June 30, 2009

Bad News: These are the Best Years

I know we've been over this and over this and over this, but it comes up fresh for me every time it happens and I feel the need to go over it yet again: I was in the store the other day with the kids, and a woman in line ahead of me told me that these were the best years of parenting and I should enjoy them.

When elderly ladies say that to me, I find it easier to let it roll off---though I did once get into a total fret when I was postpartum and TWO old ladies said it to me on one single outing, and I went home almost FRANTIC to Paul, grabbing his shirt and saying, "DO you think these are the best times?? DO you?? Because I am JUST BARELY HOLDING IT TOGETHER" and he thought it over and said, "I think these are the best times to remember," which I think he's exactly right about and now I translate it that way whenever an elderly lady seems to be telling me that it's all downhill from here.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The woman in the store. She wasn't old. She said she had teenagers, and I'd guess she was maybe ten years older than me. I've been in a funk over it for several days now, thinking it's not bad enough, apparently, to be overwhelmed and counting hours and feeling like I'm trapped: I can also now look forward to a future of beating myself up for not enjoying it more.

Part of it was the timing: the children were so demanding and giddy and intolerable on that particular errand, I'd gone over to the luggage section and looked dreamily at the suitcases, fantasizing about buying a nice big set, big enough to last me SEVERAL WEEKS. I'd also fantasized about running the shopping cart "accidentally" into the butt of one or both of my older children to see if THAT would be as funny as BREATHING and WALKING seemed to be. So it was not a receptive moment for hearing that these were the glorious days I would one day long for.

Part of it was her age: as I said, I can handle this kind of thing more easily from someone very elderly. But someone who's only ten years older than me? Surely she can still remember being my age and having children the ages of mine. Surely she can remember all the old ladies telling her to cherish every moment, and surely she can remember how she felt about that. So if SHE is telling me these are the best years, when she has the same information ringing still in her own ears---well, either it's TRUE and it really is a steady downhill roll into the Swamps of Suckitude followed by death, or else I should have shoved her "accidentally" in the butt with my shopping cart.

50 comments:

Kristi said...

That's just uncalled for, really. She probably is sad that her teenagers are drifting away from her and she felt the need to spread around her gloominess. I think every stage in life, whether your kids are babies or you are a grandparent, comes with it's own joys and challenges. And as the amazing humans we are, we choose to forget the crappy stuff and only remember the good.

Every day is the best day of your life.

Nellyru said...

That visual of the frantic grabbing and JUST BARELY HOLDING IT TOGETHER is too funny...possibly only because I feel like that every day right now.

the planet of janet said...

well.

i WAS going to tell you that we slightly-older-than-you folks with teens (and 20s) watch our all-grown-up babies and feel our ovaries twitch at your cute not-grown-up babies.

that we look back with both sadness AND joy at their younger years. sadness because it's gone. and joy ... because it's gone.

believe me, some of us remember.

anyway, i was going to tell you this but then kristi's comment made me feel bad.

so forget it ;-)

Kate said...

I am so with you on this. I've been mulling extensively lately on how much I resent all the pressure that comes with the statements like "cherish it, it goes by so fast!" and whatnot. For one thing, yeah, you get that on a crappy day and your mind definitely goes to "seriously? this is the best?". But even on good days, the ones you wish you could relive over and over, I resent the implication that I somehow have the ability to enjoy it more - that I'm not enjoying it enough and am somehow failing or wasting the good times as a result. Oh and the added implication in the statement that I can somehow stop time/make the good times last longer, if only I tried a little harder.

As if I don't feel enough pressure to get other aspects of parenting right.

I do get why people say these things and I'm sure in a few decades I'll look at parents of young children and want to implore them to enjoy it while I grumble miserably about how the kids never call. Hopefully I'll remember the "savor every moment" advice is about as welcome as "sleep when baby sleeps".

Jess said...

My mom always told me how everyone said to her "just wait until they're teenagers!" and she was all GLOOM AND DOOM and then it turned out that, for her, having teenagers is AWESOME. And she loves having kids in their 20s, too, because she is free from the daily demands and financial obligations but she has two daughters who are happy and close with her.

My point is that, like everything about parenting a small child, as you have expressed so well in past posts, these things are all different for different people. And I'm sure that parenting will be great for you when your kids are a little older and you have a bit more space to call your soul your own, you know?

Sundry said...

I hope when I am a decade older or so my uncalled-for comments to parents of young children will be along the lines of "My god, I remember those days. Please know it will get better, and in the meantime, can I help you more securely strap down your feral child with that length of rope you're fondling?"

Also do you remember people saying that crap to you about HIGH SCHOOL? Like high school was supposed to be the best years of your life? Because I do, I remember that, and what a TOTAL LOAD OF B.S. THAT WAS. Thank GOD.

Shelly said...

I think Paul nailed it. These are the best times to remember. Look how little and cute your kids are. Think how nostalgic you'll feel when your teenage sons and daughters are out with their friends and you pull out a photo album (because you'll have time to make photo albums once they start driving!) and look back at all the adorable pictures of how little and cute they were. You won't be thinking about what a holy handful they were at Target; you'll be thinking about snuggling their little bodies in your lap and sniffing their hair.

Lawyerish said...

It's funny, I've long had the impression from grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, etc., that the best years are when your kids are grown and out of the house.

But who knows, really? Every time in life has its pros and cons. People also say that high school is the best time of your life, which: HAHAHAAAAA, NO. I think that's the perfect illustration of how no one really knows what the heck they're talking about when they make these proclamations.

Angie said...

I remember something with an 18 MONTH old telling me how things don't get any easier, when I was postpartum with my first. I was still not recovered from childbirth and exhausted. My current 18 month old is into everything, and quite exhausting himself. I often think back on the early days when he just needed diaper changes, nursing, and sleep as being great. My first was a bit more needy, though, and I still think back on that comment as mean.

Alice said...

he's a smart one, that paul. it's so much easier to be nostalgic about children when they still LOOK wee and adorable and cute, and forget about how they have the ability to act like wild baboons who just ate glass at that age.

and DUDE, i'm so with sundry. i remember people telling me that highschool was the Best Time In My Life! while i was IN highschool, and the feeling of wanting to jump off a bridge as a result, because OH MY GOD YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME, it only gets worse from here??

and obviously, no. it only gets BETTER.

(uh, until i have children, perhaps ;-) )

Eva said...

I wish you had a little "like" button as on facebook -- I would totally click it right now.

Jewels said...

I think this type of comment happens at all stages of one's life. I remember my older relatives telling me when I was in HIGH SCHOOL "oh, enjoy this, it's the best time of your life." And I was like SERIOUSLY? I HOPE NOT.

It's easy for people to look back and think how great this or that time was, but people who are CURRENTLY in that stage don't want to hear about how much they SHOULD be appreciating it. You don't want to hear about how happy your small children should make you All! The! Time! And I don't want to hear about how lucky I am that I don't have kids yet!

Jules said...

How could she have forgotten how completely awesome it is when all of the kids are finally old enough to do things like brush their own teeth, or get their own school lunches together? I find the range I have now (15 to 7) to be soooo much easier than the younger/toddler stage, even with the attitude of one of them thrown into the mix.

Nowheymama said...

Yes, you should add this to your "the truth for some people post."

Swistle said...

Oh, Janet, that would be a WAY better way for her to have put it! Like if she'd looked affectionately at the little beasts and said, "Oh, sometimes I MISS those days! Mine are teenagers," and then after a pause had added with a merry laugh, "And sometimes NOT," I would have felt like we were TOTALLY BONDING, and also I would have had my feeling that every stage has ups and downs CONFIRMED. But instead I felt like she was saying, "I have it harder than you, and also your life is awesome and you don't even realize it, but _I_ realize because I am older and wiser." Non-bonding!

Mimi said...

Lately I have really been looking forward to the future when my kids are in college and I can buy one of those giant suitcases and hop on a plane to somewhere with my husband. Because I sincerely hope that these years with small children are not the best years of my life.

chroniclesofraw said...

I think it's kind of like this...kids can be difficult at any stage, but people are mostly likely to have positive memories of their children. So, of course, this leads them to believe their kids are so much harder NOW than they were THEN (having only taken with them the BEST memories). There's a psychological term for it... people never remember the past with any real accuracy. So, really this woman is basing her assumption on an exaggerated set of memories. That's my theory anyways. But she should have definitely not said anything!!

d e v a n said...

I think sometimes people just like to make others think that THEY have it much harder than YOU do. It makes them feel self righteous and smart. That's my opinion anyway.
I hate it when people say that to me, because I do TRY to enjoy it but sometimes it's very, very difficult.

Stacie said...

I loathe the guilt that comes with that crap. NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO YOU AREN'T ENJOYING THIS ENOUGH. Especially the moments when they throw themselves screaming on the floor for some random, seemingly trivial reason. You are NOT enjoying that enough. Make sure to take a video so you can cherish those tantrums again and again when your kids are old and your days are filled with empty travel and quiet dinners.

Astarte said...

She was probably having a shitty day, and looked at your kids and remembered the best of times, not the times that she wanted to KEELLL them at the store. I'm sure having teenagers is going to be a tremendous pain in the ass, too, and present a whole new set of problems. I find myself looking at babies and wishing we were back there occasionally, before I come to my senses and remember that, hello, there was no sleep then at all and I was always covered in someone else's bodily fluids!

Still, people should shut their stupid traps. Sheesh. I'm never sure what to say to them, either, so I generally just say, 'mmmm' and move on.

Tina G said...

I have a 20 year old and a 6 year old. The six year old's has driven me absolutely crazy for the last 3 years - but I cry at parades when the cub scouts march by all haphazardly, because I miss my little boy who now is an actual man. It did go by too fast- I can barely remember it and it is so bittersweet when you look back wistfully like I do. I think that is what that mom meant. I am on both sides of this situation, so I get it.

Sam said...

Thus far, twelve is as bad as three. GAH! The problem is that when they are twelve you think that they should be able to act like reasonable fucking human beings. But no! They can't. Except when the urge strikes them. And then they go back to being jackasses two seconds later. And then cry. When their damn feet are bigger than yours and they almost outweigh you. TEARS. I am bitter today. *sigh* At least Egg is too young to roll his eyes at me.

Whimsy said...

You absolutely, no question, should have run your cart into that lady's bum.

Just weighing in.

Miz S said...

As the mom of 2 girls in their early 20's, I can tell you that the teenage years are, ah, very challenging/make you want to rip your hair out* and the woman was probably feeling bitter. But it was still a stupid-ish thing to say. Kids (of any age)are a gigantic pain in the ass at times, and she's young enough to remember that.

*Oh. Um. Just an expression. Hee.

Hillary said...

People just can't look past themselves sometimes. She looked at your kids and got all nostalgic for you her babies and completely missed the fact that you were having fantasies of flight. Chalk it up to humans' native self-centeredness.

Erin said...

A few months ago (or longer?), you left a comment on my blog repeating Paul's perspective on this particular predicament. I have thought about it EVERY SINGLE DAY since then, because it makes SO MUCH SENSE. I already love to remember Calum's babyhood, which was filled 90% with ear infections, severe maternal anxiety, and TEARS.

Perhaps this woman also was having a Bad Stretch with her kids? Perhaps she was trying to make conversation for whatever reason and THIS was what she could think of to say (like talking about the weather)?

Secret Mom Thoughts said...

I think it is totally selective memory. My mom and MIL always telling tales of raising kids and never seem to remember how hard it was. Hang in there.

Lora said...

all mothers know life sucks for all other mothers and I'm convinced that some mothers are evil mothers and they like to make other mothers feel really bad about the way they feel about everything by saying that life is wonderful because the evil mothers feel so guilty about the bad feelings that the only way they can be rid of them is by making other mothers feel inferior and rotten.

evil mothers can burn in hell.

Raven said...

I don't remember anyone telling me that when Sprog was younger, but I do know that having a teenager is hard and most often times sucky. I miss when he liked me, I miss when he would hug me of his own accord more often than not, I miss when everything wasn't an argument all the time. So maybe she's in that moment? The moment of how the hell did I get here and where did that kid go? Maybe she's envious of you with your MULTIPLE children telling you that they love you and hugging you and stuff and just not being realistic about all the work having MULTIPLE, YOUNG, children really is?

Not that it excuses her opening her big mouth about it, because it doesn't.

Kim said...

Ah, the unsolicited, priceless advice from a stranger - my favorite! I love when I (used to) smoke and some a-hole would feel the need to tell me "You know that's bad for your health!" Once I finally got some nerve, I answered back with "So is making comments like that to a stranger."
I once again bow down to your self-control and dignity in a ridiculous situation.

Anonymous said...

I think she was just saying it. It was a platitude, it didn't mean anything, really.

Maybe her kids are getting into all kinds of bad things now that they're teenagers and she can't be home with them because she's a single mom and she has to work at the damn grocery store just to pay the bills...

I really wouldn't acknowledge her statement, much less have a panic attack about it-- she was just blathering on, and you can safely ignore her sentiment.

Sixminutes said...

Now that I have a girl and a boy, this is what I get from the elderly and not-so-elderly: "Oh, the boy is hard now, but just you wait until your girl is a teenager." It always feels like they are putting a curse on me, or telling me I should be punished for how "easy" my daughter is now. But then I remember that people also told us that we couldn't live in a small house near the beach once we had kids, or that we couldn't have hardwood floors (?) when we had kids. People just say stupid shit, you know?

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

I like Paul's comment.

Why, really WHY, do strangers always say things like that? I'm pretty sure I would have accidentally/on purpose hit her with my cart. I agree--if it were said the way Janet would have said it, I wouldn't have felt checkout line rage.

Tess said...

This is the type of topic that makes me stalk the comments. So interesting.

I have always (ALWAYS!) been suspicious of those nostalgic, good-old-days types. It is well documented and researched (I THINK you've read Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, but I can't remember) that we do not accurately remember our past levels of happiness, nor can we accurately predict what will make us happy in the future.

Basically, to sum up what everyone has ALREADY SAID, except with TOO MANY WORDS, we only accurately gauge how we feel NOW.

For myself, I KNOW I've felt happier as my daughter gets older, and like each older age better than each younger age, so far. No way in HELL the newborn/baby years were the "best of my life". I can already FEEL myself getting happier, AS WE SPEAK.

desperate housewife said...

I really liked the comment above about hating the implication that you could maybe be enjoying it more than you currently are. Those "Be sure to enjoy this time!" remarks leave me feeling that even in those moments when I AM enjoying my kids, or at least had a decent day and at no point felt the urge to, say, abandon them at the nearest fire station, that I'm not enjoying it ENOUGH and at some point I'm bound to look back and kick myself for not squeezing a few more ounces of baby-joy out of this PRECIOUS BEAUTIFUL TIME.
It's like, dude, I make myself feel bad about that stuff often enough without hearing it from random strangers!
Note to all rando ass-vise givers: if we look like even halfway decent mothers, you can rest assured that we're fretting and guilting ourselves out enough about our kids' infancy and toddlerhood quite enough all by ourselves, thank you very much. So just tell us what cute kids we've got and what a great job we're doing and leave it at that!

nicole said...

Here's what I think:

Much like every family situation (no kids, lots of kids, adopted kids, blended, so on) has its challenges and advantages, so too does each stage of parenting. Maybe she was having a hard day in teenage parenting land and saw you with your younger children and could only see good things about that stage, in comparison to whatever she was going through. But really, if she thought about it, she would say that there were things she loved AND hated about parenting toddlers, grade schoolers, and now teenagers.

Does that make sense?

Leah said...

I have 3 kids. My oldest is 3. My youngest is 2 mos. I would have started crying right there in the store if someone would have said that to me. I bet she's one of those people who come up to exhausted, achy pregnant ladies in the store and tell them to sleep all they can now because they won't be able to sleep once the baby is born. Like you can store up sleep for later or something stupid like that. Comments like that always make me angry.

Missives From Suburbia said...

Since my son was a baby, I have been utterly sick of the "just wait" people. Both the ones who say, "Oh, you think your life sucks now? Well, just wait until they're toddlers/teenagers/incollegeandnevercallyouagain" and the ones who say, "Oh, you think they're so cool right now? Well just wait until they're walking/talking/goingtopromandgettingknockedupwithyourgrandchildren".

You know what, people? It's all a stage. There are highs and lows, and I will not "just wait". I will deal with what I've got, thanks very much.

Asshats.

Can you tell this bugs me, too? :)

Jen said...

count me in the pissed off camp too.

what i really hated (to piggyback on missives) was when i was pregnant and witnessing some terrible toddler behavior and the mom telling me that mine would be just like that.

uh, thanks?
really, what do you say to that?

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Is there something in the water? Or did you move to my neighborhood? Because I've been getting this comment A LOT lately.

What I can't stand is the tendency to state personal feeling as FACT. (This is perhaps my top pet peeve in life at the moment). Instead of saying "Wow! I miss those years!" or something about her own internal state at the moment, she phrased it like it is an undeniable FACT that is true for all people at all times.

Okay, I *may* have just had a fight with someone who told me that a movie I loved was "terrible" rather than just saying they didn't like it. Maybe I should go fight with them some more since I still need to get it out of my system.

Bea said...

I got really freaked out when I saw a survey of parents that rated the baby/toddler years as one of the easiest in parenting. But then I realized that people fill out those surveys only when they're kids are grown (because they're the only ones who can actually compare), and the problem is they've totally forgotten how freaking hard it is during those years.

I think that the early-childhood years of parenting are easier than the later years only in the same way that being a pioneer is easier than living in modern technological society. It's simpler. But it's also HARDER. And when you're struggling with complex decisions with far-reaching consequences, it's easy to forget how much fortitude it takes to meet the challenges of each day at this age.

The other thing that freaks me out is elderly ladies who come up to me with sad expressions and tell me they never were able to have children - or come up to compliment me on my daughter because they only had sons. I don't mind or resent those remarks - but it's the shock of seeing that the grief is still with them, that it's never gone away.

cakeburnette said...

Don't feel bad. Those people are not telling the truth. Either that, or they had easy little people. Me? I had the two most labor-intensive children known to man. They weren't exactly "bad" per se, but they were never easy, either. The youngest is a year older than your Robert and I spent their entire toddler, preschool & elementary years swearing that if they were any worse as middle schoolers, I was selling them to the first band of gypsies I could find. And lo and behold, I've been blessed to find that they are actually nice little people! They still have their moments (such as this weekend when we were locked in a car with them for 5+ hours and they were soooooo LOUD), but I have to say that THESE are definitely the BEST years. Not those horrible labor-intensive small ones. Nope. Not at all. Hang in there! :)

Kelly said...

thank you for being so REAL. check my blog for a recent entry on my beggin the universe for more people like you!!
swamps of suckitude. love it.

when I was in HS, and everyone was saying "these are the best four years of your life" (and granted, my HS experience was not at all BAD...I just was over it by the 2nd week of freshman year)...I just turned to someone and said once "If this is as good as it gets, someone just club me over the head now cuz this sucks!"

I totally relate to this post. It speaks SO much to the day i had today. Yes we try try TRY to NOT wish away their precious babyhood. But how fabulous is it when they learn to communicate, and then wipe their butts, and then put stuff away, and...sigh. nothing replaces the glory of infancy and early childhood...NOTHING. But damn near nothing is that exhausting either. God had to make them really really really really cute and squishy and lovey and pure joy to balance out the mental madness and lack of sleep and hormonal swings and total and utter frustration!

You really must stop running into people in stores who feel the need to educate you. I am seeing a pattern here. Look bitchier. no one will talk to you . ;) take it from a pro. LOL

the new girl said...

See? This? Is why I love you SO. Not only is this the best-ever post about this subject but it's also teh FUNNIEST.

The visuals of you shaking Paul by his collar and ramming your cart into the butts of people (related to you or not) makes me laugh and laugh and LAUGH.

I think her teenagers are raking her over the coals and she remembers *fondly* the days when she wasn't finding dime bags of pot and bongs that her kids are trying to convince her are vases for cut flowers.

Just my opinion, that.

Laura said...

I laughed so hard I choked on my tea when I read this: "to see if THAT would be as funny as BREATHING and WALKING seemed to be"....very funny lady you are!

I think that anyone who says HS years are the best years...peaked in HS. So maybe this woman "peaked at being a parent" very early in the process!

Anonymous said...

This post makes me realize why I remember so fondly some wisdom passed down from my friend Elena's mother.

We were a handful of high schoolers, worrying over our looks,and Elena's mother--who was very glamorous--said, "Girls. Listen to me when I say this. It's only going to get better."

And she was RIGHT, bless her.

d e v a n said...

My FB status the other day was: I have a headache.

A "friend" said: Trust me, these years at home with your kids are a blessing. Enjoy them now. My kid is xyz and blahblah.

First, I said nothing about my kids. Second, I know I'm blessed. Third, even though I'm blessed - even though I love my kids - this is still HARD.

Jen said...

Fourth: Seriously? You can't have a headache? Must you always be surrounded by cartoon bluebirds? Jeeeeez.

Katy said...

I'm getting CAUGHT UP, so I readthe post, but not the comments. I just want to say that watching my parents, I think that BY FAR they love having grown children more than anything else. They seem happier and more satisfied and like they can finally relax because my brother and I have not killed ourselves and are reasonably productive. I don't thin, parenting is ever EASY, but the older mine gets, the more I like him. Every person is different.

Anonymous said...

You are funny - you just made me laugh out loud at the office: "I'd also fantasized about running the shopping cart "accidentally" into the butt of one or both of my older children to see if THAT would be as funny as BREATHING and WALKING seemed to be."