This post may seem like a rant. It’s not intended to be. I’m not even angry. It’s just me analyzing life in general and trying to get past the myths of motherhood. (For the record, I know how bologna is really spelled, but this alternate spelling seemed like the best fit when used as an exclamatory phrase.)
Do you know what one of my least favorite pieces of “advice” is when I complain about something I’m struggling with (because I am a horrible person and I do complain)? It’s this juicy morsel: “Just wait. One day they’ll be grown and gone, and you’ll miss it.”
That’s a bunch of hogwash. (a.k.a. Baloney.)
I happen to believe that parenting is a little like cancer, not only because it slowly kills you (I’m kidding. Kind of.), but because it comes in stages. (On the bright side, anyone who has had cancer or any other life-changing trial will testify that it is a refining fire and brings them closer to God. Also, I haven’t really thought this analogy all the way through, so take it with a grain of salt.) Stage 1 is a very physically demanding stage– it’s the baby and toddler years where everything you do is awash in a haze of diapers and sleepless nights and picking up toys and doing laundry. You wonder if your body and mind will ever return. I’d say there’s about a 50% chance of full recovery.
Stage 2– where I am now– is when your children finally break free from total dependence and start to exert a tiny bit of functional intelligence. It means you can step outside and talk to your neighbor on the driveway for 5 minutes and leave your children unsupervised (with an obvious level of assumed risk). It means you can give out chores and instructions and expect that they can be done. Unfortunately, this functional intelligence does not come with a social compass or any real common sense, so you spend most of your day listening to your children argue with each other about absolutely meaningless things or constantly talk about poop, farts, or how hilarious it would be if so-and-so tripped and fell in the toilet, etc. As far as I can tell, this is the mentally exhausting phase because, for the most part, you are required to have conversations throughout the day that make your brain want to explode if you haven’t already self-combusted due to a completely depleted reserve of patience. You also find yourself repeating the same requests and family rules over and over and over and over and over again and wondering if your children’s brains will ever work rationally. Again, I’d say there’s about a 50% chance.
Stage 3. The teenage years. I haven’t been there yet, but I’ve spent a lot of my years working with youth either professionally (as a teacher) or in church callings. All I can say about this stage is that it seems like it will probably be the most emotionally challenging one. There will be much to worry about as you watch your children grow and make decisions of their own– often wrong decisions. You will be in the line of fire of their own hormonal and emotional roller coaster. There are clearly some things to look forward to (like *maybe* kind of real conversations and camaraderie), but let’s not be naive– it will be challenging.
Stage 4. This is the stage that Matt and I fantasize about the most– the one where they go off to college or on missions and we only have our very own messes to clean up at home. I obviously have no real experience with this stage either and I know that like every other stage, it is fraught with challenges. Adult children still make lots of dumb decisions and come face to face with a cruel world, and you probably struggle with how much to help and how much to let them struggle. I imagine it is a stage of worry and anxiety with respect to your children, and perhaps a little longing to be more a part of their lives.
However, I promise that when I am in stage 4 parenting, I will not miss stage 1 and 2 parenting. Will I miss my children and the joys that were a part of that stage? Absolutely. I will sometimes crave the sweet little newborn head that fits just right in the crook of my neck. I’ll miss the eyes that stare up at me with unending trust and love while the baby nurses. I’ll miss the giggling, the tickling, the hugs and kisses, the holding hands. Oh, the holding hands. It’s one of my favorite things– how they reach up for your hand instinctively as you walk them to preschool or through the Costco parking lot, how they choose to be connected to you. I’ll miss looking over and seeing them sitting on the couch with their arms around each other reading a book together. In short, there are plenty of things I’ll miss.
But I won’t miss what I’m complaining about in each stage. I can’t imagine myself in my golden years reaching for the TV remote and wishing that someone had hidden it under the couch cushions. I won’t walk into a room to find it exactly the way I left it and then wish that there were Legos and wrappers from sneaked food on the floor. I won’t do a project from start to finish and wish I had been interrupted for 3 diaper changes and argument arbitration. I’ll admit that I sometimes might think it’s too quiet. Maybe.
So in summary, when young mothers whine about their exhausting struggles, please don’t tell us that we’ll miss them when our children are grown. Should we wish it all away? No. Should we cherish the parts we love in every stage we’re in? Absolutely. We will miss our children and the loveliest points of parenthood (and of course there will be new challenges at every stage), but we’ll happily kiss the hard parts goodbye. President Monson says I’m wrong.
“If you are still in the process of raising children, be aware that the tiny fingerprints that show up on almost every newly cleaned surface, the toys scattered about the house, the piles and piles of laundry to be tackled will disappear all too soon and that you will—to your surprise—miss them profoundly.”
I can’t help but think that when he says “them,” he means the children, and not the fingerprints and laundry. Am I delusional? What do you think?