We’ve all been there. We’re standing in line at the grocery store or the pharmacy with a baby squirming in our arms and a toddler pulling at our pants when the person in line next to us (usually an older woman, but not always) looks over the scene of barely-controlled chaos before saying something along the lines of “Enjoy every minute. It goes by so quickly.”
I ‘ve heard some version of that little ditty more times than I can count. I usually respond with a weary smile, but what I really want to say is, “Really? REALLY? I’m exhausted, my four year’s old diet currently consists of boxed macaroni and cheese and blueberries, my two year old pooped in the tub again last night, they’ve both been tantruming like it’s going out of style, I can barely find my bed under the laundry, my husband is traveling again this week, and I am completely behind on all of my work deadlines, but thanks, yes, I’ll go right ahead and enjoy every minute.”
Perhaps a more mindful mother would be able to find the beauty in each moment of life (except the poop in the tub. There is nothing beautiful about poops in the tub). But the Dalai Mama I’m not, and statements about enjoying every minute with my children just leaving me feeling as though I’m doing something wrong because the truth is that there are far too many minutes when it’s all I can do to stay present, take a deep breath, and not lose it completely. And sometimes I can’t even do that.
The truth is that these parenting clichés drive me nuts. What I need, what I crave, are authentic, compassionate ideas about the real nature of parenting—I want phrases that resonate with my deeply imperfect reality. I’m looking for what my meditation teacher describes as mindful speaking, as staying close to our own experiences when we talk, and sharing from a place of kindness, compassion, and awareness. I fail at this several times each day, but I keep trying, I keep practicing.
In honor of mindful speaking, I’d like to revisit some of the more common parenting clichés, which, at their best are irrelevant, and at their worst, completely ignore or deny the experiences of so many parents.
Enjoy every moment. This is just not possible, and each time we offer this little gem to some poor soul barely holding it together, we are suggesting that not only is it possible, but that we have done it, and she should too. Just to be clear, the goal of mindful parenting is not to enjoy every moment, it’s to be present for as many moments as possible, whether they are enjoyable or not.
It’s just a phase. This is probably true, but it’s not helpful for parents who are waist-deep in the muck of whatever “phase” is currently keeping them up all night with a kid who won’t sleep or struggling to hang on to their last shred of sanity when it seems like every day has been reduced to a string of tantrums and conflicts. It may be just a phase, but for now, it’s reality and it’s all consuming.
Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. Ever time I hear this one, I think of my dear friends with infants in the NICU, struggling to breathe. I think of children with severe allergies that have landed them in the emergency room on more than one occasion, and I think of my friends (far too many of them) who have a child battling cancer. Those are little kids with very big problems. In addition, we all face challenges in parenting that might not be as serious as cancer or genetic illnesses, for example, but they feel big and scary and overwhelming nonetheless, and we need our fears to be acknowledged rather than belittled.
In lieu of these clichés, I’d like to offer some new ones, words that resonate with me and help me feel less alone in the craziness of parenting.
Parenting is hard. FULL STOP. No ifs or buts. It’s just hard. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging this truth; it doesn’t mean we’re not good at taking care of our children if we don’t find it easy. Raising children is hard work, and that’s OK.
It’s important to take care of yourself. Often when I hear parents (usually mothers) talk about self-care, they’re apologizing or justifying or rationalizing time spent exercising, socializing, or sleeping when they could be doing something more productive like showing their children flashcards or cooking a 3-course meal. It’s enough already. If we can agree that parenting is hard work, then surely we can agree that we need to take care of ourselves in order to do this hard work. (Margarita Tartakovsky wrote a great piece about self-care for PsychCentral recently. I highly recommend it for all parents.)
We’ve all been there. It doesn’t matter where “there” is. If it’s somewhere in the world of parenting, chances are we’ve all been there at one point or another. Whether it’s the paralyzing love we feel our children, the unbridled rage, or the overwhelming fatigue, we’ve been there. We’ve all had moments of feeling competent and capable, and moments when we wonder what the hell the universe was thinking when it decided to put us in charge of another human being. But it’s hard to remember that we’re not alone, and sometimes we just need to hear it from someone else. (If you’re looking for an amazing post on just this topic, this one should help.)
The reality is that words matter, and what we say and what we hear shapes our experience of each other and ourselves. The next time I’m at the grocery store with two over-hungry, fussy kids, and some well-meaning stranger in line behind me feels the need to comment, I hope she says something about how hard parenting is, how we’ve all been there, and how she hopes I’m finding ways to take care of myself. Now that would be a parenting moment I could truly enjoy.