You’re in deep with a colicky baby. It’s been a month since you’ve slept more than twenty minutes straight. You finally understand the expression “bone tired” because you feel as if your body is literally crumbling beneath you. In an effort to be heard, to feel understood, to relate to a fellow mother you express your hardships- that your baby never sleeps, that motherhood is bigger than you thought, that you aren’t sure if you’re cut out for it. It’s so hard to even say the words but you desperately want to know that what you’re feeling is okay.
But before you even get past “well, I’m pretty tired…” there’s someone there to put you in your place. “Oh, HUNNY. Enjoy it,” she’ll say. “Enjoy every moment.” And just like that, you’ve failed again. Not only did you actually feel those things you felt, but you tried to talk about them, which makes you an even worse mother than you already feared you might be. “Enjoy it…” it echoes in your ears. Enjoy what? You wonder. All of it? Every goddamn hungry cry? Every inconsolable outburst? Every inconveniently timed poop explosion running down your blouse? The one you finally pulled from your closet in an effort to look like a woman, not a milk truck?
“Well, fuck,” you think. “If I’m supposed to be enjoying this then I’m really fucking screwed.” Because even if you enjoy a lot of it, or most of it, apparently that isn’t good enough. You have to “enjoy every moment,” to really be doing it right. Didn’t you know?
It doesn’t stop in infancy. When your toddlers are running a muck, getting into every last cupboard in your house, smashing dishes, coloring on the walls, mark my words- there will be someone offering up the age-old expression “enjoy it.” It may even be followed by the near constant reminder “it doesn’t last forever.” And in that moment you pray to whatever God you believe in that they are right.
Motherhood is the only arena of our lives that we are made to feel we should be enjoying every waking moment of. But underneath it’s obnoxiousness, the sentiment is usually well-intentioned. It almost always comes from a mother who has walked your same path but is too far from it to remember it accurately. She looks back and idealizes every part of motherhood, no matter what her experiences were. Because the truth is, when our kids are grown, we will all wish we enjoyed it a tiny bit more. We will wish for their baby soft skin, their stutters and that intoxicatingly wonderful new baby smell. No matter how hard or exhausting motherhood is, it does not escape me that this will undoubtedly happen.
While “enjoy it” may be good advice in theory, it’s not actually good advice for a struggling mother. The reason being that it doesn’t help her in any way, shape or form. In fact, it hurts her each and every time she hears it. It makes her wonder what is wrong with her when there is nothing wrong with her. No one enjoys all of motherhood and if they do, please point me in their direction so I can find out where I can get some of what they’re drinking. Or smoking. Or snorting. Whatever. If there is some magic potion that can make me want gobble up every minute of being a mom without ever wanting to scream into a pillow then I’m game.
But there isn’t. There is no magic potion, only time. It comes with looking back and sighing, “I sure wish I’d enjoyed it all a little bit more.” No doubt, it will one day come. But that doesn’t mean it’s not okay to struggle, to be human, to be a mother finding her way. You don’t have to enjoy it all to be a good mother. So let’s stop bullshitting each other. I won’t enjoy every moment. And neither did you.