Should we really treasure every moment?

Ruth Strange explains why many parenting articles leave her feeling exhausted

About once a month, a particular type of article floats across my digital landscape. They are usually written by mothers  of children a good few years older than mine. Sometimes the article is prompted by the first (or last) of their offspring flying the nest, sometimes it’s a graduation or another significant milestone; but the premise of the article is that their baby (or babies) are all grown up, and it’s gone so fast. The message, aimed at us mothers of younger children, is that we must, simply must, no matter what … treasure every moment.

The days are long, but the years are short … the time will fly by … they grow up so fast … so, don’t hesitate to leave the housework and sit on the floor with your children and breathe them in and drink them up, and READ and LAUGH and LOVE. At all times!

It’s a beautiful sentiment and I inevitably find myself welling up because I just don’t do that. I snap and nag at my children; I tell them I’m too busy to play and I sometimes long for the school holiday to end. I fail miserably to treasure every moment.

However, more recently, along with the teary-eyes, guilt and feelings of failure, comes doubt. Even if I tried to treasure every second with my children, could I do it? And you know, I don’t think I could and I suspect I may not be alone.
I didn’t treasure the way I felt in the hours after my firstborn arrived by emergency C-section or the agony of the early days of breastfeeding. I didn’t treasure the first time I accidently dropped the Moses basket (with my baby in it) or the days when I felt utterly lost because I didn’t know how to feel like a mother.

I did not treasure the moment when my two-year-old fell into the corner of the coffee table and blood poured down his face, or the time my four-year-old threw up seven times in one night while we were staying with friends. And I didn’t treasure those moments when I had to leave him, crying, at a school in a foreign country when we first moved here.

Of course, those were the days before I was told so often that I should be treasuring every moment. I have since heard it repeatedly. So now …? Nope. Still can’t do it.

I don’t treasure the moments when all three of my children reject the food I have cooked for them (again) or the constant need to mediate the injustices my boys mete out upon one another. I don’t treasure the nights when they cough and cough or the times my toddler whacks me in the face. I don’t treasure dealing with vomit, diarrhoea, snot and the months when it seems we have one illness after another.

Then there’s the simply mundane, the everyday. I am deeply, deeply thankful for these days. Watching the news reminds me how dependent we are on God’s mercy, and how many people’s lives are wrecked by circumstances beyond their control. So, I am not complaining about my life. I am indescribably grateful for school days, weekends, routines, my washing machine, our relative wealth.

However. My children will go to school approximately 200 times this year, give or take. They will come home from school, God willing, the same number of times. Will I treasure them coming back through the door every single time? I promise you I won’t. I just can’t live at that level of heightened emotion!

I have no doubt there will be moments, maybe several a day, when I will be overwhelmed by God’s gift to me in my children. But they also need to put down their school bags, and I need to check their homework diaries; they have to go to the toilet (because neither boy will go at school), take off and put away their shoes, get changed, and get to the table for some lunch. It doesn’t sound much, but that little routine can be unbelievably hard work. I’ll try to treasure it. Sometimes. But not every day. I don’t have the energy!

Maybe it’s my interpretation of what it means to treasure every moment which is at fault. (There are never practical guidelines in these articles.) But it strikes me that these things are almost always born out of a mother’s regret that she didn’t treasure the moments more fully, more consistently. I want to say that maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s normal. Maybe none of us can live at such a state of emotional awareness all the time that we can always be mindful of the big picture and the eternal perspective, and the fact that a day is coming when our children will be all grown up. And I don’t really want to feel guilty about that. It will be years before all my children leave home and the thought of trying to treasure every moment is utterly exhausting to me!

So I won’t. I won’t try. I will cherish my children, and adore them and discipline them, and do my absolute best to be the mother God wants me to be. But, when I reach that stage when the nest is suddenly empty, I hope I will look back and say, “I didn’t treasure every moment. Some of them sucked! I was a lousy mother some days. They were horrible children on occasion. There were ups and there were downs. But God saw us through. I am thankful for every happy memory, and every forgotten mundane day and week and month God gave us.”

And I will treasure him, and his plans for my children, and trust them to him for the future, and forever.