If you’ve ever expressed frustration, annoyance, or anger over something your kids have done, I’m sure you’ve heard these words: “Oh, these years go so quickly. Just enjoy them, because someday you’re going to wish you had them back.”
People mean well. They feel nostalgic about the years their kids were little. Time has blurred the memories and left mostly good (which is as it should be), and they want to urge us not to waste life focusing on the negative. But I confess that when I hear these sentiments I just get more frustrated, annoyed, or angry.
Nostalgia is healthy, but not when it denies reality. Sure, I have tender memories of the nursing stage—the cuddling, the mewing noises, the feel of baby fingers trickling along my flank like raindrops. But I don’t miss having to haul Baby on dates. I don’t miss milk duct plugs and smelling like breast milk ALL THE TIME for A WHOLE YEAR. I love nursing, and I will always treasure the experience, however many times I get to do it—but that doesn’t mean I’m going to wish I had it back once it’s done.
I think most of the people who say “you’re going to wish you had them back” would hastily reconsider if presented with the reality of several years’ unabated teething, toilet training and dirty diapers. Kids are a package deal. It’s fine and even healthy for people to filter the unpleasant parts out of their memory and enjoy the good memories, but telling parents in the thick of it to deny their entirely natural frustration when their child throws a tantrum, colors on the walls/table/floor/toys/dry-clean-only-fill-in-the-blank, or screams for twenty minutes because he wants fruit and bread, not meat and vegetables…
Ahem. You get the idea.
The problem is that I already feel guilty for ever getting upset. I think about how long it took us to conceive the first time, and how many people I love dearly now feel the same desperate longing for the children I’m so mad at. Surely I should spend every moment of my life in gratitude; surely I have no right to complain.
But that’s irrational. You’d have to be superhuman not to become frantic with three children whining, fighting over objects and breaking things while you’re trying to get dinner made. To deny a person the release of frustration, a normal, healthy human reaction, sounds to me like a good way to have a nervous breakdown.
What people are really trying to say with the words “you’re going to wish you had them back” is this: Savor the good times. Be present in your family life, and allow yourself to be struck by the wonder of what is happening before your eyes.
And that is a good sentiment. But it’s okay to get mad, too.
Note: a good friend of mine (coincidentally a priest) expressed some reservations about the statement “it’s okay to get mad.” Wrath/anger, he points out, is one of the seven deadly sins, because they lead us to other sins. Frustration is natural, but we need to guard how we express it.
So perhaps it’s fairer to say that frustration in child rearing is a reasonable reaction, more than to say that anger is okay. Anger is inevitable, but we shouldn’t go around justifying it.