent reactions I received when carting around multiple littles were either, “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” or something along the lines of, “You think they’re a handful now? Just wait till they hit the teenage years.”
Neither of these comments is particularly helpful to a flustered young mom, but there’s another one that ironically triggers the “mom guilt.” It’s the sweet lady in her 60’s or so who gives you a wistful look and sighs, “They grow up so fast. Enjoy every moment!”
Now, I love my children enough to jump in front of an oncoming train for them. But there are definitely moments of parenting that make me want to huddle in a corner and stress-eat chocolate chip cookies—when the kids are crabby and will not stop fighting, when the baby is still screaming after an hour of trying to get her to sleep, or when the toddler has just smeared the contents of his diaper all over the bedroom.
In short, there are quite a few moments of motherhood that are just not enjoyable. Given enough of them, one can start to feel that this is what almost all moments of parenting are like. So when I was told to “enjoy every moment,” I was sometimes rather tempted to roll my eyes and retort, “Yeah, right. Like you enjoyed ‘every moment’ when you were in my shoes.”
Fortunately, as my children have grown, many things have become much easier than they once were. I still certainly don’t enjoy every moment of parenting, but the physical exhaustion decreased significantly once we got out of the baby / toddler phase, and that alone makes a big difference.
Just a few months ago, however, we welcomed another little boy to our family, resetting our parenting game to the newborn stage. Thankfully, with two pre-teen daughters helping and the other two being pretty much self-sufficient, it is certainly less exhausting than my first few years of motherhood. Experience has also taught me that I don’t need to feel guilty when every second with my baby is not a world of bliss. Still, after a six-year break and a strong desire for another baby, I thought I would be able to cherish these early moments with my littlest more than I actually do.
But then I thought, isn’t that just how parenting always is? We’re constantly wishing for the next stage, thinking how much better and easier life will be when our kids can just do [fill-in-the-blank]. But with each of these stages come so many sweet times that may pass on along with the difficult parts.
I was trying to get my son to sleep one day when the thought came to my mind: Why is it that there’s always something to spoil the moments I might otherwise enjoy? In pregnancy, I looked forward to feeling the little baby kicks from the inside, but instead of being cute, they were often soccer kicks to my bladder and kidneys. In the newborn days, I wanted to sit and just gaze at this tiny little person, but I was sore and uncomfortable and sleep-deprived, and my other children had needs, too. I had envisioned the sweet times of cuddling and nursing, but this baby has been a bit of a challenge to breastfeed, often spending more time crying or kicking me than “bonding.” I certainly hadn’t expected everything to be easy, but even some of things I thought I’d enjoy have been something of a struggle.
He may not sleep through the night, but he will still sleep soundly in your arms. She may not be potty trained, but she can still fit in your lap while you read her a story. He may not buckle his own seat belt, but he still wants to kiss you goodnight. She may not be able to make her own lunch, but she still likes to hold your hand when crossing the street. If we could fast-forward through the times that are frustrating and uncomfortable and inconvenient, how many of these beautiful moments would we also miss?
With my oldest rapidly approaching the teenage years, I’m seeing more and more the truth of the sentiment, “They grow up so fast.” And while I can’t honestly say I would go back to the past if I could, there are things I miss that I wish I’d taken more time to cherish while they lasted.
In those early days of three kids under 4, I was often too burnt out to really enjoy their “little years”—I was anxious for them to hurry up and learn how to take care of themselves! I can’t be too hard on my past self, because those were challenging days. But I wish I’d been better at following the example of Jesus’ mother: “Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and often thought about them.” (Luke 2:19, TLB) Committing these moments to memory and dwelling on them leaves less room for focusing on the difficulties we face.
So as I pace the halls with my crying baby, keep my 6- and 9-year-olds out of mischief, and deal with the emotional turmoil of my pre-teens, I’m trying to seek out the moments in this stage of life that I really do enjoy. Instead of just putting out the fires and moving on to the next chore or the next email, I want to take a moment and gaze into my baby’s sweet blue eyes, play a game with my little troublemakers, and have an interesting (non-stressful) conversation with my pre-teens. I don’t want to go through their childhood having missed out on many of the moments that seem small, but which build memories that can last a lifetime.
As I think about it, I have a feeling this is what those sweet ladies at the grocery store meant all along. It’s not that every single moment of motherhood is enjoyable—it isn’t! But there is something sweet about each stage of childhood, and if we focus too much on the challenges, we may fail to recognize the joys. I won’t tell you to enjoy every moment, but I think appreciating the moments that are enjoyable can go a long way in helping us through those that aren’t.
P.S. If you are currently in a season with multiple young children, you may find this post more helpful.
P.P.S. If you are struggling to find the joy in any part of motherhood, you may need to talk to your doctor about depression. There is no shame in asking for help—your kids need an emotionally healthy mom!
Photo credit: Photos courtesy of author.