Are you even a mother if someone hasn’t told you to “enjoy every moment”?
It’s probably the most common piece of parenting advice handed out, and definitely the most useless. It’s well meant, for sure. But it’s the parenting equivalent of “good vibes only” – it’s toxic positivity setting you up for failure.
What are you getting all worked up about now, Allegra?
Why am I on one about this? Surely it’s just one of those casual platitudes that people throw out when they’re cooing over your baby? What’s the problem?
I hear SO many women say that they think they must be bad mothers because they’re not enjoying parenthood all the time. They’re judging themselves, doubting themselves, even hating themselves, which is all having a terrible impact on their energy levels, their mood and their mental health. It’s not good for them, and it’s preventing them from relaxing into being the parent they want to be.
In our society, we have developed a cult of motherhood. It’s built around an idea that mothers are sainted, self-sacrificing figures who exist purely for the purpose of nurturing their children and who are deeply and profoundly fulfilled by that and only that. It tells us that mothers should be pure and perfect beings, and it’s incredibly damaging.
We tell women to “enjoy every moment” at a time when they’re still physically recovering from extracting a giant watermelon from their most personal of areas, when they’re psychologically reeling from this whole new human being turning their lives upside down, when they’re dealing with the most extreme sleep deprivation they’ve ever experienced, and when they’re nursing sore nipples, hemorrhoids, separated stomach muscles and stitches in places you don’t want to know about.
Instantly they’re made to feel like they’ve fallen short because this state of pain, confusion, anxiety and exhaustion isn’t causing them constant euphoria.
Reframing the conversation
We feel like a failure in that situation because we assume that what the other person means is, “you should enjoy every moment because I enjoyed every moment of having young kids and it’s so incredibly wonderful that only a terrible mother wouldn’t love it”.
No wonder that doesn’t make us feel great about ourselves.
But that isn’t what they mean. You will notice that this sentence is only ever uttered by people with children over the age of 10. It’s most commonly said by people whose children have grown up and moved out. They are some distance from screaming babies and tantruming toddlers.
You realise as your baby ages how quickly you forget about the hard stuff. When your baby is just three months old, you will meet a mum with a newborn of only a few days and as she talks you will remember all the problems that you’ve already moved on from. When your baby becomes a toddler, you will hear mothers of babies newly on the crawl discuss challenges you’d totally forgotten about. Now, with my second baby, I find myself saying, “I don’t remember the first one doing this” about some nonsensical hissy fit he’s having about something or other, and even as the words leave my mouth I have a flashback to my first child having exactly that same hissy fit. She did all of this, I just haven’t kept those memories in my brain.
We keep the good stuff and the harder parts fall away. That’s how nature designed us. Otherwise no one would have a second baby and humanity would have died out centuries ago.
So when the older parents say, “enjoy every moment”, hear it with compassion – know that what they’re really saying is, “I miss those moments”.
They’re telling you that they miss having a tiny, squidgy baby to cuddle. They’re telling you that they miss the days when their child wanted nothing more than to cuddle up in their arms. They miss a tiny little hand reaching for theirs. They miss tiny clothes and miniature shoes and baby chuckles and toddler chatter.
They didn’t enjoy every moment, but those moments flew by so fast that now they miss them.
Don’t hear criticism of you, hear the longing coming from them.
Be kind to yourself
We judge ourselves against this cult of motherhood ideal of the perfect mother who is loving every moment and constantly glowing with joyful fulfilment but IT IS NOT REAL. No one is loving every moment, how could they be?
Who’s enjoying a baby throwing up into their hair?
Who’s enjoying wiping thick, sticky sh*t off bottoms (and clothes, and furniture, and themselves)?
Who’s enjoying kids going through teething and colds and chicken pox?
Who’s enjoying toddlers screaming in their face that they hate them?
If you’re enjoying all of that, we need to have a talk because I’m genuinely concerned for you. That stuff is not enjoyable.
A lot of parenting is mega hard work. A lot of it is boring. If you’re not enjoying it all the time, congratulations, you’re sane. Don’t beat yourself up about having a normal human reaction to a challenging situation.
But given that parenting is beyond a full-time job, when you’re not finding it enjoyable that can be incredibly stressful and draining. So there are a few things you can do to make it go a little easier.
There’s a lot of repetition in parenting, and that can be dull. But it does give you some great opportunities to practice mindfulness. If you’re anything like me, and terrible at staying in the moment, looking for little things that you see every single day with your children can help anchor you to the present. It can also help you to notice little changes as they grow just that little bit every day. Looking for details also gives you something to focus on besides the mundane activity you’re engaged in.
Savour the moments you do enjoy
In amongst the stress, there are moments of such pure joy and intense love it will knock you off your feet. Take the time to really notice those and savour them. You might want to take a picture and add it to a memory photo album or write about it in your journal to look back on later to hold on to that moment.
Add to the happiness bank
When your kids do something to make you smile, or you have a real “I nailed motherhood there” moment, write it on a piece of paper and add it to a jar. When you’re having a more stressful day or feeling less positive about this whole parenting thing, take out the jar and read back over the happier memories to give you a lift and remind you of all the great stuff you’ve achieved.
Vent, vent, vent
Find some mum friends who really get it, and have a good moan about your kids. Sharing your frustrations helps you to get it out of your system and, when you see all the sympathetic nodding, makes you realise you’re not alone. It also shows those friends that they’re not alone either – hearing you talk about the things you’re not enjoying will show them that it is cool, and normal, to not enjoy every moment. Huge sighs of relief all round.
If you don’t have a mum crew already, apps like Mush and Peanut are great ways to meet people, and venting on Twitter and Instagram to the online mum community is also totally welcome.
Take control of your perception
When the difficult moments are happening, it feels as though they will last forever. It feels as if these hard times are the sum total of our existence, that they fill the entire space of our lives. But remember the real message behind those seemingly toxic words? This will pass. These moments are more fleeting than you know. And we know, now, that no mothers are enjoying every single moment. So when you face a challenge or a pain point, pause and remind yourself that this is a temporary situation and that it is normal and fine to not be having fun right now. Notice and accept your own feelings, believe that there will be better times to come again (knowing small children, they could well be just minutes away), and recognise that this is just a part of the process.
Motherhood frequently feels chaotic and like you’re winging it, whilst carrying around this huge mental load of all the things that need organising. Download my free mental load planner to help you get all that straight in your head to relieve the pressure a little, and to delegate some of the tasks so you’re not carrying it alone.
Get out the house
Break up the routine, change your location and get some much needed fresh air. It will lift your mood no end, and probably perk the kids up too. Both of my children can be having complete meltdowns indoors, but as soon as they step out the front door they suddenly become delightfully cheerful. I have no explanation.
Make time to nurture your needs
If you can find even small amounts of time to nurture your own needs, indulge your passions and enjoy activities that are meaningful to you, you’ll come back to your kids so much more energised and refreshed that everyone will benefit.
Above all else, remember that your feelings are valid and important too. It’s ok to not be having the time of your life all the time. Being honest about that, and not putting unrealistic expectations on yourself to be skipping down the road like a pixie on acid at all times, will go a long way to relieving some of the stress that these toxic concepts are causing you.