You should know better.
I have a lovely friend with four kids, ages eleven to two. They’ve been quarantining since March, just like the rest of us, and it’s been tough. This friend had major surgery last week, and her husband has been juggling childcare and housework and his full-time job ever since. I was texting with him today, expressing empathy, and asking how we could help. While we figured out a plan, he wrote as an aside, “The next person to say ‘you’ll miss these days’ might get punched.”
Oh, I got mad when I realized that people have been saying that to them, which is why I had to sit down and write this article. Those well-meaning patronizers are probably the same people who tell women that they’ll forget the pain of childbirth once they’re holding their precious baby in their arms.
I’ve had six (beautiful! delightful!) children. But I’ve never forgotten the searing pain of my perineum ripping or the bones of my pelvis separating as I pushed something the size of a melon out of my body.
Or the intense cramps as my uterus contracted back to its regular size.
Or the dull, constant burn of my C-section stitches healing.
Or that one time one of my babies was born with her arm over her eyes — which sounds adorable until I tell you about the tiny but sharp elbow I could feel scraping all the way down my birth canal.
I don’t see how women can forget things like that.
My poor friend,struggling with cranky, cooped-up (but beautiful and wonderful!) kids, wonders when the torture will end — because it genuinely feels like life will always be this way — and someone chastises her for not savoring every moment.
Make. It. Stop.
Having young children is awesome (in theory! sometimes!), but it’s also exhausting, frustrating, stifling, and mind-bendingly difficult. I treasure the memories of rubbing my lips on fuzzy newborn heads and potbellied toddlers waddling around in footie pajamas. I absolutely loved breastfeeding (but no judgment! not everyone does or can!). I reminisce fondly about someone’s first dance recital or someone else’s first T-ball base hit.
But I don’t miss those days. I do not ever wish for the days of dirty diapers. (I changed them for seventeen years straight.) I don’t want to go back to clogged ducts or rock-hard, engorged breasts or leaking through nursing pads. Every August, I am thrilled that I never have to deal with the ridiculous (but totally necessary! with this country’s lame educational system!) mile-long lists of elementary school supplies. I don’t ever wish I could go back in time and wrestle (reverently! quietly!) with them in church meetings. I wish I could have skipped all those trips to the emergency room for casts and stitches and burns and seizures. I never miss occupational therapy or car seats or teething rings or portable cribs, or even my beloved baby sling.
I also don’t miss all the strangers who used to judge my parenting in public. Our oldest tore his mittens off even on the coldest Manhattan winter days, no matter how many times I stopped the stroller to put them back on. Oh, the shaking heads and the tut-tutting from passersby. Our third would throw tantrums in the grocery store as I rushed around, trying to get out with my food and my mind as soon as possible. All the while, I’d get suspicious frowns and sneers and disgusted groans. Anytime I hear a screaming baby on a plane these days, I’m nothing but thrilled that it’s not me having to handle it, and I send mental rays of understanding the caregiver’s way.
On the other hand, having adult children is awesome virtually all the time. They are interesting, kind, and funny — and they seem to like being with their parents. The endless hours reading aloud and teaching them to read on their own was worth it. One of my sons recently approached me about starting a book/music/film club with his older brother and me because he loves the geeky, deep conversations we have about all three. We just started this, and it’s fantastic.
Enduring endless hours of piano practice, yelling things like, “Slow down!” and “F sharp!” from the kitchen as they fumbled through boring little piece after piece ad infinitum was worth it because now I have kids that sit down on their own and play Bach or Chopin or The Beatles for fun. Nagging them about homework every single dang day for decades was worth it. Two of them are out of college and employed, and two more are loving college and thriving. (I’m still nagging the youngest two, ages 16 and 12.)
Also, it’s awesome to be able to wear hoop earrings without fear of getting them ripped through my lobes. Or to wear dry-clean-only blouses without worrying about snot or spit-up being wiped on the shoulders. Or to have choky/fragile/sharp things lying around the house at toddler level. Or to run to the store without at least three baby appliances, each with its intricate system of belts and buckles, in tow. Awesome, I tell you.
Here’s the thing. When we had braces, and our jaws throbbed, and the insides of our cheeks were shredded, not one person cooed, “You’ll miss these times!” No one told us to savor not being able to bite into whole apples or the days when we couldn’t chew at all. We all focused on getting through it.
We’ve renovated our houses several times over the years, and not once during all the chaos and dust and frustration of those episodes did someone say to me, “You’ll miss these times!” No one told me to savor laying each tile on the bathroom floor or doing dishes in a bathroom sink or tearing out all that moldy sheet rock. We all focused on getting through it.
When I was struggling to learn how to play the organ, and my feet and fingers had to be doing five different things, and my brain was breaking, not one person said, “You’ll miss these times!” No one told me to savor all the missed notes and wrong chords and outright disasters of my early weeks of accompanying our congregation. We all focused on getting through it.
So why should it be any different when we’re building people? Please, let’s stop shaming parents, and let’s stop selling the myth of romanticized, Instagram-worthy parenthood — especially motherhood. It reminds me of all those glamorous ads for alcohol. If it actually tasted good, would you need the leggy blonde in the strapless dress to hawk it? Pushing the idealized image of the serene, capable, unselfish, clear-eyed, angelic mother who never raises her voice as she balances the checkbook and cooks nutritious dinners is dishonest and downright harmful.
My best parenting peers and mentors were real about the challenges and the pain. I am still grateful for the friend who gave birth for the first time just two weeks before I did. She called me the minute she got home from the hospital and said, “Luisa, they all lied about the pain. It’s horrible. You will not forget it.” She told it like it was, and I was much better prepared for my own ordeal as a result.
I still laugh about the story one friend told of a preschooler barging in while she was taking a bath and pouring a whole box of Lucky Charms into the tub — with all the neighborhood kids crowding around the bathroom door to watch.
I still smile when I think of the veteran mom who saw me in the church foyer with someone throwing a fit and said with deep sympathy, “She’ll grow up to be a strong woman if you don’t beat it out of her.” (N.B. She was speaking metaphorically.) I held onto that for years, because she already had three tremendously successful adult daughters. If she did it, then so could I.
So, my dear friend, this is me being real for you and anyone else with little kids. It’s hard, often nightmarishly so. Yes, there are lovely moments and good memories and pretty pictures, especially these days with social media. But they can feel few and far between as you sleep-deprivedly slog through all the rest of it. So my advice is to focus on getting through this phase and looking forward to when it will all be worth it. And I promise: it will be.
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