“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.)

And yet, 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 communist, d-bag parent wouldn’t enjoy every minute of it? You will enjoy enjoying every minute of it, dammit.

Except that, you can’t.

You enjoy…like…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. 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.

IMG_5923So, 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-up a squishy toddler, watch one more soccer game where the 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 sucks the big one. A lot.

First, there’s the slog of it. 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’t ever 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 non-stop, 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 it. 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. wile e coyoteYou 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. Okay, 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 ends, and even though it is replaced by another equally challenging and exhausting stage, you can never go backwards and relive the last one. And you’ll want to. So bad it hurts. And that’s the maddening rub of parenting.FullSizeRender

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.

FullSizeRender 2What 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 favorites 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.

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7 Comments

  1. I believe that over time I will forget most of the bad and remember mostly the good. Kind of like how many women forget the terrible pains of labour, sometimes only minutes after it’s over. This is a good thing, for it ensures that people will continue to procreate 😉

    I have 2 boys ( almost 6 and almost 9) and I remember thinking at almost every stage of development (so far) ” If I can only get through this part, it will get easier”. But it never really got easier, it just got different. Like instead of having pain in my knee, the pain is now in my elbow 😉

    Still, with all the rough moments that make me want to pull my hair out, there are as many small moments that make my heart want to burst with happiness and during all those small, precious moments, all the bad memories fade to black. 🙂

  2. Oh my Lord. I needed this. Thank you for saying what I’ve been aching in silence about for longer than I’d like to admit. I’m in the thick of toddlerhood with two too close together than I would’ve ever chosen. I love them but damn no one warned me. I have never felt more simulatneous emotion (anger, fear, inadequacy, etc) than I have in the past almost three years but those moments that the positive feelings well up and I just want to freeze time, those times make it all worth it. It’s so weird. It also makes me want more. Oh hormones.

  3. My kids are 23 and 26. I hated hearing I should enjoy every moment of my kids childhoods, too. Especially since we have always called my son the “poster child for birth control” – there were originally going to be three. I do miss the good times we had when the kids were young and the parents we met at their activities. Some of those people you stay in touch with – some just fade away even if you felt especially close to them at the time.

    I guess this is what you need to remember the next time you hear that sentiment. The parents, if they were honest with themselves, did not enjoy every moment of their kids’ childhoods but also probably wish they had cherished the good times more than they did at the time. Savor the moments!

  4. This was a great read because many of us feel sooooooo guilty of not loving every minute of motherhood. We see other moms that appear to have it all together but in reality we are all “losing our shit” at different moments and for different reasons. I have 6 children. 4 of the 6 were born in 39 months (one set of twins). Every stage was challenging but the currently we have 5 teenagers and this is the most challenging…. I think. You do forget the bad and remember the good! 🙂 Cheers to all moms!

  5. Thank you for this post. My step kids can be real jerks too and I am tired so tired that some days I can barely find the energy to muster a smile. I wish I could go back to before I knew them and know them. I wish I could see their little faces and wipe their butts and cradled them to sleep and give them lots of step mommy kisses. I also can’t wait for this journey to be over. By over I mean 18. I find myself hoping and wishing for some relief in sight where my husband and I can enjoy our time and it’s just a little bit less chaotic than four kids. The kids even ask their dad, “why did you guys decide to have four kids?” I echo that sentiment all the time. I love them and want to enjoy every moment but I find myself “memorizing” as you suggest. Thank you for being so honest. I am quite afraid to write t a blog myself for fear of hurting, alienating my step kids or outing their parents on parenting decisions that may be, Kinda, sort of, weren’t so hot. Thats as honest as I can muster. Thanks for making me brave!

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