When I became a mother, I was stopped by friends and random strangers, all sharing the same wisdom. “Enjoy her while she’s young. They grow up so fast.”
I’ll be honest: it felt like a lot of pressure.
I loved my new baby, but there were some moments that I did not enjoy. Sleepless nights. Lonely days. Learning to adjust to the reality that there was a human being who depended on me FOR. EVERYTHING.
I still feel that way. There are days that are over the moon amazing, but there are days that aren’t. Sometimes, I can’t wait for nights out without arranging for a babysitter. Sometimes, I can’t wait for quiet, peaceful meals. Sometimes, I can’t wait to have help with laundry from some of the people whose laundry I am doing.
Sometimes, owning these feelings brings a rush of guilt: they’re only young once. Enjoy it!
Guess what? It’s wrong to assume that any human being would enjoy another human being all the time. I don’t enjoy my children every moment. They enjoy me at every moment! Setting up a relationship with our children where we look for ways to “enjoy” them makes our children into pets: performing to win our stamp of approval or lose our confidence and trust.
There’s good news: children don’t exist to be enjoyed. They are whole human beings with a full range of emotions and life experiences. And the adults in their lives, likewise, exist to be fully human, modeling for children ways to live in the world that honors its fullness.
True and honest relationships with children are far more complex. We are human beings – all of us – human beings who get tired, say the wrong thing, make mistakes.
What if we stopped trying to “enjoy” our children, and practiced staying present with our children? Staying present means honoring the communal space for whatever it brings: joy, wonder, angst, irritability, grief.
- Presence frees my child from a need to preform in order to earn my love and appreciation.
- Presence releases us from the guilt of not “enjoying every moment.”
- Presence is about respecting the human beings — adult and child — who are in real relationships with one another.
- Presence is about authenticity and undivided attention, about being honest about when we are having a lousy day.
- Presence in the middle of the night.
- Presence in the crying at the grocery store.
- Presence in the bedtime stories and impromptu dance parties and baking extravaganzas.
- Presence in the grief of unmet expectations.
As our young ones click through expected milestones of smiling, walking, running, and going off to school, as we mark the years of growth, let’s not grieve their swiftly passing childhoods. Let us not set up the expectation that our children would always be “enjoyable.” Let us instead marvel and wonder at the journey we take with all of the human beings in our lives, recognizing the depth and tenderness that exists in our hearts for all who share our days.