I found myself with a sleeping toddler on my arm in the early morning light. His little eyelashes were fluttering a bit, and his mouth was slightly open as he took deep, peaceful breaths. In that moment, I was relaxed and happy, simply enjoying the presence of my baby. It was wonderful.
So, I understand what people intend when they give well-meaning advice like “just cherish them” and “just enjoy them being little.” People mean well.
However, this advice usually comes during moments of overwhelm. A mom might be complaining about how hard it is to balance working and parenting. Maybe she’s expressing how frustrating it is to try to keep her house clean while a few tornadoes of paint and juice cups whirl around her feet. She may simply be exhausted and need support. That’s when the “just cherish them” stops becoming helpful and transforms into one more burden to bear, one more expectation to uphold.
What made that early morning moment different from most of my day? There wasn’t anywhere else to be. I didn’t have anything else that had to be done.
I was free to simply enjoy like a guest in an art gallery peering at a gorgeous painting. It took my breath away, and I all I had to do was just enjoy it.
But most of the time, I am not the guest in the art gallery.
Parents Play Multiple Roles
For one, I am also the painter. These children are my creation, a piece of me. They reflect my greatest hopes and gravest fears. That means when I look upon them, I do so with a love so fierce it sometimes burns. And they are still works in progress. A painter can’t just casually glance at her paintings on the wall and smile at a job well done. She is in the midst of creation and watching them take on a life of their own, slowly (and sometimes quickly) becoming something separate from herself, something that will go out into the world without her nearby to explain, to supervise, to protect.
At other times, I am more like the security guard. From skinned knees to hurt feelings to poor choices to traffic-filled streets to peer pressure, I can no more just sit back and enjoy my children’s presence in the world than an art museum guard can nod approvingly at the paintings while the room is on fire and someone breaks into the basement while a kid with sticky hands reaches out to touch a masterpiece. From the mundane to the profound, we are constantly on guard, trying to catch every fall and mend every wound.
Still other times, I am the curator. Where does my child belong? Are we in the right neighborhood? The right school? Are we providing enough opportunities to explore her passions? Are we providing too many? A million choices impact how our children see themselves and where they fit in the world. The weight of those choices means I can no more gaze upon my children passively than a curator who is choosing where to place each collection and how to ensure that the beauty is appreciated rather than passed over.
Support Over Advice
Someone looking in may tell us to “just cherish them” because they are in the role where “just” anything is possible. When you’re in the thick of it, though, there is no “just.” We play every role, sometimes all at once, and sometimes we need to express our overwhelm without feeling judged for it.
If a mom near you is expressing a bit of frustration and you really want to show your support, try one of these phrases instead: “Would you like to go grab a cup of coffee soon?” “You are doing a wonderful job.” “You’re not alone.” Or, just simply nod and say, “I hear you.”