All of us parents have felt it. We have a particularly exhausting morning with the kids- diaper change marathons, cereal poured into our coffee, our hair pulled for the 100th time- and we post to our social media community that it's been a rough morning. "Is 8am too early for wine? And how can I mix it with coffee? My kids are driving me *@^#"ing bonkers."
With a predictability that rivals my 2 year old's penchant for bursting in on me in the bathroom, you will most assuredly receive this commonly wielded dictum on your post:
"Soak it up while you can! The years go by so fast!"
Unfortunately, this well-meaning cliche comes with some seriously unwelcome baggage.
Where does this anxiety and guilt come from? Is it new? Modern? Post-modern? Nah, I think it's been around awhile. Abba wrote about it pretty effing profoundly in "Slipping Through My Fingers":
Barely awake, I let precious time go by
Then when she's gone, there's that odd melancholy feeling
And a sense of guilt I can't deny
Oh man, good luck getting through that song EVER without crying your eyes out.
But in this era of parenting, we have SO MUCH INFORMATION. Too much, in my opinion, and I love information. What's toxic and what's not, what's good for the environment and what's not, what current parenting trend is right and what's not...and we still have the day in and day out responsibilities of keeping this baby alive and loved (while maintaining an Instagram level of perfection at life). It's the hardest work out there. So when a parent reaches out for a little commiseration when they are struggling, one of the worst things we can do is challenge them to appreciate it more. They are FEELING IT, they are feeling the WORK of it, and sometimes, they need support and a shoulder.
So here's the deal. EVERYONE uses that phrase at one time or another, so no one needs to feel bad for using it. It's a knee jerk response of the well-intentioned, it comes from a good place, yada yada. But, parents, grandparents, friends...we can do better. So let's try. I'm going to put a list of better ways to respond to a parent that's tired and struggling at the end of the post. First, though, I'd like to talk to my fellow exhausted parents.
Do you know what the definition of "savor" is? "To taste and enjoy completely". Taste. TASTE. Not gobble, gorge, or hook up a continuous intravenous food bag. Savoring, by definition, implies a momentary experience of joy.
Sometimes you have to go dark to find a bit of light. I am here to tell you something that sucks, but finally realizing it will allow you to send the Soak It Up train on it's merry way.
It is impossible to soak up enough time to not feel pain when they grow up.
This one is really important to me. When you get down to it, worrying about not savoring our time with our kids comes from placing an extremely high value on the early years and a sad, depreciating value on our lives when they are grown and gone. Eventually, I will look back and be so envious of this time!! Nothing will ever be this good! We must absorb it NOW! Sound familiar? Yeah, my brain yells it at me, too.
While you have moments of grief as your children outgrow stages, be wary of hopping on the Agony Train. Recognize patterns of thought that spiral and make you feel sad about the fleeting nature of the moment...and choose not to entertain those thoughts. Step away from them, remind yourself to have a quick "savor moment", and move on to other things (like cleaning said rotten banana out of the diaper bag or dominating your next project at work).
If you are already riding the Agony Train and finding it hard to hop off, I have a fail safe option for you. Gratitude. "Now wait...this sounds like you're about to say I should suck it up and soak it all in again, just like everyone else. You tricked me!" Don't worry, that's not what I'm saying. I've got your back.
Gratitude doesn't mean I am savoring my life all of the time. However, when I find myself off balance, dipping so far into anguish that I'm having trouble pulling out of my anxious tailspin, it's time to re-calibrate my perspective on my privilege.
Anytime I get too melancholy about life changing or time moving forward, I remind myself how lucky I am to have these beautiful children. How fortunate I am that they are healthy enough to have time move forward. That my children are as safe as I can make them, with reasonable access to education, healthcare, and a future. There are centuries and centuries of humans who have raised families without those luxuries. I am so unbelievably fortunate to live now, to have a family at all, and to raise them the way that I want to raise them. Whether I'm doing it exactly right or remembering to treasure enough of it is a luxury. I know quite a few parents who have children facing serious health problems, or have lost children, who would give anything only to worry about the passage of time. So before I castigate myself too harshly for not doing "my job" well enough, I have to remember that some of what I worry about is my luxury, not my job. Make sense?
This does not mean you have to always feel grateful. Remember, I think it's incredibly important to find balance between feelings of overwhelm and feelings of contentment. But gratitude has a place in our lives to shake off unhealthy associations between agony and everyday life and to healthfully remind us that we almost always have something to be thankful for.
-Comment that parenting is the hardest job and they are so tough for hanging in there
-If you have ever admired something about their parenting, tell them about it!
-Are your kids driving you bonkers, too? Commiserate with them.
-Tell them they are doing a good job
-Ask if they want to hang out or schedule a play date
-Send an encouraging quote about being strong or taking care of yourself
If the post seems more serious than funny, or they are posting about being overwhelmed quite frequently, it's important to keep in mind that a friend could be going through serious postpartum issues like depression or anxiety, or just struggling majorly with balancing everything. It takes a community to raise kids and when support isn't there, the primary caregiver can suffer greatly. Make sure to connect with them so you can get your finger on the pulse of the situation and figure out how to best support them. I'd like to include a link to postpartum help should anyone need it, or you can contact your doctor to speak openly and honestly about how you are feeling. I've done it!
Postpartum Support International