I'm going to say it all again, though I'm pretty sure that I've said this all before. I'm also going to take a chance and be that annoying person at whom mothers of young children have been sounding off at in the blogosphere in the recent past. (Hmmm... try to diagram that sentence.) But I think I'm in a unique position to do this.
More than once I've come across little tirades about older women coming up to mothers of young children in a store and (usually when the child is having some difficulties) reminding the younger mothers to appreciate every single moment because it all goes so fast. While meant in the best possible way, it seems as though these comments only serve to annoy the young mother rather than help to change her perspective.
Since I live in both worlds. I have a few things to say about this. And you know what? My sympathies lie with the older women. On one hand, I have a 20 year old daughter who will be graduating from college in two more semesters and is starting to talk about apartments and such after graduation. On the other, I have four year old twin girls who are sweet and adorable and loud and opinionated. They rank right up there with some of my more trying toddlers and preschoolers to raise. I love them to death, but they can be quite a handful. I know what it's like to be the frustrated and tired parent of small children.
What these older women are trying to give to the younger ones is perspective, and perhaps try to spare them the regrets that they have themselves. Because even if the younger mothers don't want to hear it or are tired of hearing it or even think that they believe it, the years really do go by far too quickly. It doesn't seem that long ago that M. was a little two year old and I wonder how I lost track of so much time that she is now 20. I look at photos of my college age children as toddlers and there is an ache there. I miss my children as little children. There are some moments that this ache is so strong that I would happily take one of the tantruming, screaming moments that so drove me wild just to be able to hold that little person one more time.
We want to share with younger mothers that they will feel this way, too. We want to tell them to appreciate this incredibly brief moment where they can hold a child on their lap and kiss their soft cheek. To relish it. To see it for the very brief and miraculous gift that it is. To have no regrets in looking back on their time with their young children.
This is one of the best things about late-in-life babies and why grandparents have such love for their grandchildren. Because it's like getting a second chance. You've raised children and the speed which it went took you by surprise. It felt as though the sleepless nights, the tantrums over clothes, the messes, the diapers, the myriads of inconveniences which go along with raising small children would never end, but it did, before you were quite ready for it. And then these new babies came along. Yes the sleepless nights were trying, but you knew, really knew this time, that they would end. Those middle-of-the-night nursings became like secret stolen moments between you and the baby. The tantrums were still not pleasant, but are less likely to be taken as a personal insult to your authority and more likely to be seen for what they are... signs of a tired or frustrated child in need of love. (And yes, sometimes that love looks like being tucked into bed.) This longer perspective colors everything about parenthood and gives you new appreciation of it all.
The trouble is, to really communicate this takes so much more time than a quick comment in a grocery store. But the feelings are so strong and so powerful that they cry out to be communicated. This is what those women are saying... relish this time, even if it seems hard; love your children; relish the process; be thankful for the opportunity. Because we know without a doubt that tomorrow (or at least that is what it will feel like), your child will be grown and you will have moments of wishing you could go back and hug that screaming toddler crying for candy in the middle of the store.
So the next time you receive an unwanted comment, take it for what it is... a reminder that we cannot know what lies ahead of us and that regrets are difficult things to live with. Say thank you and give your child a smile or a hug, even if you don't feel like it. Chances are, you will be glad you did.