Why are there so many parenting clichés? From the moment we reveal that we are expecting a little bitty life changer, we seem to elicit a reel of repeated responses. And it never stops. Even though I have only been a mom for a little over two years, each stage of my daughter’s life has brought on a deluge of clichéd sayings.
“You are carrying so high, it is clearly a boy.”
“It’s just a phase.”
“Has she hit the terrible twos?”
“Oh, this is the best age!”
However, the one that I have seen the most vitriol for recently is “Enjoy this moment; it goes by so quickly.”
Why the hate for a phrase that is so optimistic and firmly planted in the truth?
I get it—I really do. It is hard to appreciate being pooped on. There isn’t much to relish when you are wrangling a screaming toddler on an airplane. When it is four in the morning and you have been up all night with no sign of sleep in sight, being a mom feels lonely, hopeless, and empty.
My daughter was not what people would call a “good sleeper” as an infant. Starting at a month old people would ask if she was sleeping through the night, and I had to fight the urge to simultaneously laugh, cry, and punch them in the face. She was not—not at all. I read every book I could find. I tried almost everything, but my high-spirited and strong-willed baby (as my pediatrician dubbed her) would not relent.
I tried white noise and warming up the mattress. I swaddled with arms in, swaddled with arms out, I took the swaddle off. Every night I held her in my arms and rocked and rocked and rocked. I sang and shushed and paced. I sobbed into the night, looking out at buildings of darkened windows that hid, I was sure, mothers who were better than me sleeping soundly in their beds, and their infants snoring softly in their own cribs.
I felt like a failure. I felt alone. And yet, there would always come the point of the night (or early, early morning) where my sweet baby would quiet down, fluttering her eyes until she fell asleep in my arms. I would look down at her face grateful that, in spite of what the rest of the night had been like, I got to experience this. I was given this gift of watching sleep envelope her body and wash over her face. I would think This is it. This is what I need to soak in. This is what will go by too quickly.
It wasn’t the crying, it wasn’t the lack of sleep, it wasn’t the feeling of inadequacy: it was my daughter’s need for me. Even at two years old, she doesn’t need me like that anymore. She won’t always want to touch me so much, she won’t always ask for my help. Soon, she won’t need me much at all. And that is what I cling to. That is what gives me the peace to survive the next day.
I think that many people dislike this cliche because they think it means they should always be happy in these difficult times, or they should always be able to do it all on their own—no. Just no. Accepting help does not mean you don’t appreciate the fleeting time you have. Admitting you need answers has no bearing on your role as a mom. Parenting is hard and messy work, and it is OK to not love every single part of it. Yes, I can long for sleep and still love my baby. I can hate changing dirty diapers and still be grateful to have my child. I can hate the tantrum and love the toddler. But the truth is that these moments will happen—there is no getting around them. The only thing holding me up in these times is that it will go by so quickly. She will not be this age forever. Sleepless nights and diapers and potty training and tantrums will not last forever. This will end, we will move on to the next stage, and soon she will fly away on her own. And I will miss some of these moments—as hard as it is to believe at the time. Repeating these words to myself simply keeps my head above water long enough to conjure up the energy to seek that help and find those answers. To see the forest past the trees.
So when a friend of mine is clearly having a rough time, struggling with lack of sleep and feelings of loneliness, I will remind her that this is not forever. And then I will take her baby and order her to take a well-deserved nap.