At the start of Lent this year, I was the sleep-deprived mom of a 3-month-old baby. I published a Facebook status that said, "For Lent, I'm giving up sleep. #newmom."
It got 45 likes and several comments from commiserating and empathetic mommies and daddies, saying "Amen!" or "Piece of cake!" They got my joke. They understood that as a parent, you have to try and find the humor in pretty much everything or you won't survive.
But then I saw this comment:
"I know it sounds like total BS, but you really will miss the late night snuggling once he gets older. So although it sucks now, try to soak it up."
I "liked" the comment, but actually, I hated the comment. Like, it really pissed me off.
"Soak it up," along with "Enjoy this time" or "Embrace the moment," have become my most hated pieces of parenting advice. (I hate even more that I have said this clichￃﾩ to other expecting mommies. Before I became one, of course.)
Most of the time, this instance included, people dole out this advice after a comment about some of the less-desirable parts of being a mom to an infant. Here, it was about lack of sleep. I'm sure the comment was well-intentioned. Most of the time, asinine comments are. But this time, I was pissed.
For one, I didn't say anything that would imply that I am NOT "soaking it up." I didn't complain about the lack of sleep. I didn't say, "No sleep sucks," and I didn't even mention late-night snuggles.
Side note: No sleep for mom does not equal "late night snuggles." Sometimes, it equals a screaming, writhing baby who does not want to snuggle. He just wants to cry, eat, use your boob as a pacifier, scream, play, chat, etc.
So you're telling me that I should be "soaking it up" in the middle of the night, when I'd rather be sleeping? No thanks.
Not all moments in motherhood are enjoyable or precious. In fact, some of them are, quite literally, sh*tty. Just because I don't particularly enjoy having bloody nipples and I don't cherish every dirty diaper I change and I don't like waking up every 45 minutes to receive a pacifier, doesn't mean that I'm not enjoying being a mom, or that I'm not soaking it all up. (Believe me, I am soaking up plenty, and most of the time, "it" is a bodily fluid.)
More than that, though, things are hard enough when you're a parent. I don't need the added pressure of feeling like I absolutely have to enjoy every moment of parenting. No one does.
There have been so many days and nights when I've broken down and cried at the enormity of it all, of this job being a mom. I think selfish thoughts like, "I want to sleep," or, "I can't do this," or, "I just want to be alone." My next thought is always, "But you should enjoy this time -- everyone says to enjoy this time!" And then the guilt floods my veins like a drug. Oh, the guilt. It's overwhelming.
Yes, I know, and I agree: Motherhood is precious. Babies are miracles. Time goes too fast. The days are long, but the years are short. And I know there are countless women in the world who would die to have a baby keeping them up all night.
I know all of this. See above paragraph on guilt.
But here's what people don't get: I can enjoy my baby and still wish he would sleep. I can be grateful to be a mom and still want to feel like a human. I can love my baby and still want to sleep in my own bed, instead of the rocking chair. I can be simultaneously tired and wanting sleep and still love my baby with every fiber of my being.
Motherhood doesn't have to be all or nothing.
I can choose to "embrace," "enjoy" and "soak up" the moments that I want to. It's OK if those moments don't include nights when I only get an hour or two of sleep. Or days when I have to sit around topless because my child has decided he will only be placated by my breast in or near his mouth. Or moments when I'm late for work because my baby puked on my first three outfits. Times when my child is in hysterics and I have no clue what is wrong or how to make it better.
Because these hard moments, while not the most enjoyable, are part of the gig. And each one teaches me.
With each passing day that I've been a mom, I learn. I grow. It is getting easier, as everyone told me it would. I am "enjoying" a lot more these days. In fact, I find my 8-month-old to be a complete blast. Even now, it's hard to dig deep and remember just how hard those first few weeks were.
I know he won't always need me. I know he won't always be small. I know that the toughest phases of parenting won't last forever. I know I won't be able to cuddle him forever. I know this.
I snuggle my baby as often as I can, and savor it, because even though he's only 35 weeks old, he is already too busy discovering the world to sit still with me very often.
I inhale his baby smell and kiss his chubby cheeks, thighs and belly a hundred times a day.
I tear up when I rock him, overwhelmed by the all-consuming love I have for him.
I grieve when he outgrows clothing or goes up a size in his diaper.
I melt when I see him light up when his dad walks into the room.
When he smiles at me, I think, "My heart cannot feel any more full."
When he "talks" to me, providing all of the facial expressions and dramatic pauses of an adult, I laugh so hard, and my cheeks hurt from smiling.
When he relaxes in my arms, I breathe a sigh of relief -- he needs me and I can make it, whatever "it" is at that particular moment, better.
I am crying as I write all of these things, because my heart swells thinking of all the fun we've had, and have yet to experience.
So, I am enjoying it. Most of it.
But just because, for one night, I might want to lay my baby down to sleep instead of holding him in my arms, that does not mean I am not soaking it up. It just means I'm tired.
A version of this post originally appeared on Raves & Revelations.