I feel like I’ve been bombarded lately with reflections on motherhood. Some have been my own, prompted by unpleasant interactions with my boys. Others have been on blogs that I read or in pieces shared by friends on Facebook. In turn, they’ve brought me down, given me comfort, and frustrated me.
When I review them together, I take away the following lessons: Keep reflecting. Keep trying. Always aim for improvement, but don’t aim for perfection. And above all: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.
The “every moment” debate is hardly new. As soon as you have a baby, older mothers command you to “Treasure every moment! They grow up so fast!” You know they mean well and they miss having small children around, so you smile and nod. Even though you’re panicking inside: “I’m exhausted/hungry/uncomfortable/stressed out – how am I supposed to treasure this?” So you go to your good girlfriends and your favorite mommy blogs for comfort – the ones who know that there’s absolutely nothing to treasure about cleaning vomit off your child’s crib at midnight.
But increasingly, I keep seeing admonitions like “treasure every moment” and its relative, “babies don’t keep” from young mothers. From those who are in the thick of it, just like me. And I have to admit: coming from them, the message really gets under my skin. I don’t understand how those women are able to live their lives like that.
Now, I’m quite aware that our children are infinitely precious, that their lives can be fragile, and that our time as mothers to little ones is fleeting. I understand the feeling behind “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep.” And I concede that for some – those who have lost babies, or whose children have life-threatening illnesses, or who struggle with fertility issues – the messages must be especially powerful. I admire those who can keep them in the backs of their minds at all times.
But I don’t, honestly, understand how “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep” can be fully lived out on a real-life, day-to-day basis.
Here’s an example of what I don’t get – some thoughts from a mother regarding her young daughter:
“What she doesn’t know is that I’d hold her every day just like this. She could ask me anytime, anywhere, and I would drop whatever I was doing to take her up into my arms and feel her warm little heart beating next to mine.”
It’s a lovely image, but it doesn’t resonate with me. I just don’t feel this way.
I know a lot of people will think I should. I know that lots of women will tell me that holding my child is more important than anything else I could do with my time. But here’s the thing (and this is where my circumstances differ from the author’s): My children aren’t the non-cuddly type for whom such requests are rare. Both of my boys ask to be hugged or held more times in a day than I could possibly count. Both of them are borderline OCD about bestowing kisses on not one, but both of my cheeks. Both of them would spend hours at my feet (like, literally at/on/between my feet) every day if I let them.
Just the other day as I was trying to prepare lunch, my two-year-old came into the kitchen with a pathetic little face and a “Hod me, Mommy.” He did it again, and again, and again – roughly once every three minutes. The first few times, I obliged him. I knelt on the floor and threw my arms around him and held him tight and told him that I loved him. I gave him kisses and I absorbed his sweetness. Then I had to peel his arms off of me, I hoisted myself into a standing position, and I shooed him away so that I could resume making our lunch.
I did it again and again and again. And then I snapped. Because the lunches still needed to be made. I was fifteen minutes into the chore and all I’d done was warm the pan and pull out the bread and cheese. I wasn’t getting anywhere shifting my increasing bulk onto and up from the floor every three minutes to cuddle with my (admittedly very cute) little guy. So I yelled for him to go, GO into the other room. And yes, I felt guilty about it.
Those “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep” admonitions – they carry so much pressure. How in the world am I supposed to keep my household functioning and my children fed, clothed, and clean if I spend the whole day rocking, reading, and playing? And how in the world am I supposed to treasure every moment when I’m pulled in a hundred different directions and babies are crying and toddlers are fighting and toys are blaring and somebody’s sitting on my feet while I’m trying to make dinner?
I can’t. I just can’t.
So I choose to pop the bubble of that pressure. Instead of giving in to it, I tell myself: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.
I don’t go so far as to treat motherhood as some awful, horrible burden. Those exaggerated articles bother me much more than the sugary-sweet “I would hold my children all day if they wanted me to” posts. But still, if someone were to listen in on the litany of grumpy thoughts that run through my head while reading those young mothers’ “treasure every moment/babies don’t keep” words, they might well be appalled. And they’d probably be even more appalled to listen in on the thoughts occupying my mind during my boys’ daily crying/whining/fighting/pleading fests, which, to be honest, feel like assaults on my senses. The listener might well think I take those boys for granted, that I think more of my own needs than theirs.
But it’s just not true.
I think my children are the most beautiful people in the world. I am in love with their long eyelashes, their soft cheeks, their twinkling eyes, their love for hugs and kisses, their curiosity, their kindness, their creativity, their spunk. A hundred times a day, I see my boys pass me and I feel a pang of gratitude for their precious little lives. I accompany almost every diaper change, hand washing, and car-seat buckling with a kiss. I can barely begin to describe how intensely I love those boys.
But my boys aren’t the only ones in my home who have needs. We parents have needs too. Some are simple: my husband needs to have big, hearty, healthy, home-cooked dinners more nights than not. (Which takes a not-insubstantial amount of planning, time, and effort on my part.)
Some needs are more complicated: I have a hot temper and an easily over-stimulated, overwhelmed mind. (And let me tell you, that’s not a great combination for a mother of small boys.) I have learned that in order for me to be able to handle all the noise and fighting and demands that come with little boys, I need to have an ordered background (note: ordered, not necessarily clean). I also need to have some short pauses of quiet during my day. (And if I have to get that quiet by turning on the television, so be it.) I am infinitely better equipped to be kind and patient with my boys when those needs are met.
Telling me to forgo an ordered home and quiet personal moments in pursuit of “quality time” with my boys puts me in a hard place: It’s a choice between (a) personal sanity but supposedly neglected children and (b) stress and anger but supposedly loved children. Neither choice is acceptable.
So I choose instead to smash that “babies don’t keep” lens through which some view parenthood. I don’t think it’s accurate anyway. Parenthood is not an either/or situation. It’s an and/and/and situation.
My service to my boys is not limited to my “quality time” with them. Yes, I serve my boys when I read to them, play with them, and shower them with hugs and kisses. But I also serve my boys – and my husband – when I clean their clothes, when I prepare their meals, when I do the dishes. All of these tasks are part of my role as wife and mother. I do myself and my family a disservice when I treat some of them as unimportant.
That said, I’m never sure whether I’m striking the right balance. Sometimes I look happily around at my (rarely, I promise) clean kitchen and I spot a lonely little boy. Sometimes I put off all my chores to do fun things with my children, only to melt down later because I’m so overwhelmed by what has stacked up. Sometimes I find myself shouting “Go! GO into the other room!” too frequently.
That’s why I keep reflecting. That’s why I keep trying. I aim for improvement, but I cut myself a break by not aiming for perfection. I know that I’m not capable of it. I have my own set of struggles and inadequacies. So do my boys, and so does my husband.
By the grace of God, I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t waste time ignoring or being ashamed of those struggles and inadequacies. Rather, I should take them into account. I should factor them into our plans. For me, a large part of that is granting myself the following: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.