We’ve all seen or heard it happen. A mother voices a complaint about something she is not enjoying about the mothering experience and someone else returns with a comment that disguises itself as “words of wisdom,” but is perhaps actually a thinly veiled criticism of the other mother: “well, you know, they grow so fast and you’ll miss them when they’re older!” I am curious if anyone actually finds this a helpful remark or thinks it is an original sentiment. While probably originally born from good intent, “you’ll miss this” based comments have become trite and cliche. While perhaps voiced in a good-intentioned way and theoretically used to bring perspective, to bring a proper sense of gratitude, and as an honest reminder to count your blessings (which are many and true), I think the shadow side and darker purpose of this “bringing perspective” is to silence, to muffle, to dismiss, to deny, and to shame. How often do we use this phrase against ourselves in exactly this manner? Perhaps we are nursing the baby and longing for it to fall into a deep enough sleep so that we can sneak away and “get things done.” And then, pop! there it is, “You shouldn’t be trying to get up, you’ll miss this when they’re older.”
Well, guess what, there are plenty of things I’m confident I won’t miss when they’re older. I know that I will miss breastfeeding. It is one of the deepest and richest joys of my life. The breastfeeding relationship is an intimate, interdependent, and profound connection that is irreplaceable. However, I also know in my heart that I will never miss having a toddler twiddle, pinch, stretch, and pick at the other nipple while nursing (and, frankly, I seriously doubt that any woman on earth has spent her twilight years wishing someone was stretching her nipple out to superhuman lengths). I’ll miss the sounds of little boys as they spin elaborate imaginary scenarios out in their play. I will not miss having to shout to be heard over this play while trying to carry on a reasonable, adult conversation with my husband. I’ll miss having warm little bodies snuggling with me. I won’t miss having someone sit on my back and chew on my hair while I try to type an article (yes, this has happened more than once!). I could go on, but you get the drift. There are pieces of parenting that are profoundly disagreeable and it is okay to name them, rather than shame yourself or others in the name of imaginary future regret. Additionally, the subtext that women with grown children spend their days pining for earlier years rankles with me. Personally, I really hope my own mother doesn’t waste a lot of her time wishing I was still a baby. I like to think she enjoys my company now!
Children grow and change. It is what they do. And, we want them to, really, and we want to continue to grow and develop ourselves as well, not to remain stagnated in memories of an earlier day or paralyzed by concerns about future regrets. A good friend once said something that has had a profound impact on me: “I parent the child in front of me.” Not the future adult, or, the memory of the baby or the toddler.
Here are some scenarios carrying a genuinely meaningful message: My older son is then three. He takes off his shirt at an event and a playgroup friend with adult children stops and her breath catches a little. She says, “Oh, Molly, make sure you take a picture of that little boy belly.” That night, I make sure to take one. Watching my sons playing in a wading pool one year, my mom says, “just look at the back of his neck and his powerful [tiny, narrow] shoulders.” I take another picture, not just with my camera, but with my heart. I visit my friend with a newborn baby. Even though I have my own treasure of a 5 month old with me, I ask my friend if I can touch the back of her newborn’s head. When I touch him, tears fill my eyes. All of these are genuine expressions of the original heart of the “you’ll miss this” message—pay attention and remember to look. We don’t need a trite platitude that summarily dismisses the potent intensity of mothering small children day to day, we need to see other mothers in the act of remembering. Those moments with our babies and our children that bring a sweet, deep ache to our hearts in the moment, those are our clues that we are savoring and cherishing their lives as they unfold. The tears that may spring unbidden to our eyes in the future when another mother’s child makes us remember this potency of early childhood, the very fact that we look back with such a pang, means that we did a very, very good job with the savoring—if we hadn’t savored, we wouldn’t know how to feel so deeply later.
“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”
Very good thoughts! I am with you on the nipple-stretching and also potty-training–not my favorites. And you and I understand more than some about wanting our children to grow. When you have a “forever” baby–one that will never have the chance to grow and change, but remains concreted in history and our hearts as “the baby we lost”, you appreciate the milestones of accomplishment in the other children even more. So thanks for the reminder to glean the truth from the cliche, and move on!
YES! Agree and so beautifully said! Thank you.
I really like this. I try to tell my self this all the time and it just makes me feel bad that I am tired of being up all night every night with a sick baby or feel guilty that i just want them to behave or those time that I feel like a horrable mother for wishing the baby would hurry and grow out of the stage of taking his diaper off nonstop and peeing on EVERYTHING
What a great post. It’s totally OK to love some moments and really dislike other moments of parenting! What we know is that the love for our kids is unconditional – it never wavers!
People have a habit of saying that “you’ll miss this” or some form thereof to me a lot. And I think that just saying that means you’re actually *missing* the moment right now, because you are already regretting its transience. But everything changes – living constantly with that regret is wasted time!
I like “This too shall pass.” I try to remember this when we’re in the midst of the challenging moments (LOL @ your monkeys all over you) and I also remember this in the midst of the powerful, beautiful moments. Which makes me even more grateful for those moments of powerful shoulders or little bellies or edible thighs (my favorite).
Well said! I completely agree that it is so dismissive of the problems a mom is facing when people say this. I also dislike when it is implied that the problems parents face with older kids are somehow worse. An older lady I worked with used to say, “When they’re little they step on your toes but when their older they step on your heart.” I used to get so mad when she said that in such a dismissive way, as if my physical exhaustion didn’t measure up to her worrying about her teen’s choices. Not better or worse, just different!
All that being said I have to admit that a few times lately I’ve caught myself wanting to say, “You’ll miss this,” to another mom. I stopped myself and then wondered, where did THAT come from? Now I realize I was talking to myself. Hopefully I’ll remember that the next time I’m tempted to say it!
Being the parent to littles and big simultaneously I have to say that for *me* it is much, much harder to parent the bigs (assuming generally average lives for everyone involved). It is just that you have so much less control (over the environment) and the risks are so much higher. I was never tied up in knots over how to handle toddler tantrums or bedtime challenges, but the amount of life energy I’ve spent wondering, worrying over dating dilemmas, drugs/alcohol, driving perils, even just the child’s ability to function successfully as an adult (will,they pay their bills? be able to get past their anxiety and reach for their dreams? etc) is just so much… I don’t know… *more* than the toddler in front of me yelling “I wan’t cookies!” repeatedly.
I do understand that some people have a harder time with infants and young children – they struggle with the neediness, the lack of reason, etc. I guess don’t assume that when someone says that that it is coming from a place of dismissal – I can’t imagine that when you wanted to say that to another mom that it you had any intent of dismissing her at all? Maybe it is from an honest place of love and support and empathy for the entire parenting journey.
This is a good point. I may say this to moms, without even thinking.
Hmm, maybe if I say, “I miss that.” or I miss parts of having a newborn. I try to think to myself, “embrace this moment” when I am capturing something like that little boy belly.
Perfect, perfect, you speak my thoughts precisely. I really resent that “you’ll miss it” comment. I love my children dearly. And I love my own life. And there are things I will not miss. Well said, I’ll be sharing this one on my Dreaming Aloud FB page.
I’ll admit it, I’ve said it! *hangs head in shame* but I realize now as I question why I’ve said it, that it was for ME I was saying it. I DO miss it. I adore my kids at the age they are, we have a blast together and they have grown into amazing people. Sometimes though, when I’m surrounded by babies I miss them at that age. I think what I really wanted to say, the times I have said it, was I MISS THAT, not YOU’ll miss it! Of course we won’t miss the struggles, the sleepless nights or the tantrums, but looking back, somehow most of those things don’t seem so bad anymore, especially when you miss the sound of a giggle, the look of wonder on their faces, or the dimples on your babies chubby arms.
I think it’s so important to be there with your kids at whatever age they are, it would be so sad to only enjoy them when they are little, there are so many wonderful experiences throughout watching your child grow up. Onlly sometimes does that pang of missing little ones make me open my mouth and say things like “you’ll miss this” After thinking about it , from now on, I’ve vowed to say “I MISS THAT!” instead! 🙂
I wasn’t thinking of people like you at all, Karen! I guess I didn’t explain it well, but when I wrote this I was thinking specifically of when mothers *currently in the same stage of mothering* use it against each other (or themselves) in a shaming sense–so, a mother on a FB group or on a message board or at a playgroup says something about wishing she got more sleep or wishing Little Johnny would grow out of some stage, and another mother smugly responds with, “well, I know that *I’ll* miss the sleepless nights and sticky fingers when they’re older!” (subtext: you’re a sucky mother and me, *I’ve* got it ALL figured out!)
Oh ok! Well, I still feel like I got a lot from what you wrote and do think that sometimes mothers with older children tend to think they have “one up” on younger mothers b/c they have “been through it”. Maybe they do have some experience, but each family/child is unique, so what might have been the perfect experience for one mother might not work for someone else. I try to be careful not to come off as a know-it-all who has BTDT! 🙂
Well, it is also true that mothers with older children will use it in a dismissive way too and I guess I was also talking about that too (I just re-read my post!–but, they weren’t on my mind as much as the mother-to-mother, “I get it, you don’t” sort.)
Oh yikes! I’ve never heard anything like that before (I’m pretty dense so it’s quite possible it was said to me and went over my head). I am sad that it would be used like that.
I agree with others that I will focus on the “I miss that” instead – because regardless of the intent it is absolutely true that I can’t say what anyone else will miss.
I do miss ‘that’. I’ll remember to say what I mean in the future. My young friends continue to teach me.
Mary Alice–you might not remember the moment, but you are the friend I reference who made the “boy belly” comment that I used as an example of the RIGHT way to make these sorts of remarks 🙂
Thanks, Molly. Watching you and other friends/family members with your little ones makes me ‘flash back’ to when my children were small. There’s a lovely amnesia that allows me to remember the very best times. I have to dig around for a memory of anything unpleasant now.
And, little boy bellies are especially adorable.
thank you all for this writing, it has helped me. I am at a stage of nostalgia when I am missing my babies…
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Great article Molly! I’ve been getting the tears in my eyes when I see a newborn.
There are a lot of things I will miss dearly and a lot that I won’t miss at all. Screeching in the car will definitively not be missed.
I fear I may have been doing pretty close to what you are talking about! But my friends are graciously indulging me, as my one and only child moved away from home a scant two weeks ago. It is still fresh, and I guess I am desperate for them to enjoy theirs while they are small, because, trite as it sounds, the time does indeed go thisfast. I am so glad I came across this article–it is a gentle reminder that will serve me well before I get too obnoxious!
I’ve been thinking about this post since July (lol!) because I don’t see that comment in the way that you describe at all. I see it really totally different. I have been thinking about this for months and have wanted to write my own thoughts on the subject but never did. Here is a post that mimics my feelings towards what I think and feel, even though it does not directly relate to what you are saying. http://magicalchildhood.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/savor-it-anyway/
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