Two women in their forties were sitting nearby. My incredibly social daughter made sure to stop and say hi on the way out, and the two women smiled and complimented how adorable my children were and how they had been admiring them. I have the species of children that are on their best behavior while in public. In fact, I can curb most tantrums by taking us out and about. (Yeah, I don't get it either.) As we briefly talked with these kind strangers, one of the women said, "Enjoy it now. This is the best time."
Ah yes, this conversation. Like most young parents, I'm very familiar with it.
I smiled and was as gracious as possible with my dirty hair and replied, "Thank you. They can be pretty sweet."
"Yeah," she continued, looking wistful, "It just gets harder and harder."
Ugh. What is this new layer of doomsday prophecy I keep getting? That not only should I enjoy every minute, but that it all just keeps getting harder and harder and culminates in...? What exactly? It's unclear, but whatever it is, the message that it's all downhill from here is what I keep hearing these days.
I lightly replied, still smiling, "Oh, but at least you get to sleep all night now, right? I was up at 4:30 AM with this guy," gesturing to Oliver, who had by now scampered up into a chair by them, a little social butterfly in training.
The mom then informed me, "Nope, you get more tired! This is the easy time."
Really? I mean, I suppose it must be true, if I keep hearing it again and again, but...really? You know what? If it gets worse, harder, more tiring as the years go on, then I just don't want to hear it. Let my ignorance be bliss. Leave me in my bubble of foolish young-parent confusion. Let me think that these are the particularly challenging days and it gets easier as the kids rely on me a bit less. I need that right now. I really do.
And that is why I plan to become a flaming liar in my old(er) age.
Parents of teenage & adult children: YOU NEED TO LIE TO YOUNG PARENTS.
Go back and look at that picture of us in Starbucks. See how I look happy, but a little crazy? It's because I'm happy BUT A LITTLE CRAZY.
When these well-meaning older parents issue these warnings of what is to come to younger parents, they are forgetting that they are not playing on a level playing field. Those older parents have something pretty big going for them and that is sleep. Young parents are walking around without their full mental capacity. Truly, we are not operating anywhere close to optimal right now. We are over-extended on so many levels and to try to process big, scary, foreboding warnings of the future through our addled brains...well, it does not come across the way you might be meaning it. It's a dismal message and we are struggling enough with our exhausting day-to-day lives without hearing that this is the pinnacle of joy and happiness.
Yes, of course we have some wonderful, irreplaceable golden moments with our young beauties everyday, but life is still darn hard right now. Do these well-meaning moms not remember this? How completely exasperating it can be to do something as simple as get out the door and go grocery shopping? How everything is tricky? How pooping is a spectator sport?
And the other factor that keeps these comments from being fair to us younger parents is that the older parents have seen the future and can look back at the whole big picture. A mixed blessing, to be sure, but we young parents do not have that ability to see it all with perspective. We don't know at all what is in front of us and we can't even bring ourselves to even consider it, and thank god for that. We are fumbling and faltering and unsure of this relatively new life, still googling things like "when does a baby drop their second nap?" and consulting parenting books on how to reduce tantrums in a preschooler. This is not the time for us to consider what hell it is to have your daughter dumped by her boyfriend and deal with an empty nest when the youngest goes to college. I mean, we are still in the phase of occasionally questioning what the hell we have done with our lives by having children and are still baffled at the amount of sacrifice this parenting gig requires. We are newbies! No, we didn't realize the scope of what we were undertaking we decided to throw caution (and condoms) to the wind, but here we are anyway. And we are doing the best we can. We are functioning in the here and now because that's about all we can do. You don't tell your 7th grader that the next few years are going to be sheer hell on the first day of school, so why do it to us? Hearing how terrible it's going to be for the next decade and a half does not make a 3-year-old's tantrum any more pleasant. In fact, it makes it worse.
I have come to terms with the fact that this parenting business is a long and often scary road, that your investment is great but the return is not guaranteed. There is mystery in why we do this in the first place and then the greater mystery of why we decide to do it again (and possibly again and again) as we expand our families.
Oh, but there is magic in parenting, a kind of magic greater than I could have imagined. And at the end of the day, there is a lot of happiness in this life. That I do see. I definitely enjoy the highlights and treasure those with a passion I never experienced before becoming a mother. I love being a mom, even knowing there are dark days ahead.
So yes, teenage children might be a thousand times worse than a three-year old when it comes to being tiring and difficult but I can't hear about that right now. That is scary and doesn't serve me. Like Glennon said in her brilliant post about Don't Carpe Diem, we young parents are at the foot of the mountain. Don't discourage us now. Encourage us! Cheer us on. Sympathize.
That is what I want right now. I want some grace and mentoring and a positive message from the older generation, whether it's true or not.
That is why I will lie to young parents. I will admire their children, tell them how adorable and well-behaved they are and then whisper to the parents as I walk away, "These are happy but tough days. It gets better. It did for me." I will try to give them a nice moment of hope in the middle of their surely exhausting day. I will give the message that now is good, but the future is great.
And you better believe I'll do whatever I can to make that the truth, even if it means lying to myself every now and then.