“Enjoy every minute of it” is the most well-meaning piece of parenting advice and yet the most ridiculously delusional. This sentiment is the hallmark of parents suffering from some kind of advanced parental amnesia where the reality of having kids has been replaced with the idea that a gratitude journal is the answer to all of life’s problems. While I envy the amnesia, in the midst of parenting the only thing a gratitude journal is good for is hiding the cover of Fifty Shades of Grey at the playground. (I know none of you read it. It sold 100 millions copies because I’m the only one who read it.)
Still, part of you feels like you should enjoy every minute of it. Didn’t you decide to have kids? Didn’t you worry you might not get pregnant? Of course you will enjoy every minute of it. What kind of d-bag parent wouldn’t enjoy every minute of it? You will enjoy enjoying every minute of it, dammit.
You enjoy…a lot of it, some of it, sometimes a smaller percentage of it than you might have guessed. And this concerns you for many reasons, but mostly because everyone keeps telling you to enjoy every minute of it. You think maybe they did and you are the only loser not feeling it. You are tempted to shout back, “Do you even have kids?”
When I think about it, I’ve never enjoyed every minute of anything, probably because I’ve never done hallucinogenic drugs. It seems like if I were on ecstasy, then maybe all of life would seem like an endlessly fantastical glow stick rave. Short of that, it might be physically impossible to enjoy every minute of anything, let alone parenting.
So, why does everyone say it? Well, because their kids aren’t babies anymore, or toddlers, or school-aged, or in college, or living at home. More than anything, they want to rewind the clock to get one more smell of a baby’s head, squeeze a squishy toddler, watch one more soccer game where their child’s jersey is far too big. They long for one more losing battle with their tween. They dream of giving their teen one more life lesson before they go off and never fully live at home again.
But they can’t.
You, my friend, have to do it for them. You represent some kind of bizarre second chance to have a parent succeed at appreciating every moment with their child as the most joyous, life-affirming, satisfying experience of their life. But you can’t, because neither could they, because neither can anyone vaguely human.
And here’s a newsflash, a lot of parenting just sucks. A lot.
First, there’s the slog of it. It’s nothing in particular, really, just the general sense of endless repetition involved with all stages of parenting. Feed, change, rock, repeat. Feed, play, bath, books, bed, repeat. Feed, drive, drive, drive, homework, yell to shut off Netflix, repeat. At each stage, you have this overwhelming feeling that this particular slog will, in fact, never end. As a parent, you can never see past the crest of the mountain you are pushing the boulder up. You just can’t. All you can do is keep at it, every day, nostalgic for a time when you didn’t know the recipe for mac and cheese by heart.
Beyond the slog, the various jobs of being a parent are not so glamorous. It’s like being a valet, janitor, nurse, Uber driver, short-order cook, personal assistant, waiter—but without any pay, time off, or tips. I mean, really, the kids should at least freakin’ tip. But they don’t. And you have to do this stuff; it’s not the interesting, cool stuff of raising kids, but sustaining life is part of the parenting contract. If you are enjoying every minute of it, well, quite frankly, I’m worried about you.
And let’s be honest, kids can be real assholes (not mine, of course, because they are old enough to read this and I’m trying to limit their future therapy). But show me a kid of any age, and I’ll show you a real asshole. Don’t even get me started on 3-year-olds and 11-year-olds. I barely survived these ages and definitely did not enjoy every minute of it. I enjoyed like seven minutes of it—total. And there’s nothing defective or flawed about your kids or your parenting. Kids are just human beings trying to figure stuff out. It’s actually their job to see just how far they can push boundaries and weigh the consequences. Good parents will make the limits clear, but guess what, setting boundaries, enforcing them, and following through on punishments…not really a nonstop good-time jamboree.
Despite not enjoying every minute of it, I happen to love being a parent, and not just for the incredible material, although I must say, it’s pretty damn good. Nope. I just like the challenge of it. I like how messy it is, how impossible it is to master or even be consistently good at. I like how it starts out as this theorized grand plan of what kind of parent you’ll be and quickly dissolves into just trying to survive it with a few working synapses and enough sanity that you don’t lose your right to vote. Parenting is a lot like The Road Runner Show, and you, my friend, are the Wile E. Coyote. You make lots of detailed plans and think you are really going to get it right, but you always end up surprised that you are falling off a cliff. Meep, meep.
Just to be clear, the parents telling you to enjoy every minute of it didn’t. They didn’t sit around after bedtime writing, “Dear Gratitude Journal, I loved today.” They too ate a bowl of cereal and stared vacantly out the window, unable to cobble together a coherent thought other than, Tired, so tired. And interestingly enough, they aren’t trying to be jerks by saying it to you. OK, some are jerks who could dial down the smugness a bit. But most are really just reminding you that, despite all evidence to the contrary, each parenting stage does end, and even though it is replaced by another equally challenging and exhausting stage, you can never go backward and relive the last one. And you’ll want to—so bad it hurts. And that’s the maddening rub of parenting.
What we need is a parenting time machine. Program it to any age and go back and rock that tired baby in your arms, ignoring how exhausted you are; smooch that baby boy’s cheeks before he has facial hair; hold the tiny, soft hands of your toddler without thinking of the hump you’re developing in your back; admire the passion in your tween’s eyes as they make their case. But we don’t get a time machine, and we can’t enjoy every minute of it.
What you can do is pause every now and again during a moment you are enjoying and suck the life out of it. Memorize it, every detail, so you can recall it when you ache for it. One of my favorite memories is holding my second child before her nap one humid afternoon. She was a year old and deliciously soft and squishy. As I swayed back and forth, she buried her head into my neck and patted my back gently, the way I was patting hers. I swear to you, I feel the weight of her, the dampness of her hair matted against my neck, and the warmth of her reddening cheek against mine as she drifted off. I enjoyed every minute of that moment, and really, that’s all we can do.