I push the grocery cart forward a little slower than usual. Mindlessly I’m tossing baby carrots, yogurt, and granola bars into the cart. My eyes burn a little when I blink. I’m tired from my three wake-ups last night: twice to feed the baby and once with another who wet the bed. My lackluster day, so far, boasts spilled milk at breakfast, forgotten homework on the kitchen table, and breakfast dishes pining just for me.
I plant a kiss on my baby as she reaches her pudgy finger out to me. The sweetness of the moment vanishes when I look up to see my older kids playing tag in the produce aisle. I bolt over to end the game, but not before they collide into a stack of cereal boxes. I begin to re-stack the display and through clenched teeth hiss, “We do not run in stores! Settle down or you will not get a cookie at the bakery.” Breathe in, keep walking.
I turn down the next aisle determined to quicken my pace and get this job done. Just then, a sweet older woman passes by with her cart. She pauses, smiles, and waits to catch my eye.
“Oh, they are so sweet. Enjoy every minute! They grow up so fast!”
I force a smile and respond, “Oh yes. So fast. Wouldn’t want to miss a moment!”
I charge on with my cart. I would gladly miss this moment. Or better yet, the one from yesterday when I was scrubbing purple paint off the bathroom wall.
I’ve had this type of conversation too many times to count. And I’ve struggled to know how to respond in such a moment—that moment when I’m feeling exhausted and frustrated and the older lady just has to give me the “enjoy every moment” speech. Should I tell her off? This motherhood gig isn’t all roses and parades, you know! Or should I fake it and then feel guilty that I don’t enjoy every moment? Maybe admit that I’m short with my kids and sometimes my best effort is simply counting down the minutes until bedtime?
I’ve recently thought a lot about those older ladies, the ones who press me to see what a beautiful world I live in. I think the message she might be saying underneath her advice is, “I miss my kids. I miss being a mom.” Yes, she is still a mom, but she doesn’t have little ones who need and adore her anymore.
She sees me and my brood of kids and it floods her with memories. Memories that look a lot like mine: a baby wrapped in a hooded towel with squeaky clean cheeks just begging to be kissed; park days and picnic lunches with no agenda besides chatting with a friend as the kids climb the playground perfectly entertained; the smell of fresh flowers in tow for a young dancer; snuggling in bed with a picture book because you are not quite ready to start the day.
This woman has a treasure chest of memories and perhaps wonders how quickly her babies grew up and slipped away. She isn’t chastising me for not loving my role as a mother. I think she’s looking for a little “mom cred.” I think she wants to say in solidarity, “Hey, I was a mom once, too!”
So, next time I get that timeless advice, I’m planning a new response. Instead of forcing my smile while throwing invisible daggers, I think I’ll ask her, “How many kids do you have? Where are they now? Do you miss them?” I can turn our conversation to her status as a mom instead of mine.
And it’s nice to know that someday I’ll have all the good, sweet moments of motherhood tucked into my heart and the hard stuff will have faded away. Because although there are a lot of hard moments, there are also so many moments when I adore being a mom. I will take the veteran mom’s advice with my own adjustment: Enjoy every [good] moment. The rest? Survive it and gain your own mom badge of honor. It’ll be more than worth it in the end.
QUESTION: Have you had a similar experience when someone has commented on the joys of motherhood when you’ve felt less than joyful? How did you respond? How would you like to respond?
CHALLENGE: The next time someone comments on the wonderful phase of motherhood you’re in (and you feel like rolling your eyes), turn the conversation away from you by asking about the other person’s experiences.
Edited by Kimberly Price and Nollie Haws.
Image provided by the author; graphics by Anna Jenkins.