We’ve all been there at least once. You’re standing in line at the grocery store. You’re bouncing in place to keep the baby strapped to your chest asleep and trying to distract a toddler who is mere minutes away from a late-for-naptime meltdown. Your eldest child has been whining all morning, you’d give your left pinky finger for a cup of coffee, and to top it off you really need to pee.
An older woman in line behind you sighs wistfully. You turn around and make eye contact long enough to be sure she’s not passive aggressively judging your toddler’s messy face, when she says, “Oh, I remember those years. They go by so fast! My babies are all grown now. They’re little for such a little while. Enjoy every moment.”
And there it is. The most annoying phrase ever uttered to a mom with young children.
You’re exhausted most of the time. There are so many days when you feel like you’re barely hanging on by a thread. Some days, hours—moments—totally and completely suck. How on earth are you supposed to enjoy every moment of this stage?
As a mom whose youngest just turned nine, I’m here to tell you that you can’t. And you shouldn’t try to.
But now that I’ve emerged from those younger years, I think I better understand what people who tell you to enjoy every moment are really trying to say.
Not every moment is magical — or even enjoyable — with babies and young children, but some truly are. And there is something uniquely powerful about those moments during that stage, and you want to make sure that you fully engage and appreciate those moments when they happen. Intentionally pay attention to them. Burn them into your memory. Be fully present in the lovely moments because they don’t last.
It’s so easy to get bogged down by the mundane business of motherhood. Feeding, cleaning, feeding, picking up, feeding, comforting, feeding, forever and ever, amen. So on top of that, when your little angels lose their minds and scream like banshees, or tear through your house like Tasmanian devils leaving chaos and destruction in their wake, you can sometimes feel less than enthused about this parenting gig. We all wish it were sunshine and snuggles and sweet kisses all day every day, but it’s not. It’s noise and mess and exhaustion, with moments of awesome scattered throughout.
It’s those moments you need to enjoy. And not just enjoy, but savor. Because the first time your son turns away when you go to kiss him, you’ll need those magical memories to keep your heart from breaking in two. The first time your daughter gets behind the wheel of a car, those memories of her snuggling on your lap will remind you that independence was the goal all along.
And yes, you might need a gentle reminder to savor those little moments when they smell like heaven and their laughter rings like music in the air. Because when you’re standing unshowered, uncaffeinated, and unsure of how much more your psyche can handle in the grocery store, it’s easy to forget. I know that even though those older moms’ admonitions to “enjoy every moment” grated on my nerves, they did pop into my head during the lovely moments of my kids’ early childhoods. And because of that reminder, I relished them to their fullest.
However, I’ll try to word it differently if I see you swamped with little ones when I see you out and about. I’ll try to be honest about the whole picture, saying something like, “Oh, I remember those days. They are so hard but so sweet. I know the days are long, but the years really are short. Try to savor the moments when they’re not screaming or running you ragged. You won’t miss everything about this stage, but you’ll miss some things—their silky skin, their uninhibited affection, their baby giggles. Commit them to memory. Soak it all in when you can. And know that even though it may seem unlikely now, someday you’ll feel like yourself again.”
Or maybe I’ll just smile, and say “Good job, mama. You’re doing a good job.”
You really don’t have to enjoy every moment of motherhood at any stage. I don’t know anyone who could. But make sure you make the most of the good moments when you have them. It really does go fast in hindsight, and you’ll treasure every one of those moments you consciously cherished.