Fellow parents of little ones, I’m going to give you the best parenting advice we have never received.
Picture the moment: I am standing in one of only two open Target checkout lines, watching the second hand on my watch drag slowly around, wishing to be anywhere other than here where my kids are yelling at each other and trying to touch all the mints and Chap-stick and refusing to stay seated in the cart. I feel like every pair of eyes in the store is on us as I try to quietly correct them and they yell, “NO! She’s kicking me! I want to get out and walk! How much longer! My coat fell on the floor!”
Has that ever happened to you?
Or how about that time when my daughter whined down the entire length of the cereal aisle for something I'd never buy? Or when I had to carry someone kicking and screaming from a restaurant while my extended family and that couple from our church watched me go?
All of these things have happened to me...and in my mind, what stands out about all of these moments is the terrible, sinking fear that I’m being judged by every adult within earshot. Why can't she control her kids? My cheeks burn and I feel like I might cry. And inevitably, some well-meaning person says something like this:
Oh, treasure these moments, sweetie, for they are the best days of your life!
It's a familiar refrain. Some parents who have gone boldly before seem to forget that these terrible moments can feel like anything but the best moments of our lives...and they seem to be suggesting that we can change these moments just by appreciating them.
Nothing could be more frustrating than hearing those words when everything is already falling apart.
Well, what if they're wrong?
What if these aren't the best moments ever?
What if the best moments haven’t happened yet?
Consider what they’re saying to us as we stand in front of them with our arms full of toddler and groceries and our faces full of embarrassment. These are the best moments of your life. You should be treasuring every one of them. If my child, aged 2, is embodying the best moments of our shared time together during this awful scene in the grocery store checkout, that’s pretty sad.
How would things look different if we stopped feeling guilty for not appreciating every minute of this supposedly-best-but-occasionally-awful time of our lives and started looking forward? What if we said to each other instead, “This is a hard moment, but it will pass, and the best is still ahead of you. The best is yet to come.”
Our kids are only going to get older. Their brains are going to continue to grow. They will continue to develop their abilities to practice self-control. They will continue to hone their skills at empathy and manners and public decorum. We are shaping them and helping them to grow into better and better versions of themselves (and becoming better versions of ourselves, too). They are little bundles of walking, talking potential…and our relationships with them can blossom more and more with every passing year.
The best is not now.
The best is what we have in front of us…and how good it can be is at least partly up to us and how we handle these moments while we are in them.
So, the next time there’s a challenging meltdown in aisle 6, instead of feeling guilty about how we aren’t appreciating these wonderful moments, let's try a different approach. Take a deep breath. Relax our shoulders. Smile at our challenging child, who isn’t having her best moment, and say to ourselves (and to her!), “The best is yet to come.”