We’ve all experienced it. For me, it’s usually a kind, well-meaning elderly woman at the grocery store. I’m trying to get everything on my list as quickly as possible before my children finish whatever treat I’ve given them as a bribe to be quiet and for heaven’s sake, stay in the cart and no, don’t lick the handle! She smiles indulgently, says hello to my sticky, hyperactive darlings who are probably shoplifting, and then looks at me and says, “Enjoy it. It goes by so fast.”
As far as parenting advice goes, this is probably the most unhelpful. Logically, I know that I will miss this season of life and all the other stages too. I know that one day my kids will be grown and, God willing, thriving and independent adults. But while people are quick to remind me that it’s important to “enjoy every second because they grow up quickly,” no one ever tells you how you’re supposed to that. The fun and good moments are easy. Enjoy their little bodies pressed into mine for a snuggle? Done. The giggles and inside jokes? Check. But how am I supposed to treasure every dirty diaper, the sleepless nights, the illnesses, the mundanity that comes with being a mom?
It is so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day; the dirty dishes, the all-night feedings, the tantrums. But in the midst of dealing with little people who argue, whine, laugh, and cry all within five minutes, I’ve begun challenging myself to take the long view, to look to the future. As I mediate yet another squabble over the prized yellow bowl, I need to remember that this, these moments of teaching my kids kindness and sharing and patience, is my job. Motherhood, in all of its messy glory, is my work. In fact, it’s more than that; it’s my vocation. A vocation is more nuanced, more meaningful than a mere job. It evokes a calling, work that is “particularly worthy and requiring great dedication.” And what requires more dedication, passion, discipline, and gravity than raising the next generation? What would it be like to approach the daily, weekly, monthly business of being a mom like it was my vocation? To stop focusing on the obnoxious minutiae of life with two small children, the things that tend to bog me down in self-pity and irritation or even boredom, and instead embrace the bigger picture.
I’m also attempting to let go of unrealistic/unmet expectations. We all tend to create expectations of what our family will look and be like and oftentimes, that doesn’t mesh with reality. These expectations can be internal or external, self-imposed or forced onto us by others. And regardless of their origin, they often leave us dissatisfied, wishing for what we think we should have instead of focusing on what we do have, the children we are parenting in the here and now, in this house, with this budget, with these particular set of strengths and weaknesses. Similarly, comparison, especially via social media, tends to create an impossible standard of parenting perfection. If an Instagram-worthy home with perfectly behaved angel children dressed in coordinating outfits who can write complete sentences in French is my expectation, then you can bet I’m going to be frustrated and disappointed with my own messy, opinionated offspring who find great delight in yelling “poopy!” at each other. We can’t do our jobs properly if we’re not working within clear and attainable parameters.
To be quite honest, this shift in my thinking has been extremely difficult. For one thing, I’m human. For another, I’m a results-driven kind of gal and parenting is often unsatisfactory in this regard. I like immediate gratification, immediate results, and motherhood is full of moments where you don’t see results, don’t feel appreciated, don’t get the gold star. But keeping the end goal in sight— raising children with character and integrity— reignites my joy in being a mom, allowing me to inch a little closer to remembering that “the days are long, but the years are short.”