We've all done it before: scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed, you see a sweet video of a mom and her cutie-pie baby. Before you can stop yourself, you click to play it. It's a montage of cute pictures and a description of how hard it is to be a new parent. Inevitably, it winds around to the conclusion: Enjoy Every Moment (TM), because your kids will be grown before you know it. Sometimes there is even a shot of an old lady who is yearning to be with her young children once again.
You ponder on it for a second; try to imagine yourself as an old lady with your kids grown. You feel a pang of loneliness as you imagine the silence of a house without teeny tiny children in it. You imagine the sound of the absence of their high-pitched voices; the sound of no teeny feet running down the hallway. It feels like an impossibility, and yet you know that this is where your life is going.
There is value to the idea of focusing on the present moment-- not being caught up in the past or the future. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, and is healthy for everyone to practise.
But that's not exactly what we have here. This is sort of an emotional hostage-taking, directed at a vulnerable group of people: new moms. There's sort of an implied threat that if a mom doesn't Enjoy Every Moment (TM), their kids will grow up and leave them and then they will become the lonely old lady at the end of the video.
Of course you can get enjoyment out of parts of early motherhood—even most of it. For some folks, it is one of the best times of their lives. They love having a teeny-weeny little bundle of love and poop to cuddle and swaddle and kiss and hug. That's wonderful. But for even the happiest new moms, there are struggles. Sleeplessness, body changes, hormone dips and swirls, and changes to the relationship are things that all post-partum moms experience.
Also, I would argue that despite what some moms claim, all moms experience ennui while caring for their children. Changing diapers fifteen times in a day is not an exciting prospect. Baby colds are the worst thing in the world. There are so many opportunities for things to go terribly wrong that even the most laid-back parent will have dozens of periods of debilitating worry.
The unspoken argument is that this is a new mom's lot—this is what moms should expect, and even enjoy. There is some latent misongyny in the gendered-ness of this sort of emotional hostage-taking. The idea that women should be so much more devastated than men to have their children grow up implies that women should be more defined by their role as mother than men.
(And, yes, I am being purposefully binary here. There is no room for non-binary parents in this heteronormaltive, cisnormaltive parenting model. There's a whole lotta erasure going on here.)
When I returned to work with a (gasp!) 7-month-old at home, I was asked multiple times a day whether I missed my children, and whether I felt like I was a bad mom for leaving them with someone else. My husband, who returned to work within the first month of each child's life, was asked maybe half a dozen times TOTAL whether he missed his kids. He was NEVER asked whether he felt like he was a bad dad for leaving his children to go to work.
These experiences are not unique, and they help to create an emotional landscape that informs each person's assumptions about their roles and duties. Although likely well-intentioned, they are microagressions, reinforcing the notion that moms should feel guilty about leaving their kids, and that they should miss their kids. This meme message does the same thing; implies that mothers should feel guilt for not enjoying their children when they're very young.
Even when I returned to work from returning to work (long story) when my kids were 3 and 6 years old, I was asked many times whether I missed my kids. “Hell, no!” I would respond. “Little kids are the worst.” I could tell that my answer was shocking. Perhaps I could have couched it in more caring terms, but you know what? I didn't feel like it. I figured that since they asked me, they wanted my answer. I don't feel like I should consider other people's feelings about my answer to a question that THEY ASKED ME.
These notions to Enjoy Every Moment (TM) serve to override a mother's own experiences and feelings with what she SHOULD be experiencing and feelings. Although again well-intentioned, it is a silencing mechanism. If I want to take the Facebook to complain about my children's terrible behaviour, I should be able to do so without someone telling me that I will miss these times, so enjoy them while I can. No thank you!
Sure, it's cute to see a little-teeny-tiny baby, and to remember when your babies were so teeny. And that's okay. It's okay to flip through your photo album, or your Instagram feed, and reminisce about those little bundles of poop and spit-up. It's okay to coo over a brand-new babester. But none of that means that you need to feel like you have to Enjoy Every Moment.
What do you think? Have you ever been pressured to be grateful for your motherhood experience?
Featured image is by Donnie Ray Jones via Flickr, available under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.
AJ writes and gardens, and tries to practise radical vulnerability from her duplex in Canada. She loves watching RuPaul's Drag Race and queer indie theatre productions. She has two kids, a Shiba Inu, and a coffee maker with a timer that brews it while she wakes up each morning. She does freelance writing and editing—check her out here.