“Cherish these moments,” cooing grandparents would tell me as they watched me tending my small tribe of children. “These days will fly by.”
I hated that expression. Inevitably, those words made me feel like a bad mother. Too often, they were simply not true. With three children under the age of four, many days did not “fly by.” Instead, there was often a seemingly endless parade of dirty diapers, spilled drinks, broken toys, missed naps, overflowing toilets or bathtubs, cranky children and even crankier mother.
These well-meaning adults, far removed from their own parenting moments, were passing along some myths of motherhood. Idealized versions of parenthood are conjured up in commercials, greeting cards, Facebook and Pinterest. There are endless examples of smiling mothers and children enjoying tranquil moments of blissful calm as they share arts and crafts, tend exquisite gardens or create healthy meals. My reality never seemed to measure up. I often felt like I was falling short in the mothering department.
There was the day when my 3 year-old, 2 year-old, and infant all woke up well before sunrise, full of energy and ready to be entertained. I struggled to rise to the occasion by reading books, offering craft ideas, and going for a walk (in itself, a feat that required ingenuity and stamina as I pushed the double stroller with the baby on my back). Finally, I decided I would offer an early lunch so we could move on to naptime and a well-deserved rest for everyone. Imagine my dismay when I looked at the clock. It was 9:00 a.m.
No, days like that did not “fly by.”
Of course there are many precious memories. Those sweet moments of bedtime stories, snuggled together and delighting in escapades from far-away lands. The adventures of not one, not two, but three cross-country camping trips when we marveled at the beauty of changing landscapes and delighted at experiencing bison, mountain streams, and starry nights. Day-to-day family life, sharing laughter and games with friends and neighbors.
“Watch out!” people would warn us, “Before you know it, they will be grown up and gone.” But that isn’t the whole story. We do young parents a disservice, I believe, when we offer only the “Disney” version of parenting. Being a mother is the hardest and best thing I have ever done. A lot of time I was simply tired despite being blessed with my dedicated, hands-on, fully involved husband.
Instead of telling young parents that these moments will “fly by,” let’s share the wisdom an experienced mother told me. “The days can be long,” she said, “but the years are short.”
Now our nest is officially empty; the era of all five of us living under one roof, regularly sharing meals and dividing chores is over. I am filled with gratitude for literally millions of cherished memories.
But I don’t want to forget the hard days. It took time, effort, and dedication to get to the point where our children could venture out independently. Even now, we assure them that our nest has a revolving door; they can come home to re-group and re-establish themselves any time.
I am determined not to pass along myths about motherhood. Instead, I want to offer new parents support, encouragement, and understanding as I acknowledge that many days will be far from perfect. We don’t need the myths – the truth is more satisfying.
Long days, short years. And blessings to last a lifetime.