“Don’t blink, these are the best days of your life!”
I’ve heard this adage a few times over, actually. First as a child, where adults told me how easy it was being me, with no responsibilities or concerns. No bills or a job to think about.
Easy? I questioned. It didn’t feel easy.
In my young mind, I had a lot of worries that felt big! Like would anyone notice that I only had one cool pair of flared jeans… that used to be my sister’s? How embarrassing. Or what if no one asked me to slow dance and I just stood in the corner feeling like a loser? Or would I make a total fool of myself during my presentation the next day? I had a lot of worries. Adulthood looked pretty cool to be honest.
“The idea that I was possibly living the “best days of my life” then was a little disturbing for me.”
Then people told me during my university years to “soak it up, because these are the best days of your life!” and I remember thinking, “huh, is this it?” Now quite frankly, I loved living in dorms with all my friends, eating cereal for dinner, skipping the odd class because I just didn’t feel like going, calling my parents when I needed a little cash (OK a lot of cash… I had zero dollars to my name). I loved university. Adult freedom with little actual responsibility? Yes please!
But even still, the idea that I was possibly living the “best days of my life” was a little disturbing for me. Did this mean it would all go downhill from that point on? And what if I had a bad day? (which I had many). What if I screwed up? (which I often did). These couldn’t possibly be the best days, so what was I doing it wrong?
“I remember those early days of motherhood very well, and even a few years later my memory hasn’t erased the tough times.”
And then the big one came: I had a baby.
Now this, more than any other time, was supposed to be the ultimate best time of my life. This would surely take the cake. At least that’s what literally everyone told me (except other new moms who seemed to stay eerily quiet on that matter).
I knew how fortunate I was to get pregnant, to have healthy children, to have support around me. I was genuinely grateful.
But I remember those early days of motherhood very well, and even a few years later my memory hasn’t erased the tough times like more seasoned moms promise will happen eventually. In fact, my mom tells me she doesn’t remember it being that hard at all. Mother nature does sweet favours for us, doesn’t she? My mother, after all, had three under three (#superhero), she must have had a day every now and again!
But right now, I still remember.
I remember the early days that I now refer to in a joking-not-joking way as the “dark days.” Those blurry couple years where I felt shocked. In pain. Desperately sleep-deprived. Like I had gone through some kind of personality change (or more like my personality was replaced with a vapid haze of weepy-overcaffeinated-nothingness).
Life felt day by day. Moment by moment. Survival.
My mind reminded me over and over again that I should be grateful. I should enjoy this. These are the best days of my life; don’t miss them! Write it all down, savour it! But what was I doing wrong, then? Why didn’t I feel like I was supposed to feel? Am I getting ripped off here?
With the beauty of hindsight, I can already see the balance that I certainly did not feel at that time. I can remember that new feeling of pride that would swell as I witnessed my daughters learn and grow. The joy sprinkled here and there. The giggles. The snuggles. The simple pleasures that I never truly appreciated before, like a freshly poured (not microwaved) coffee and the sound of a quiet house.
“It’s normal for parents to miss their lives pre-kids… It’s normal to question how these could be the best days of your life.”
And as I support new mothers today, their words jog my memory even further. I hear their pain alongside simple moments of joy. I hear their disappointment that motherhood wasn’t what they expected. Their acknowledgement that they don’t love everything about it. Their courage to say that these might not be the best days of their lives. And quite honestly, I feel this sense of collective shame that builds alongside the honesty. This part of us that wonders: “Is it OK if I don’t like everything about this?”
When we hear messages about what’s “normal” that fall outside our personal experience, we have to find a way to reconcile the difference. We can’t help but believe the messages we hear from society. And so, when our experiences don’t line up with what we expected, we often conclude “I’m not normal” or “I’m not good at this” or “there’s something wrong with me” when in fact, we might be feeling something that most other parents feel too. Maybe we aren’t doing this wrong after all.
Most parents have some incredibly difficult times with their kids. Most parents have moments where they feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s normal for parents to miss their life pre-kids, to miss their career, their identity, their freedom, their sleep. It’s normal to feel frustrated, discouraged, exhausted. It’s normal to question how these could be the best days of your life.
“What if, during your darkest days, you could expand your awareness to also notice your encounters with ease and joy?”
Because ultimately, there’s no phase in life that’s all good, or all bad. Most things have a shadow, that’s just life. Maybe our challenge is to accept the grey-ness rather than searching for black and white? So what if you allowed yourself to acknowledge how hard these days can be, without judging yourself for it and without taking on guilt?
And what if, during your darkest days, you could expand your awareness to also notice your encounters with ease, joy, and fun, no matter how brief they seem? Remembering that every day brings a whole mixture of emotions. Can you look for the joy, seek it out, go find it? Can you give more energy to it when it happens, make it bigger, soak it in?
There’ll be times in life when we can’t necessarily change the situation, but we can always shift our mindset. We can shine our awareness in new areas. We can give ourselves compassion. We can allow ourselves to show up and experience life exactly as it truly is without telling ourselves that we’re not good enough or that we’re doing it wrong.
And hopefully, there’ll be times when we can find the silver lining somewhere in those dark days. In fact, many people who go through difficult life experiences go on to say they wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. They grew from it. It became part of their tapestry, their life story. So even during these phases and stages of parenting that bring about incredible challenges, I wonder how they’ll change you? How they’ll help you grow, and shift and transform into an even better version of you? You might not look back to say these were the best days of your life, but you’ll probably look back with a grateful smile, not trading those memories for anything.