It’s pretty much a universal mothering experience…
You’re at the grocery store wrangling one or more children. You just finished repeating, for the umpteenth time through gritted teeth and a forced tone of gentleness, “No, honey. We don’t need that today…” and when you finally emerge from the back and forth, you see her.
The sweet, smiling woman, of no particular age (just older than you), her eyes unfocused as she recalls her younger mothering days…
And you brace for impact because even before the words form on her lips, you know what’s coming.
You are well acquainted with the good-intentioned platitude soon to roll off of her tongue, and for some reason you cringe. Then, as she comes out of her reminiscing, she says it:
“Cherish every moment, sweetie… They’ll be grown in the blink of an eye.”
Cheeks flush, gut tightens, and you smile back and awkwardly nod, “Uh-huh.”
Meanwhile, a dark cloud of shame and guilt is descending inside. You think of the sweet moments that you have already taken for granted, and you kick yourself for falling into frustration… again.
And simultaneously, in a strange and complicated inner battle, you’re also feeling a dose of frustration at the woman (of no particular age)… wondering who she thinks she is… internally asserting that she obviously doesn’t know your life.
You take that internal frustration, the wishing that you weren’t so tired, the disorientation of saying the same thing 1500 times a day, the overwhelm of your messy house and chaotic budget, and you shove it down somewhere dark where it won’t threaten your joy and contentment anymore.
You paint on a smile for the undisturbed woman, repeat one of the 15 scriptures on joy that you’ve memorized and you try like heck to listen to her–thinking that it’s sheer force of will that will make you love and “cherish” this moment of overwhelm and chaos.
I know this is universal because I’ve heard the back-lash…
Young moms in parks and playgrounds, pools, and church parking lots bring these moments up when we’re together.
Sometimes it’s in a hushed, repentant and convicted tone:
“I was so frustrated and this woman reminded me of how fast time flies… I’ve got to do better.”
Sometimes it’s in an annoyed and gossipy tone:
“Can you believe what this woman said!? Cherish every moment?! Are you kidding me?!”
I’m here to give you a little unsolicited advice, mama: First, give that woman some grace… I know, I know… I’ll explain more in a minute. Second… Give yourself some grace, too.
What do I mean by that? Let’s do some digging.
First, what causes this frustrating interaction?
The frustration and the generational divide is fueled by a misunderstanding of memory, and our hardwiring to live in the present… The difficulty is that no one is all wrong in this scenario.
Older moms will carry on making unwelcome comments to younger moms who will keep getting frustrated by these comments… and ultimately, younger moms will become those older moms who will likely one day be the ones making those same baffling comments.
The biggest problem with this interaction is that each person is deeply rooted in her particular place in time and season. You, the young mom, are very firmly planted in the middle of the grocery store with needy and whiny children–already wrestling with feelings of overwhelm, frustration, joy, anxiety, and all of the other ingredients to the wonderful hormonal cocktail of early motherhood. You only know today, right now, and yesterday. You can imagine tomorrow… But you haven’t lived it yet.
But that woman? She’s living our eventual tomorrows. She is likely watching her children become grown people–has watched them endure the struggles and hardships common in this human experience, has experienced losses of her own, and struggled with grief as she goes through yet another identity shift away from “mommy” and toward “mom.”
The reality, dear friend, is that her comment is laced with truth. But, it also has less to do with placing expectation and blame on you, and everything to do with processing her own grief.
Because we can’t deny the truth in her statement:
When we wake up to this truth, it helps us extend grace and compassion, and read through the lines of her statement. Instead of wrestling with frustration and shame when we hear these comments, we’ll create some small space for her grief, “I bet time goes so fast! Tell me about your children…”
Because here’s the reality on the other end: Grief and hindsight-longing… Those are essential common human experiences, too.
You will strive for joy and contentment in this season because you love Jesus, and because you know he’s redeeming the hard stuff; but you will also wrestle with things you think you will absolutely not miss.
You will not miss the screaming tantrums. You will not miss waking up seventeen times a night. You will not miss the incessant asking for snacks.
And the cherishing she’s asking you to do? It’s not possible until we’re through it. There is a reason our minds were created with complex memory systems–holding some things, letting others go.
Think back to your labor… If it was relatively uncomplicated, when you think about bringing your babies into the world the highlighted experience is probably holding your baby–the rush of seeing them for the first time.
But the pain? The struggle? It’s likely faded to the background.
But, I promise you, if someone would have told me to cherish labor in the middle of it, I might have kicked them in the teeth.
That pain and hardship fade to the background of our memories as time and life march forward is inevitable, but to expect ourselves to cherish those hardships of today before the actual fading process matures is just not fair based on the functioning of the human brain and how God created us.
So, what do we do about these awkward interactions?
First, lay down the shame, guilt, and expectation of yourself.
Realize that your cherishing and hers will look different–that is natural and normal. You are not failing as a mother if you don’t cherish poop-filled diapers leaking out all over the crib sheets and blankets.
Then, lean into the joy and contentment that are possible in this season.
We are complex emotional beings, and it is possible to both be frustrated with and cherish your kids. Be mindful of the little joys, take note of them, and express them to God in gratitude. But also, be honest with him about the struggles–your own grief, lament, sorrow… If you need examples of this in scripture, just read through Psalms, Lamentations, Job. No where in the Bible is there an expectation for you to be wearing a forced smile, ignoring hardships. Instead the pattern is to bring them to the feet of our Lord, and allow him to breathe life there.
Finally, see the woman telling you to cherish it all.
Instead of making it about you (which, I’ll be honest I typically do), lift your eyes from your chaos and connect with her. Ask her about her children, make space for her grief, and be a kind recipient of the perspective she has to share.
Yes, her comments feel dismissive. You feel frustrated that your struggle seems to be obscured by her platitude, and you wish instead of rushing you through it she’d offer help or an encouraging word.
But remember, her comments have less to do with your parenting and more to do with her grief.
And no, we won’t be able to cherish these young years in the way she is in her hindsight. But, we can learn from her, connect with her–and probably take a deep breath and descend right back down into the trenches because we know–for better or for worse–that these days won’t last forever.