What People Really Mean When They Say ‘Enjoy Every Moment’

The other day, I was in a restaurant with my family, when my three-year-old decided to act like a three-year-old. I’d like to blame fatigue, hunger or any other excuse you might be willing to buy, but the truth is, he was just being a ridiculous pain in the ass.

To be fair, he has very little control over his impossible three-year-old behavior. Like every other toddler on the planet, his frontal lobe is not fully developed, so he’s impulsive, and has the emotional stability of a hungry pregnant woman. His brain will eventually mature, and he will outgrow some of the things that make me want to pack my bags and drive until I run out of gas. In the meantime, I have to live with him, and take him places. Sometimes those places are in public.

I can’t even remember what precipitated the incident, but for whatever reason, my son was a mess. He attempted to climb under the table, throw his utensils on the ground, and smack his sister for no good reason. All of this occurred in a matter of seconds. Just as I rose from my chair to carry him out of the restaurant, it happened. From a small table, just a few feet away, came the voice, “Enjoy every minute, mom. It goes so fast.” A woman in her mid-fifties met my gaze.

My internal dialogue was mostly swear words at this point, but I reacted the way any other decent person would react; I laughed politely and flashed her a quick smile. The oblivious woman was no-doubt reminiscing about her own time in the trenches. She made a few more harmless, but completely nonsensical comments as I carried a now thrashing 40 lb punk out of the crowded restaurant.

When I got to the car and calmed the storm with a few packs of fruit snacks, I thought about what I wanted to say to the woman in the restaurant. There was no malice in her comment, and she was nothing but polite, but still, her words were like salt in an open wound. The last thing I wanted to hear when I was on the edge of losing my cool, was someone telling me I should be enjoying it. As though, by not enjoying it, I didn’t appreciate the gift of motherhood.

Why are parents told to enjoy every moment? You need the good and the bad to develop appreciation, and I’m certainly appreciative. I’m grateful to be a mother, but I’m also allowed to be frustrated, discouraged, or even angry. I’m only human, and humans have feelings and emotions outside of joy. I don’t enjoy every moment of motherhood, especially when those moments involve me nearly being stabbed with a fork at Olive Garden.

While I’ve never been on the other side of the fence—the fence being a life without toddlers—I can imagine it’s a lot like child birth. Once it’s over, you know it was pretty bad, but you don’t truly remember how bad. You only remember the good stuff. The moment the nurse handed you your baby for the first time. The smell of their head, the tiny clothes they grew out of impossibly fast, and the feeling that your heart might actually explode with happiness.

I’m certain the lady in the restaurant meant no harm, she was simply carried back to a time when she cared for toddlers of her own. She didn’t remember the frustration of dealing with their irrational behavior, or the embarrassment of their public meltdowns, although I’m sure it happened to her, too. It happens to all of us, but she’s too far removed. She didn’t feel what I felt in the heat of that moment. She wasn’t there when my son threw his shoes at me in Target, or spilled his cup in the kitchen that morning. She didn’t rush through her meal, hoping to avoid a scene. She only saw my little boy, and she remembered the chubby hands, sweet snuggles, and adorably mispronounced words that mark the toddler years.

So, to the lady in the restaurant, I get it. You said, “enjoy every moment”, but what you really meant was, “I miss my babies when I look at yours.” And that is something I can definitely appreciate.

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2 thoughts on “What People Really Mean When They Say ‘Enjoy Every Moment’

  1. We tell you to enjoy it, not to be rude or throw ‘salt on a wound’ We say it because we know some day you will be missing it… yes EVEN the tantrums and hunger breakdowns(not just the chubby hands and squishy cuddles). How do we know?? We’ve been there and now on the other side…. when our lives are a little too quiet and too organized and too tidy, Yes, we MISS the chaos of raising our children. We DO remember vividly the embarrassment and frustration and we are telling you, we miss ALL of it. Because along with those moments comes the love, laughter and liveyness of raising children. We tell you to enjoy it because we now realize there is no need to be embarrassed, we know your child’s meltdown is not a reflection of your parenting worth. We know (now) that it is a normal developmental milestone, all children go through. It was her way of saying, you’re an excellent mom who is not being judged by your child tantrum. We’ve been there and we miss it and YES we wish we would have let those feelings of frustration and embarrassment go and just enjoy the moment of watching our children develop.
    TBH – every time I hear myself say, enjoy it or they grow up so fast, I secretly cringe because I too used to feel like you (and wanted to scream at the woman saying it to me) … but now the mother of three daughters 15,18, 21… I get it, and now I say it!!!

  2. I’m tearing up reading this because as of a mom of a 26 and 24 year old of course we don’t mean “enjoy it” but we absolutely mean “what I would give to have my babies be babies again”. Because they have grown up (much to our credit) but that makes us lonely and sad that we didn’t appreciate them more when they were still home. So, you are right, we are not feeling sad for you but sad for ourselves when we say “enjoy every moment”. Someday you will be here too. Peace!

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