Stop telling parents to “enjoy the time”

Stop telling parents to “enjoy the time”

By Little + Free's creator, Tori Rotter

A popular topic of discussion as of late is “mom-shaming.” This typically refers to someone (often another woman) making a mom feel guilty for something they perceive as “the wrong way to parent.”

While I highly condemn this practice, I think there is an additional topic that should be discussed that goes somewhat hand in hand with the mom-shaming mentality­­­­—the popular advice to “enjoy the time now.” 

This advice is given at practically every phase of parenting, always by a parent whose children are older than your own. I believe the sentiment is well-intentioned, but I’d like to discuss why I think we need to stop this way of thinking.

To begin, the circumstance under which this advice is usually given is almost always after a parent has lamented a hardship with their child in some way. It may be a parent of a newborn talking about sleepless nights, a toddler parent talking about tantrums, or even a teen parent expressing difficulties with their child. Regardless of the age of the child in question, someone always has an “enjoy it now, because” scenario lined up for you. 

Enjoy the sweet newborn phase now, soon they will be a toddler, talking back. Enjoy the toddler phase now, soon they will be a teenager who wants nothing to do with you. Enjoy the teenager phase now, soon they will be out of the house and you will miss them. 

The issue here is that the advice is not really advice at all. Instead, it is a point of self-reflection for the person speaking. They are saying it because they “miss those days.” But they may not realize that they only miss them because they have the perspective to look back fondly on their time. They wish they had enjoyed the time more and been less concerned with the day-to-day struggles. And that’s lovely (and again, well-intentioned). “Don’t make the same mistakes I did,” so to speak.

But unfortunately, that is not how life works. It is virtually impossible (if someone has figured it out, please let me know) to have a future perspective on something you’re going through. Particularly when the circumstance is difficult, you must spend most of your energy trying to push through the hardship at hand and can often only “see clearly once the rain has gone.” But more than that, parents who are sharing difficulties are usually not looking for advice at all. They want to be seen, heard, and potentially commiserate with others going through the same thing. Being met with what is indeed shaming (even if well-intentioned) is really the last thing someone wants to hear.

Moreover, saying “enjoy it now” implies that the parent is not enjoying the children at all, which is not the case (most of the time, I certainly don’t mean to speak for all). As a mother of an infant and a toddler, I spend countless hours enjoying them. I love them more than anything, and spending time with them is one of my favorite things. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. It doesn’t mean there aren’t sleepless nights or (seemingly) never-ending tantrums. The two things are just not mutually exclusive. A quote circulated on many parenting channels said, “my two favorite things are being with my children and not being with my children.” I can’t think of a better way to describe parenting. 

It is beautiful, and it is ugly. It is easy, and it is difficult. It is rewarding, and it is challenging. It’s both sides of the spectrum, and everything in between.  

No matter what age you are (or what age your children are), parenting will be tough. The challenges change and evolve throughout the years, but never disappear. In my opinion, the best thing we can do for parents is to support them. That may mean different things to different people, and there is certainly nothing wrong with asking what type of support is needed most, but there are usually clues. For example, if a parent is complaining about their toddler’s tantrum, perhaps tell a story about a tantrum your child once had and say something like, “I know the feeling.” Or, if you do not, in fact, know the feeling, tell them they are incredible for handling the situation. Because that is how we can best support each other. Letting each other know that parenting is really tough, and we deserve all the accolades possible. Because the truth is, most parents already worry they are doing something wrong or that they will look back and regret something about their parenting journey. 

So instead of affirming that fear, let’s comfort them, laugh with them, and hopefully make them feel like they aren’t alone.

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