Why we should stop telling new parents to 'enjoy every moment'

Becoming a parent, like life generally, is full of ups and downs.
Becoming a parent, like life generally, is full of ups and downs. Photo: Getty Images

A few weeks ago, some dear friends of mine had their first baby. As the proud dad texted me a picture, along with her name, I had to fight the natural instinct to say "Enjoy every moment!"

I don't even know where the words came from. Excitement, perhaps, caught up in the safe arrival of a much-longed for baby. They certainly weren't from my own experience. And yet there they were, a ready-made, empty cliché from someone who knows better.

We're all far more open now about discussing the realities of parenthood, the lows as well as the highs. And yet expressions like "enjoy every moment" still roll effortlessly off the tongue. I heard it countless times myself as my bump grew bigger and I waddled towards my due date, then for months after my baby was born. A subtle, unintentional reinforcement of the idealised version of motherhood.

It occurred to me just how harmful those words could be, how unhelpful for brand new parents. Why? Because the reality is that you won't enjoy every minute. And being told to do so, over and over, can easily lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy when you simply don't.

Becoming a parent, like life generally, is full of ups and downs. Of steep learning curves, good days and bad days. You can feel soul-stretching love and utter frustration – sometimes even in the same minute.

Those early months are certainly full of enjoyable moments: holding your baby for the first time, searching their squashed newborn features for family resemblance, taking a deep breath and inhaling the sweet new baby scent, passing your bundle around to love-struck relatives and clucking friends. There are smiles that erase entire bad days, time-stopping cuddles, and the joy of free-falling in love again.

But there are moments of sheer exhaustion, too. Fatigue that morphs you into a grumpier, tearier version of yourself you had no idea you were capable of becoming. When you physically don't think you can go on any longer without. When you find yourself arguing with your partner over things you'd never usually be bothered by, simply because you're both so tired you can't think.

When your writhing, pink-faced, overtired baby won't settle, no matter what you do and you feel helpless and incompetent. And when you find yourself, just briefly, aching for aspects of your old life and who you used to be. There are some moments you simply need to get through. Enjoying them doesn't even come into it.

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And yet not enjoying every moment doesn't take away from the fact that being a parent is a privilege. That we are, indeed, the lucky ones. And that while it can be tough and challenging at times, the rewards keep coming in first giggles and words and wobbly steps.

And so, when they arrived home from hospital as a new family, instead of telling my friends to enjoy every moment, I sent three other simple words instead: "How are you?"

"Was it harder than you expected it to be?" The new father texted back.

"So much harder," I replied.

"Yeah," he said. "Worth it though, hey."

And it is. Every moment.

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