Everyone has been there. Out in public, having a bad day, frazzled by the children who keep yelling and fighting and begging for candy. And then, an older person (usually a woman) stops, smiles at you, and says “Enjoy every minute, they grow up so fast!”
Reactions to this vary from feeling guilty (because it’s just because they are tired and it’s time to go home for nap and lunch and this frustration will soon cease to matter) to wanting to punch the woman in the face. Life with small kids is hard enough without admonitions to enjoy it when the kids are driving you crazy! Don’t these women remember the bad times, the parts they didn’t enjoy? Can’t they have sympathy for us?
(For the record I’m on the ‘guilt’ side of things, but I’ve come to learn a lot of women feel angry about this.)
I’ll tell you what, though. I’ve learned a few things as I’ve had more babies. Things I’m glad I know while I’m still in the trenches.
Life is Hard…
Life with small children is hard. There’s no denying that. They need a lot from you. With four kids 5 and under, there are days where I literally get no breaks because someone constantly needs something. Someone got hurt, someone is hungry (again), someone is fighting. One day I timed it, and I’d literally have one minute after settling someone before someone else started to cry. All day.
And we are supposed to enjoy those days? Most moms are struggling not to scream and rip their hair out.
Can you relate to that? That strong, serious feeling that this is really, really hard? You’re not alone there. It is really hard, and there are days that just feel like they’ll never end, that you hope to just “get through” and come out on the other side still alive and relatively unscathed. We all have days, or even seasons, that we really struggle with as moms.
Years are Short
My mom said that when she was raising my brother and me, someone told her, “The days are long, but the years are short.” She didn’t believe them. Her youngest child is now 25, and she knows just how short those years really were.
These times are really, really short. They might feel long sometimes, but they go so fast.
I remember the first time I looked at a positive pregnancy test like it was yesterday. It was more than 6 years ago, and my fourth is now almost 5 months old.
It’s startlingly clear in my memory how it felt to hold my fourth at night, in the days after he was born. How tiny he was. How when I had to switch him to the other side, I felt like he was falling because he was so little and there was so much space to move. But now, only a short time later, I notice how he fills my arms, how moving him isn’t so hard, because he’s so much bigger. (If you’re curious, he’s grown about 6″ and nearly doubled his birth weight already.)
I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to be so caught up in the frustrations of daily life that I miss the growing and the changing and the chance to know them and be with them. I don’t want to look back and have regrets, to wish I’d spent more time loving and less time fighting. I don’t want to become an old lady whose only possible reprieve is to remind the young moms to enjoy it, in hopes that they won’t have the same regrets…
Attitude About Our Days
The thing is, it comes down to attitude.
When your child makes a mess or throws a tantrum, do you see it as one in a series of mishaps or difficulties that characterize life with small children? “Here we go again, another problem with having a toddler?”
…or, do you see these inevitable mishaps as breaks from your ordinarily pleasant life?
Kids are hard, but they’re also a lot of fun. It’s thrilling and fascinating to watch their personalities develop, to watch them learn new skills and ideas, to hear the silly things they sometimes say as they learn to understand the world, to observe the silly games they play. It’s unbelievably sweet when they tell you they love you, that you’re their favorite, that you’re beautiful — and they really mean it.
Do you focus on the sweet moments? Or the hard ones?
When my kids do something funny or sweet, I try hard to pay extra attention and frame it in my mind as a memory. I have a memory of them jumping on the bed and dancing together to some of our favorite songs a few months back. They were so happy and they were dancing together and it was wonderful.
I get them each alone when I can — taking them to the store with me one at a time, or snuggling in bed with them just before kissing them good night. I talk to them and listen to what they say. I hear how they are silly and eager to please me. One made up a silly story about “eating clouds for dinner” and I laughed, so very often, when the child wants to make me laugh, the child will say “clouds and clouds and clouds for my dinner.” I always laugh and snuggle.
We have bad days. We have hard moments when both the little boys are screaming, the older kids are begging for help, the food is boiling over, the doorbell rings… But I take a deep breath, handle one thing at a time, and then move on to peace again shortly. I remember that I’m only one person and it’s okay if not everything gets handled right now. Forty-five minutes later, the house is entirely peaceful again and the stressful moments seem fleeting, which they were.
Change Your Life
Change your attitude to focus on the good, instead of the bad. Take the bad as simply part of life, but not the most important part. Focus on your kids’ awesome personalities. You will find when your mindset changes, so does your attitude.
I’ve observed my husband with the kids when he is stressed out. When a kid does something that kids do, he might express to me how much he dislikes it, or how frustrating he finds it, and say something like “Of course s/he did that” because, in his stress, everything seems hard.
But I’ve also observed him when he’s feeling fine. The exact same action elicits a smile, possibly laughter — “Oh, kids will be kids. That’s so silly.”
We all do the exact same thing. We can change it. We don’t control everything our kids do (and we shouldn’t) but we control how we react, and how we perceive things. Are the kids mostly good, with a little bit of difficulty and negativity thrown in? Or are they burdens?
Next time a mom says “Enjoy every minute,” don’t feel frustrated. Take a deep breath, square your shoulders, and say “You’re right. Frustrations don’t last long, but the relationships I have with these little people, and the love I have for them, will last a lifetime.”
How do you feel when you hear this advice?