When I first became a mom, I received a lot of (unsolicited) advice on how to be a good parent. Some of it was useful, to ask for help and remember to take care of myself. Other recommendations, albeit well-intentioned, left me overwhelmed and caught in a spiral of guilt. For example, a suggestion frequently offered was to enjoy every minute with the child, because, in the blink of an eye they’ll have grown into an adult. Especially as a new parent I interpreted this literally, that I should put everything else on the back burner and enjoy every. single. minute. with my child. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, I added the final conclusion: if I’m not enjoying every single minute, I must be doing something wrong.
I’ll concede that I placed most of this pressure on myself. However, it has also undoubtedly been reinforced through subliminal messaging. I am constantly bombarded with stories, pictures, advertisements, and depictions of parents enjoying sweet moments with their children as they feed them, play with them, and rock them to sleep. I see social media posts shared by parents who are apparently enjoying every single minute with their children. Of course, I definitely have sweet moments with my children, moments of absolute pure enjoyment, moments I will hold onto, cherish, and never forget. But, there are also a lot of not-so-sweet moments through it all, moments that are definitely not enjoyed, simply endured. It is in these difficult moments that I often fixate on the advice that I should enjoy every minute with my child, and when I don’t, the guilt practically consumes me.
Of course, no one can enjoy every single minute with their child. Because, the simple truth is kids, like all of us, are not enjoyable every single minute. There are a thousand factors that affect this reality. Additionally, there is the basic fact that throughout the process of raising a child, life continues to hold hundreds of daily responsibilities and chores, many of which undeniably require some attention. Recognizing these facts hasn’t stopped me from trying to do it all. Some days I feel close to achieving a balance, and other days the responsibilities versus quality time feels extremely lopsided.
As my kids have grown out of the newborn stage and become more independent and capable of entertaining themselves, some of the weight of feeling like I need to be perpetually present with them has shifted. We’ve slowly grown into a new rhythm that still includes intentional time and now also involves imaginative play. My typical daily routine still includes a lot of chores, which are frequently interrupted with requests to play. Sometimes I jump right in, but other times I find myself explaining that I really need to tackle a chore first. Every time I prioritize a to-do over spending time with my kids, I fight that same old rising sense of guilt. Guilt that I am, once again, not enjoying every. single. minute. with them.
It’s been over four years since I first became a parent and I still fight self-condemnation regarding enjoying every minute. Recently, it occurred to me that I can’t enjoy every single minute of the day, clearly this isn’t working. In search for a better approach, I have found I can enjoy moments, even small ones, throughout the day. While this might seem like a basic realization, it was a game-changer for me. In the weeks since this awareness, I have worked to shift my mindset to focus on intentionally enjoying small moments, rather than every single minute. Some days, the moments are frequent, and other days, I do my best to appreciate the smallest of moments. However, through it all, this grace-filled expectation to focus on small moments has felt much more feasible to successfully achieve and has provided a renewed joy in parenting.
Working to incorporate this new paradigm into my daily life requires that I acknowledge the simple truth that every day will be a little different. Some days there’s a lot more on the to-do list that needs to be taken care of and other days will allow for flexibility in spending more time with my kids. Accepting this has been crucial as I’ve worked to establish a new pattern. Throughout this journey, I have found that similar to a sunrise or sunset, there will be moments of pure enjoyment throughout the day and it’s important to slow down and take time to truly enjoy these. Sometimes these moments will occur more frequently than just twice a day, but some days they might be overshadowed by cloud cover, unexpecteds and to-dos, making them more difficult to focus on. Through it all, I’m doing my best to extend myself grace in the process of enjoying the small moments.
Wendi, her husband, and their two kids are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents, having relocated to northern Minnesota. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.
photo credit: personal photo