This post was written by Audrey Simmons.
Many people are familiar with the beautiful passage in Ecclesiastes that talks about seasons. “A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,” and so on. It’s Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 if you want to go read it; go ahead, I’ll wait for you!
Many parents are also accustomed to a phrase that’s become something of stock advice in our society: “Oh, enjoy every minute of it.” To which I want to say, “Every minute? Really? EVERY MINUTE?”
Last night, my fed-and-changed infant was in the living room crying, my toddler was wandering around yelling at people, my kindergartens were demanding I read them a story and then screeching (like birds, no less) when I said they had to wait, while I sat on a bunk bed and stripped pee-soaked bedsheets.
I did not enjoy that minute. Sometimes, we don’t enjoy minutes. Sometimes, we sort of hate them. Or, sometimes, we hold our breath and can’t wait for them to be over.
Allow me for a moment to rewrite some of Ecclesiastes for parents:
There is time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to pee and a time to hold it,
A time to shower and a time to smell,
A time to clean and a time to refrain from cleaning,
A time to read and a time to turn on the TV,
A time to barf and a time to poop,
A time to bake and a time to buy Oreos,
A time to speak calmly and a time to cry,
A time to go out and a time to stay home,
A time to build forts and a time to hide in the bathroom,
A time to do laundry and a time to rewear things,
A time to yell and a time to feel bad about yelling,
A time to enjoy and a time to survive.
The truth is, parenting is a 24/7 gig, and even if you love being a parent, there are probably going to be moments you don’t like or don’t enjoy. Sometimes, being a parent is a burden. There are times when we don’t want to do the dishes, we don’t want to start school for the day, we don’t want to deal with a meltdown. There are nights when we’d rather just yell, “Go to bed!” instead of going through a routine.
There are days when kids are sick or whiny or rotten or days when we’re sick or whiny or rotten. There are days when getting everyone on track with school work and reading through a lesson seems like climbing a mountain.
So, what then? Are the people advising us to “enjoy every minute” just spiteful? Or viewing their past through rose-colored glasses? Or oblivious? Or insane? I don’t think so.
“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”
I think most of the people who stop us in the grocery store or the church hallway, on the sidewalk or at the park, and urge us to “enjoy every minute” aren’t trying to ladle guilt on our overwhelmed, stressed, tired lives. I think that when we hear it that way, we’re missing the point and maybe setting too high a goal for ourselves. We sometimes even resent the advice. How dare they tell us to enjoy every minute– are they not aware that this same child sweetly clinging to a hand was the same child who snuck into the kitchen and ate leftover pizza and raw mushrooms and then fell asleep on the floor and scared us to death (true story)?
Or the same child that seems sedate and calm and well-mannered is the same child who casually knifed our couch in fifteen places and then screamed and yelled and slammed doors and tore a hole in the bedroom wall when we took the pocketknife away (another true story, no names)?
I think that when we hear “enjoy every minute,” ninety percent of the people (leaving ten percent for insane people here) are really telling us something else. They’re saying, “Hold on. I miss part of what you have. Make sure you find moments to enjoy.”
Find satisfaction in all their toil- this is the gift of God.
We cannot enjoy every single moment of our children. That’s putting a lot of pressure on them and expecting a large amount of temporal satisfaction for an endeavor that is far from temporal. The truth is, our children cannot and should not satisfy us every minute. That is not their job. But the gift of God is being able to see beyond the temporal, our eyes fixed on something More. And when we do not expect our children to satisfy and fulfill us every single minute, then we can step back from the list of tasks and see the school work and cleaning and discipline not as our end goal but toil along the way. Toil that we can find satisfaction in, not because of what it is, but because of where we are headed and the trust that God will make all things beautiful in their time.
When we hear “enjoy every minute,” I don’t think we’re being told that we’re awful parents and doing something wrong if we’re not enjoying it. I think we’re being told that what we do is hard work but worth finding satisfaction in.
We can enjoy the small victories, the tiny kindnesses to a sibling, the awkward hugs, the trusting cuddles, the laughter, the weird ideas…when they come. We can be looking for them, watching for them like diamonds in the rough of our days. When you hear, “Enjoy every minute,” instead of rolling your eyes (like I’m prone to do), hear the encouragement:
Find satisfaction. It’s there. Don’t give up, don’t lose heart. This isn’t all there is.
Take a deep breath, acknowledge that it’s okay that it is toil. It is okay that it is hard. It is okay that you don’t always like it or enjoy it. But you can find moments worth enjoying because God hasn’t left you stranded in a thankless, pointless, worthless endeavor– someday, those who run the race will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And you even get to enjoy some moments in the midst of your waiting and work. And the more you look for those moments of beauty and satisfaction, instead of feeling guilty that you don’t enjoy cleaning up poop (because, you know, you aren’t a crazy person), the more you might find them and savor them and not miss them. And then maybe– just maybe– dealing with some whining or doing the dishes again won’t seem so bad.