“Enjoy Every Moment” – The Impossible Mothering Myth

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Baby shower for our son.

Within days of birthing my first child I began hearing a little sentence meant to inspire.  I suddenly became the object of a well-worn expression that was completely unfamiliar to me until I had a child. “Enjoy Every Moment”. With smiles, awe and love; enjoy every moment.

I heard it from grandmothers who lovingly looked back on their own childrearing days. It came from grandfathers who, hadn’t I been holding an infant, probably wouldn’t of acknowledged me at all. I heard it from mothers of teenagers who were trudging through the trials of, well, teenagers and seemed to find a little piece of reprieve in remembering their own children as babies. I heard it from pastors, teachers, friends, supermarket cashiers, flight attendants and just about any other person who could catch my eye and bend my ear.

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Newborn bundled while we hunted for the perfect Christmas tree.

“Enjoy every moment.” It was what I was told to do. “It goes by so fast”, I was constantly reminded. “They grow so quickly…they don’t stay small forever…they grow when you blink…” and on and on. And so, trusting that those who had gone before me had something so valuable to say that they would tell it to a stranger, I set forth in my voyage to enjoy every moment.

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Son-shine discovering the doggy-door.

I enjoyed my son’s sweet newborn smell. His tenderness. His neediness. His eagerness. I enjoyed the fact that I was responsible for his life and that I could raise him into a beautiful human being. I enjoyed his awake and his asleep. I listened to his breathing, his beating and his suckling. I adored his coo, his first laugh…word…step. I tried my best to enjoy every moment. Every. Single. Moment. The way I had been told.

Until I couldn’t.

There was too much NOT to enjoy. The spit up, for instance. The poop. The arcing pee that seemed to come every time I changed his diaper. The awake when he was supposed to be asleep. The engorgement, the leaking, dripping and everything else that goes along with that. The exhaustion. I have never been more exhausted. The dishes, the laundry. The diaper rash, the cradle cap and the baby acne. The hormonal mommy acne! The feeling that my life had taken a grand turn down a road that was kind of scary and intimidating. A long unknown path filled simultaneously with lullabies and steep cliffs.

The question fell upon me: Why are all of these do-gooders telling me to enjoy every moment when every moment is not enjoyable. Did they enjoy every moment when they were on this road? Because if they hadn’t, why would they tell me to? This MUST mean that I am unusual. Certainly there is something wrong with my ability to mother if I am not enjoying it the way I’ve been instructed. Why did they enjoyed every moment and I am not? A snowball of guilt began to form. It followed me down the road and picked up little pieces of insecurity along the way. It gathered timidity and trepidation the longer it followed me. The uncertainty of my ability to mother became louder and my voice of reassurance grew quieter. And here I lived.

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Little sister discovering the doggy-door two years after son-shine.

Until I didn’t.

I started talking to other moms of babies. Not just polite chitchat about the joys of childrearing, but honest conversation about the struggles of it.  We confided openly about the arcing pee and sleepless nights. They shared their stories and I shared mine and I found laughter in the moments that weren’t enjoyable. I discovered humor in that little phrase, the one that had become the bane of my existence; “Enjoy Every Moment”. Turns out that every moment is not enjoyable…and here is the good news…that is normal and fine. Even humorous.

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Toddler Toes

So why do all of those wonderful people tell mothers to enjoy every moment? Well, I am learning now, nearly 8 years later that the hard moments are quickly forgotten. The sleepless nights turn into sleeping nights and everything becomes easier. The infants in need of diapers and bottles and breast pumps slowly morph into children who can tend to themselves. The sweet moments become the brightest memories. The slobbery morning kisses. The rounded diaper bums. The curiosity, purity and tenderness. The hard memories fade and the sweet memories grow in glory. To someone who is many years removed from the challenges of caring for babies and toddlers, the sweetest memories remain the clearest. They mean well. And also, I think, in the grand scheme of things, they are wise enough to know that the challenging moments didn’t really matter in the long run. The dishes weren’t done, but their children were happy and that is what mattered. That is what lasted when they think back upon that time. They remember the best and they wanted me to as well. And I do.

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Basking in the sun; basking in life.

I find myself still hearing their words. Occasionally some stranger in the grocery line will  say them to me with my 5 and 7 year old children in tow. But now I know that that is impossible. So I enjoy the enjoyable moments. Not just the best and most exciting moments, but the ones that bring a depth of feeling to my heart. Their sleeping faces, their joyful laughter, their funny personalities and their inquires. I still listen to their heart beats and their breathing lungs. Their firsts (like going to school) and their lasts (like growing out of size T clothing). But I also don’t enjoy every moment. There are new challenges that come with every age (eye rolling, for instance) (and arcing pee that doesn’t land anywhere near the toilet bowl) but when I look back over these years of motherhood, I remember the memorable moments. The moments that I enjoyed and the moments that watered my soul and encouraged me to grow.

Motherhood is hard enough without unnecessary added pressure. So perhaps, instead of telling new mothers to enjoy every moment, we should let them live every moment, knowing that they will remember the best ones, and hoping that they will find humor in the worst.

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