You Won’t Miss the Mess
Romanticizing the past can discourage both ourselves and young mothers from enjoying the present.
I’m not one of those older women that grieves the empty nest. I absolutely loved being a mother of young kids, but I also loved being a mother with college-age kids, and now I love being a mother of grown women. And of course, being a grandmother is the best! Many people, but it seems to be especially women, tend to romanticize the days of parenting very young children and feel compelled to offer well-worn platitudes to young parents. They are offered with good intention, but the result may make a young parent feel guilty. There are two that seem to be repeated the most often-
Someday your house will be clean and you’ll miss the mess
That may be a bitter pill to swallow for a young parent who struggles to keep the ever-growing mound of baby paraphernalia, toys and clothes at bay. It is amazing how much “stuff” a child seems to need or, more likely, we think they need. It doesn’t take long to feel qualified for a guest spot on a Hoarders episode. I may miss my kids, but do I miss tripping over my daughter’s Imelda Marcos-rivaling collection of shoes left in the middle of the room? No. Do I ever wish I could once again sit on the couch only to realize a teenager left a wet towel and now my pants are wet? No. Have I ever looked wistfully at the near empty laundry basket and thought, “Gee, I miss those mounds of laundry waiting to be washed, dried, folded and then left to sit in the basket in their room”? No. I like having a clean house. I like knowing when I return at night it will look as I left it in the morning. And it was a pretty exciting moment when I realized there is an actual bottom to the laundry basket—imagine that!
The days go by so fast, cherish each one
When my father was in his nineties, he warned me that the older you get the faster time seems to pass. As usual, my dad was right, and time seems to be moving at a shocking speed. When I look back at the photo albums it seems like just the other day my now 29 and 30-year-old daughters were adorable toddlers, and I was a young mother with dark hair (unassisted by Loreal) and an unlined face. We had professional pictures taken annually, mantel-worthy photographs in which we’re all wearing matching clothes, our hair is clean and brushed and my kids have called a temporary truce. As beautiful as these pictures may be, I distinctly remember I paid a photographer to pose us and capture beautiful, make-believe moments. I may not remember where I put my glasses or what I had for dinner last night, but I vividly recollect the moments that weren’t photo-album-worthy—incredibly long nights of walking up and down the hall with a colicky baby, the day my three-month-old projectile vomited the length of the kitchen (probably a new world record), and then there was the unforgettable week my two-year-old and three- year- old both had an epic case of the stomach flu. Did I cherish those days? Nah, I’m just glad we all made it through them. As my niece so aptly put it, “It’s very hard to cherish a moment when you have two toddlers screaming and acting crazy in Walmart. Sometimes you just do your best to survive.”
Before you judge me as a terrible mother, I assure you I loved my children dearly, and I think my adult kids would willingly vouch for my parenting skills. Most of the time I loved being a mother, but I’m also a realist. Some days were hard, some days were wonderful. Some days flew by in a blur of cookie making, snuggling and story-book reading, and other days the kids quarreled, dinner burned and bedtime couldn’t come soon enough! The passage of time tends to make us romanticize the past and forget the hard times. That haze of nostalgia must be what leads older people to feel the need to offer unhelpful clichés to the younger generation. Do we sincerely feel that it’s helpful to tell a mother that’s been struggling with a crying baby all day to “enjoy every day, it goes by in a blur”?! The more likely result is a feeling of guilt and wondering what she’s doing wrong that she doesn’t feel joy as she’s holding an inconsolable, sobbing baby. My niece is a fantastic mother of two smart, adorable and energetic four-year-olds (No, they aren’t twins but that’s another story) so she’s a bit of an expert on this. I asked her opinion and she responded, “I feel like people forget how hard it is and they just think about wanting the good times back. But these comments make you feel guilty for any negative feelings. I think we need to tell each other it’s OK to hate this day when you haven’t showered and no one has napped and everyone has cried all day. Hate this day and believe tomorrow will be better… and if it’s not, there is always wine and chocolate!”
Carefully measure your words of advice to young parents. A good policy is to forego unsolicited advice and instead offer a nice compliment. No one objects to hearing their children are beautiful and well behaved. Although I occasionally enjoy reminiscing about the days when my kids were young, I try not to spend too much time yearning for the past, we’re not going in that direction. I was happy when I had a full nest, but I’m fully embracing the pleasures of this season of life. Enjoy the present and look forward to the future. The best may be yet to come!