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What I'll Tell New Moms Instead of 'Enjoy Every Minute'

The first few times I was urged by seasoned mothers to “enjoy every single, solitary minute” of my children’s childhood, I felt a mixture of agitation, resentment and self-recrimination.

I knew these soft-eyed women meant well. And I knew, even, what they meant—in retrospect, from the lens of an empty nest, their babies having morphed from soft-cheeked cherubs to grown people with body hair, politics, homes and spirits of their own. It goes by so fast.

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Their admonishment even seems to imply a wink of regret, an admittance that they didn’t enjoy every minute but wish they would have, now that they know that all the difficult moments melt away, that the years of diaper changing and tantrums and even the tempest of adolescence passes. They offer these words to us out of love and truth and wistfulness.

And yet, it’s like telling someone to enjoy every moment of life. Life, with its gorgeous moments of breathless sex and that first sip of coffee in the morning and quarter moons and tropical fish, and life with its broken toes and death, with its diarrhea and miscarriages.

When I first heard those words, nearly always uttered as I waited in line to pay for groceries, my colicky infant strapped to my chest in a sling, I was still trying to shrug off the remnants of postpartum depression. I’d gained a beautiful son, but lost the life I’d loved before. I hadn’t slept for more than three uninterrupted hours in months. From my postpartum haze, hearing those words stung. Not only was new parenthood not supposed to be so hard, but in fact, I should be enjoying every single minute!

I didn’t expect to absorb the martyr mother mythology. My own mother, while she stayed at home with my brother and me for most of our childhood, also had her own life. She owned businesses and made art and jewelry. She volunteered, traveled and spent time with friends.

Like my mom, I’d planned to continue doing the things I loved to do when I became a parent. And yet, once my son was born, I got lost.

At an achingly slow pace, I began to reinstate self-care. For me, that meant occasional yoga classes, returning to my beloved writing group, and after almost two years of being a full-time stay-at-home mom, enrolling my son in part-time childcare.

I enjoy many more moments since I stopped feeling so guilty about taking care of myself.

Now, as I army crawl out of the trenches of early motherhood, my baby boy is 5 and my daughter almost 3, I can already see how fast it all goes. I believe what I didn’t truly believe in those early months and years: my kids will keep growing. In the jagged first months, the Groundhog Day stage of early parenting, where the days blurred together, a loop of diapers and feeding and tears, I partially believed that phase would last forever.

It didn’t.

I get it—it goes by fast.

I understand what compels women to say, “enjoy every minute.”

But I don’t think it’s what most new mothers need to hear.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me:

Take good care of yourself so you can enjoy more moments.

Go to yoga class. Go back to work. Work less. Have a date night. Lock yourself in the bathroom for five minutes and scream and cry and breathe. Join a roller derby team. Write a book. Go to the movies every Wednesday night with a friend. Do whatever it is that you desperately crave doing but feel too guilty to do because you think you should be enjoying every minute with your kids.

Listen to the deep, hushed voice inside you that whispers what you need.

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My deep, hushed voice first said, "I need alone time." After months of pondering and mountains of guilt, we made the decision to enroll our son in part-time childcare so I could have time to write and go to yoga class and fold the laundry without someone immediately unfolding it. Over time, the hushed voice said, "write more." And we shifted things around again. Life got better and better.

I don’t enjoy every moment of anything, including my children. But I enjoy many more moments since I stopped feeling so guilty about taking care of myself. And when my children are grown, and my eyes go soft at the sight of a new mom holding her wide-eyed infant in line at the grocery store, I hope I remember this.

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