When I became a parent, one of my least favorite things to be told was, “Cherish every moment.”
I get where the sentiment comes from. People—typically with older kids—look wistfully at those with younger ones, think about all the good times they had and proceed to utter the three-word phrase. The problem is that the new parent is not cherishing every moment, because no one loves every single moment of their life and because many parenting moments are rage-inducing and/or not enjoyable. That time your toddler bit her baby sister while you were trying to survive the Target checkout line? Okay to put on the “things not to cherish” list.
There’s something to be said for looking forward to what comes next. My kids are now elementary-aged, and last summer I took them to our local zoo, a place where we went a lot when they were little. It had been a while since we had visited, and when I walked around, it hit me how different this trip was.
Yes, I felt slightly nostalgic about how excited they got about the animals when they were toddlers, but at the same time, I was completely relieved they could walk longer distances and carry (some of) their own stuff. I was also thrilled not to be nervously watching the clock so I could get out of there before naptime to avoid a total meltdown. Since my kids were older, the visit was just easier. And I’m grateful for that.
The problem with a lot of parenting maxims is that they don’t allow for the complex feelings that come with raising small humans. The reality is that it’s a mix of good and bad, and often involves experiencing opposing feelings at the same time.
You can be completely drained from being woken up 10 times a night by a baby but also find some enjoyment in rocking that child in your arms. Your toddler can be both cute and getting on your last nerve. When my oldest turned one, I was mostly relieved to have the exhaustion of the first year behind me but also teared up a little when I realized he would never be in baby clothes again. All of these things can be true, but we rarely acknowledge that out loud to one another.
I sometimes hear new parents say that they feel bad they aren’t enjoying parenting young kids more, but, honestly, everyone has parenting challenges. As this New York Times piece points out, even those who have experienced infertility or lost babies can be both grateful for what they have while realizing parenting is hard. It’s possible to feel both love and frustration at the same time. It’s also possible to realize many people out there have it worse than you do while struggling with any kid-related things in your own life.
When I look back at baby and toddler pictures of my kids now, I do think about how adorable they were, but I also remember that trying to parent kids who could not talk and acted like cornered animals when they were being buckled into their car seats was brutal. I remember that the weekdays often felt like a break because the weekend days when there was no preschool or childcare seemed to go on forever. The pandemic has largely felt draining and frustrating for me as a parent, but there have been good things about being less scheduled and spending more time with my kids.
So, I’m proposing some alternative statements for the people in the grocery stores of America who feel the urge to stop a parent with a baby and say something like, “Enjoy every moment.”
“I miss some things about kids being that age, but I definitely don’t miss everything.”
“From what I can see, you seem to be enjoying just the right amount of moments with your kids.”
“Can I do anything to help?”
“Cherish that sale on blackberries. You don’t see that every day.”
Julie Vick is the author of Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?), a humorous advice book for introverted parents navigating the early years of parenthood. She has written for New Yorker Daily Shouts, Parents, Real Simple, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Most importantly, one of her tweets once appeared in In Touch Weekly. Learn more about her at julievick.com.