“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” ~Francis Bacon

One phrase my wife and I were told a lot prior to and during our wedding day was this “pay attention and enjoy every moment” because “the day goes so fast” and they were right, the day did go very fast and we’d love to go through it all again, we had such a lovely time.

Then once we had children, the phrase appeared again “enjoy every moment” because “it goes so fast” and I must say, it does seem like only yesterday that my children were teeny weeny and when I look at photos from a year ago and see how much they’ve changed it does seem like time has gone incredibly fast.

I smile politely.

People mean well. The notion of “enjoy every moment” is one that I struggle with in reality. I get that we should do our best to engage with the moment and recognise the good times when they happen, but I also believe that attempting to “enjoy every moment” can actually have a detrimental effect if we are not careful.

We are just heading off on a family holiday and I have received lots of lovely messages from people that I must “enjoy every moment” because we are “making memories” and before we know it, the children will be grown up with beards and children of their own. Yet, for some, they may be overlooking or may have forgotten the reality of and sheer volume of difficulties that parents of young children face.

The problem is that so many people attempt to have a life with their families that looks good on Facebook or Instagram, but have been heavily filtered from reality. The reality can sometimes leave people thinking they are failing because they are not enjoying every moment as they “should.”

I had a drunken conversation with a friend a couple of years ago and he told me that at times rearing two children so close together in age was going to be hellish. He told me there were going to be things I’d need to “endure” and what with my wife and I having had such a difficult time having children, and I was so determined to enjoy having a family so much as a result, that his words were virtually impossible to respond to. He was certain though.

He was the first that had dared say such a thing to me. He was being honest, realistic and truthful, and it sounded sooooo good. It made me smile massively.

When my daughter was a baby and we were having sleepless nights due to her struggling to sleep, I would tell other couples with babies how happy it made me when we met others who were also struggling with sleep. I made jokes about how satisfying it was to meet others with similar pains and many people would frown or I’d get a kick from my wife about my perverse sense of humour.

Yet for me, I was grateful for some truth and for being granted permission to experience life with children in a honest “warts and all” fashion, knowing that parenthood is a bumpy ride at times.

Sleep deprivation, ensuing tiredness, massive feelings of responsibility, challenging behaviours of a pair of lively toddlers made me feel like I was struggling to be the perfect Father that I had set out to be. I felt like I was doing everything in my power to be a great Dad, but when I had two children needing disciplining or who were being incredibly naughty and challenging, I questioned if I was doing something wrong because things were clearly not perfect and I was not “enjoying every moment.”

Then when I see my son out at parties or at pre-school I see how he is like all the other boys, how they are so similar and how they all want to jump on beds, climb trees, put forks in plug sockets and so on.

I see that my daughter and her friends all want to choose what clothes they wear (and have tantrums if a parent picks a matching outfit for them) and can have tempers on them. It makes me realise that those other parents are probably not “enjoying every moment” either, not that they’d go on record on Facebook as say as much necessarily…. Or do they?

I started to see parents who actually share each others pain too. People who were being honest on Facebook and sharing funny memes about the challenges of parenthood. Then there are the new wave of hilarious Facebook pages and blogs of real parents and writers sharing their struggles and laughing about them, and drinking gin and having a little cry from time to time. Then there are the Nanny TV shows that indicate that parenthood is not always a breeze that looks good with a camera filter on your phone.

The reality is different to the sentiment of “enjoy every moment.”

It is during the struggles of being a Dad though, that I think I recognised the joy of parenthood more profoundly. I feel incredibly lucky to have the two most amazing, beautiful, hilarious and capable children in my life, yet it is because I feel that way towards them and have such love for them, a love where I’d sacrifice my own life for them to be well, that results in such feelings of struggle and challenge and overwhelm at times when the stark reality is upon me.

When we are prescribed ideas that we must “enjoy every moment” we run the risk of feeling that we must not face reality, or that we must not permit ourselves to feel the discomfort and the pain and the challenge that goes with parenthood.

I believe we need the darkness to appreciate the light.

I believe we need to understand and not resist too much the tougher times and the seemingly challenging moments.

For it is those very moments that we recognise what a great job we are doing and what a great Father (or Mother) we actually are. The lengths we go to when we are faced with the un-enjoyable parts of parenthood, the limitless resources we find to deal with them when faced with incredibly difficult situations and scenarios – we need to recognise that to trust and become confident in who and how we are.

It’s unreasonable to think we should enjoy every moment, and that if we don’t, we’re doing something wrong. Go easy on yourself. Find dark humour in how tough life can actually be at times.

The irony being that when you stop resisting the reality, you’ll end up enjoying it all more.

It’ll be quiet around here for a while, as I am off on my holiday, but I’ll be back writing here upon my return. I’ll do all I can to have a great holiday and a wonderful time away…. I know there’ll be some challenges too though…. When you see memes telling you to “enjoy every moment” or “make every moment count” do not let it be taken too literally and create unrealistic expectancy.

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