As a new and expecting mother, I was offered a wealth of advice from other parents. The comment I heard most often?
“Enjoy every minute of it!”
While I have no doubt that this comment is well-meaning, it was not what I needed to hear. In fact, it was actually harmful at times. Allow me to explain.
These comments are typically made by seasoned parents with older or adult children. I imagine that these well-intentioned parents see a young child and begin to reminisce about when theirs were little. I get it. I am reasonably certain that I will one day be that parent as well – I hope to be!
Here’s the problem: I don’t know a single person who actually enjoys every minute of parenthood.
Do I enjoy changing explosive diapers, while using all four of my limbs to (unsuccessfully) prevent my toddler from sticking his hands in it, then running off – naked – to smear it on the walls? Nope, not really! It makes for a great story, but to say I’m enjoying it at that moment would be a stretch! I also did not enjoy running on 2-3 hours of sleep for months, being attached to a pump for hours a day, or being unable to soothe my colicky baby.
To be clear, I do love that I was and am still able to be there for my son. I am grateful to be this little boy’s mommy and to have all of these moments with him – even the tough ones. I feel blessed. However, that is not the same as enjoying every single minute.
Parenting is hard. It’s especially hard when you’re new to it. Becoming a mother was probably the most challenging experience I have ever had. It made me question my competence and my identity. It forced me into some intense soul-searching and required some painful personal growth.
Part of what made this so difficult was that I did not anticipate it. I knew that parenting would be exhausting and life-altering, but I did not understand the degree to which it would be those things. Like me, many parents are blindsided by the realities of this new role. I mostly attribute this to us not speaking openly enough about the hard parts of parenthood. We tell our cute and funny stories, and we post our perfect pictures on social media, but we rarely share the darker moments. I am guilty of this as well. I was not snapping selfies while I cried in my bathroom or when I was running on no sleep and entering day 4 without a shower. But those moments are a part of parenting just as all the joyful ones are – we just don’t tend to advertise them. That seems to be one of the unspoken rules of our parenthood culture.
As a stressed new mother in this culture, I did not realize that other parents were struggling too. When countless people told me to, “enjoy every minute of it,” I felt like a failure. I truly believed that I was supposed to love every second and that I was the only one who didn’t. I feared that this made me a bad mother and that there was something wrong with me, adding to the stress I already felt. This seemingly benign comment nurtured my new-parent insecurities.
As I have noted, I know that people make these comments with only good intentions, or maybe out of habit, without any real intention at all. We all do that sometimes. I would also venture to guess that those very same people did not enjoy every minute of parenthood themselves. Our memories have a funny way of helping us to forget the good or bad in an experience. With this in mind, let’s try to remember what this time is really like. Let’s offer new parents honesty and compassion, rather than accidentally advising them to chase unicorns. This comment inadvertently perpetuates an unrealistic image of parenthood. I am not suggesting that we edit ourselves – I am actually suggesting that we un-edit ourselves. Let’s be real about parenthood – the wonderful moments as well as the not-so-wonderful ones. By doing so, we will give new parents permission to struggle sometimes.
In the words of the very wise Paige Bellenbaum, LMSW, from The Motherhood Center of New York, parenthood is not what the pictures on diaper boxes lead us to believe. It’s not all perfectly made-up moms and smiling babies. There are far more tears involved – and not just from the little one! The bottom line is that no one, at least no one I know, enjoys every single minute of parenthood – so let’s start telling new parents that instead. That’s what I needed to hear.
Need ideas for what to say instead? Here are some thoughts:
- Wow! What a cutie! If only they were as easy as they are adorable!
- I remember when my kids were that age! It was so fun and so exhausting! Hang in there!
- Babies are a lot of work. You’re doing great!
- You’re taking wonderful care of him! Remember to take care of yourself too.
- Treasure the beautiful moments and know it’s okay if they don’t all feel beautiful.
What are some comments or pieces of advice that were helpful to you? Leave a note below!
Written by Ashley Abeles