If they can, they probably are; if they can’t, it makes them feel worse
This is not a diatribe against people who have used the “cherish” phrase. I generally have affection for the well-meaning people (usually older women) who bestow this phrase upon every mother who ever existed. And it is usually mothers of young ones who are the recipients of this sentiment, right? As though motherhood is so natural and wonderful for every woman that we ought to be always reveling in our role and in our children.
“Cherish every moment!” “They grow up so fast!” “Enjoy this while you can!”
I’m sorry, but I am incapable of cherishing every moment when my infant is screaming in my ear because he is surely hungry while simultaneously suffering from gas pains. Or while changing yet another poopy diaper from my toddler who is physically ready but emotionally unwilling to use the potty. Or skipping or modifying most social events due to the sleeping and caregiving needs of my children.
Or, insert any number of stories here: stressing about the formula shortage while also watching your paycheck be poured into buying said formula after a long battle trying breastfeeding. Spending your breaks at work pumping in a bathroom stall even if you’re legally entitled to a proper pumping space, because you don’t want to make waves. Bouncing a colicky baby until your back seizes up and your arms go numb. Cleaning up your freshly mopped floor (a miracle that happens once every several months) after your toddler dumped their entire plate of food off their tray. Carrying your screaming, kicking child football-style under your arm out of the grocery store.
No, we will not be cherishing every moment. Aside from maybe the most Zen of moms (who are you, and how did you do it, by the way?), not every moment is exactly cherishable.
But aside from the obvious that there are many, many hard times raising small children (and children of every age, but this phrase is usually reserved for mothers of little kids), it does absolutely no good to tell a mom to cherish every moment.
If she can cherish “every” (read: a reasonable amount) moment, she probably already is.
If she cannot cherish every moment, this will only serve to make her feel worse.
If she is suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD, she cannot cherish every moment. If she spends too much time parenting solo, feeling unsupported by the “village” we are supposed to need to raise children, she cannot cherish every moment. If she is stressed by finances and had to go back to work in a way she didn’t want to in order to keep food on the table, she cannot cherish every moment. If she must stay at home caring for the children even though she’d like to work because her family cannot afford childcare compared to the wages she’d bring in, she cannot cherish every moment. If she has a child with any kind of special needs that demands particular attention, knowledge, and patience beyond what she is consistently able to give, she cannot cherish every moment.
Hell, she can even have dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom her whole life, have a village of family support around her, and have healthy, beautiful children, and she STILL DOESN’T HAVE TO CHERISH EVERY MOMENT.
There is immense societal pressure on moms to have it all together, to unequivocally enjoy their roles as mothers. Moms nowadays are well aware that there are plenty of humans out there who would like to be parents but who for whatever reason (suitable partner, health or financial reasons, infertility, adoption expenses, on and on) cannot be parents. We don’t want to seem ungrateful. And we also don’t want to seem like we’re failing in our roles as mothers, because look at all the other moms on social media! They seem so happy, and their children are clean! And smiling in coordinated outfits! And eating healthy meals! With the family!
As a therapist, I hear people add an apology after they complain about something their child did or about the work of being a parent: “I mean but I love them more than anything, of course,” as if I would doubt that fact just because they named something hard about parenting.
When you are in the depths of being utterly unable to enjoy most, or even some (much less every!) moment, it feels terrible. It’s not like you just needed someone to remind you that the moments go by quickly and so you should enjoy them while they last. Oh! That’s right, I just forgot!
No, when you cannot enjoy every moment, the moments do not go by quickly. They go by very, very slowly (except the brief moments you have to yourself, which do go by very quickly). You feel like you might be drowning in the number of moments filled with exhaustion, bodily fluids, crying, yelling, and your own aching body. It might feel like there are so many insurmountable moments ahead of you that you don’t know how you will make it out alive. All you want is for someone to turn the clock faster because this moment is just so hard.
For someone who feels this way, they usually feel terrible for feeling this way. They wish they could feel any other way. They wish they could look into their children’s faces with joy and amazement each moment. They wish they felt how they are “supposed to” feel. And then they heap shame upon themselves for their struggle.
All I’m saying is, don’t add to the shame. When you want to tell someone to cherish every moment, maybe try these phrases instead:
“Can I come over and watch the kids for you while you have some time to yourself? How about this week?”
“Can I bring you a home-cooked meal? Would Tuesday or Thursday work?”
“You’re doing a great job even when it’s hard. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to love every moment.”
“You are the parent those kids need.”
And (if you’re close enough to them): “How are YOU really doing?”
Then perhaps, with enough support and the freedom to be with her feelings, exactly as they are, the mom might find a little more space to cherish a “reasonable amount” of moments.
❤️ Relieving shame one moment at a time, together. ❤️
Signing off for now, friends –