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Why It’s OK Not to Enjoy Every Minute

Posted on 30 Comments 6 min read

Everyone tells you that Christmas with young children is the most magical time of your life: and they’re (mostly) right – it really is.

What fewer people are willing to tell you, however, is that, wonderful though it may be, Christmas – and the holidays in general – can also be one of those times when you most miss your old life. 

It’s not that you want to go back to it.

It’s not that you don’t appreciate what you have now.

It’s just that, when you have children, everything changes: and things like Christmas and New Year… well, those are the things that change most of all. Some of the changes are good ones, obviously (OBVIOUSLY). Other changes, though, are the kind that see you back home early on Christmas day, knowing you’ve had a lovely time, but secretly wishing it could’ve lasted just a little bit longer – like it did back in the days when you didn’t have a cranky toddler in desperate need of some sleep.

People don’t tend to talk about this aspect of parenthood, of course, because they’re worried about seeming ungrateful, or just not positive enough. There’s huge pressure as a parent to be positive at all times: to never admit that your experience is anything less than utterly magical, and it’s that pressure, I think, that leaves some of us feeling like abject failures, and wondering why we’re not managing to have this picture-perfect parenting experience that everyone else seems to be having around us.

There’s huge pressure as a parent to be positive at all times: to never admit that your experience is anything less than utterly magical…

It’s not for the lack of trying, either.

I, for instance, started December feeling uncharacteristically excited about Christmas. We’d been surprised by how much Max seemed to understand about it all, and I guess I kind of bought into this idea everyone kept trying to sell me about how these early years would be just the best! thing! ever! People kept on telling me to enjoy every moment, and I tried my best to do just that. We put our tree up on December 1st, and I watched in despair as the image I’d had of us all laughing happily as we sipped hot chocolate and sang wholesome Christmas songs quickly gave way to one in which I spent the entire morning having to physically restrain a heartbroken toddler from jumping onto the half-finished tree (And also from jumping off the back of the sofa, which was his preferred way to spend this magical time…), while Terry angrily slung baubles onto branches, and not one single mug of hot chocolate was drunk. Possibly because we didn’t actually buy any. Whoops.

The rest of the holiday season was more or less the same

Our Christmas Day, for instance,  was lovely, but it was lovely in parts: or parts of it were lovely, rather. Some parts, on the other hand, were really quite difficult (These would be the parts when Max was tired and cranky, and nothing would placate him: the poor soul is teething and has a cold right now – as well as being, you know, two – so it wasn’t his fault, but, of course, that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard work dealing with the tantrums…), and most parts were honestly just no different from every other day of the year. By 8pm, Max was in bed, and Terry and I were on our own again … and, I mean, sure, we watched some festive TV and ate some Christmassy snacks, but I’d be lying if I said these things made our evening feel ‘magical’, like the ones everyone else seemed to be having, if social media is to be believed. Yes, we were making new traditions, just like everyone kept assuring us we would… but we were also missing out on some of the old ones – which is the problem with new traditions, really, isn’t it?

Then came New Year’s Eve.

You are enough

Now, I’ve never enjoyed New Year. In fact, when we had Max, I was secretly quite glad that, for a few years at least, I’d have an excuse no one could argue with to just stay at home, and pretend it wasn’t happening. 

I hadn’t considered social media, though… or that fact that, as I sat there, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram (Yes, I know I could just have avoided them, but what am I: a saint?), I’d be hit by this giant dose of FOMO: not because of the night itself, but from the way everyone seemed to be talking about it.

On Instagram, for instance, everyone had just had the best year of their lives, at the end of the best decade ever. On Facebook, meanwhile, people were busy doing victory laps, congratulating themselves on the awesome decades they’d managed to have, and typing Oscars speeches into the status box about how wonderful their lives were. Even the ones who hadn’t just had the best ten years of their lives were at least living their best lives NOW: posting photos of their ‘glow-up’ and talking about how much better things were for them as they approached the start of 2020.

It was impossible not to feel like I was missing out… because, just like Christmas day, my last decade was good in parts… but only partly good. Yes, we had a baby and bought a new house: we had some amazing holidays, and some truly wonderful times. We also, however, lost a parent and a pet: our family dealt with some really serious shit, so, along with the highest of highs, we also had some of the very lowest of lows to deal with, too. As grateful as I am for the good things that have happened, and that continue to happen, I don’t honestly feel I can describe it as the best decade ever: and I can’t possibly be the only one who feels like that. 

The language of social media, however, is all about positivity and hyperbole. Things are never just good, they’re always THE BEST. Every day is magical, and, even when they’re not, we’re encouraged to find the magic in every day, and talk about that, rather than dwelling on the not-so-good stuff. There’s a lot of sense in that, obviously: I can see why people would want to focus only on the good things in life, but I also worry that, by ignoring all the rest, we set up impossibly high expectations, which most of us can’t possibly hope to meet. I worry that we’re creating a culture in which people are routinely shamed for having normal, human emotions, and encouraged to believe that if they’re not enjoying every single minute, then there’s something very wrong with them. 

The language of social media, however, is all about positivity and hyperbole

Real life isn’t really like that, though. Real life has its highs and lows and its ups and downs: it’s rarely ever ALL good or ALL bad… and I think it’s important to be able to recognise that, even although it’s not really the ‘done’ thing these days – on the internet, at least. And that’s why, one of my New Year’s resolutions for this blog is to continue talking about the reality of life, and of parenting: to keep writing these posts, even although I worry about the comments they might generate (Too negative! Just be grateful! Children starving in Africa!), and to make this a space where people feel free to be honest about how they’re feeling, without fear of judgement or ridicule.

So, if you’ve ever felt that life would be easier if you could just be more like everyone else out there – or wondered why you’re not – then this blog is here to reassure you that, actually, you’re just fine the way you are: and you’re definitely not alone…

 

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30 Comments
  • Emerald
    January 6, 2020

    You’re not alone! I’ve never enjoyed NYE because it’s at a bad time of the year (cold!), everywhere is expensive and drunk. Meaning that no one will want to drive home (I can drive but don’t have a car) and there’ll be huuuuuge taxi queues. Love the going out and socialising, but couldn’t we have new year when it’s warmer?

    I’m also not a fan of enforced jollity and positivity. While I do think these are good qualities when genuine, it can be damaging when they’re expected of you. As someone who had a fairly big health issue to attend to recently, I’m aware of the pressure surrounding that particular condition to be MEGA cheerful and upbeat about it. Luckily I was pretty cheerful, but plenty of people are scared and should have the permission to be so.

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Absolutely! I think I’ve mentioned this before, on Patreon, but I have a friend who’s a cancer survivor, and she gets so tired of people telling her to be positive all the time, or scolding her for daring to complain about relatively trivial things, when they reckon she should just be grateful to be alive. I mean, OF COURSE she’s grateful for her health (And doesn’t need to be reminded of it!), but she’s also still a human being, with normal human emotions, and it’s so odd to me that people expect her to just be this saintly, positive person at all times – it’s just not realistic!

  • Jenna
    January 6, 2020

    Thank you for posting this. I spent Christmas Day, upstairs, trapped under a sleeping baby who didn’t want to be put down to nap because everything was just too exciting. I could hear everyone having fun and was grinding my teeth in jealousy! I’m in complete agreement with you-everyone looks in horror if you mention missing parts of your old life but who wouldn’t miss wine and late nights rather than the bedtime routine? It’s nice to feel I’m not alone!

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Oh, totally! My worst moment was actually the Friday before Christmas, when everyone I follow started posting about how they were “downing tools” and preparing to do nothing but relax for the next week. I was just SO jealous, because instead of a week of sleeping in and then vegging on the couch all day, I knew we were just going to be stuck with exactly the same routine we normally have – it’s impossible not to feel just a tiny bit envious at times like that!

  • Emerald
    January 6, 2020

    Re: Small people calling the shots – I remember being out and about in Cambridge with my dad and (much!) younger sister. As we were heading to the car we passed a nice cafe and decided to go for another coffee. As soon as we opened the door, this little girl shouted “No! I want to go home!” My dad shrugged and said we’d have to take her. Isn’t it amazing that someone so tiny rules the roost, I remarked, all the while thinking that I was probably the same. ?

  • Anna @Make Life Simpler
    January 6, 2020

    Amen to all of this, especially New Year’s Eve. My only really good ones have been when a few friends have decided to boycott it and just hang with food and booze at home! Oh and one while skiing in France when my boyfriend at the time was doing a ski season. That was pretty fun as I recall.

    And the parenting not being all highs? Absolutely! We had a lovely Christmas, seeing my family (who all live miles away), lots of fun and presents and long dog walks, but in amongst it were tantrums galore, especially as Emilia decided she no longer does naps at all, so very overtired and overstimulated child, plus family “making comments” (esp little sister who has a 7 week old baby – cannot wait for Christmas in 2years when I can return the favour of gems like “You shouldn’t reward a tantrum” or “Can’t you play a game with her and keep her occupied?” Ha ha ha ha. She will learn! (Also, were not rewarding a tantrum, were just doing what we could to prevent entire family’s Christmas lunch being ruined by screaming child). There were magical bits yes, there were also shit bits where my husband and I lost it with each other too, just purely because we didn’t know how to cope with the demon child! Who is not a demon, just, as you say, two.

    Thank you for sharing this. Ignore the haters. We absolutely need more honest voices like this that stop us from feeling the weight of perfection and Instagrammable moments on top of just keeping our small people happy and healthy! xxx

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Oh, this all sounds so familiar! I think part of the problem is that Christmas is just prime tantrum territory, really: like, there’s just NO WAY you’re getting a two year old through that without at least SOME tears. (Some of them mine, obviously…) And yes to the ‘not rewarding a tantrum’ bit, too: we’d never deliberately do that, but, like you say, sometimes you just do whatever you have to do to make sure everyone else’s day doesn’t get ruined by it. Not every single thing can be a learning moment – choose your battles, and all that 😉

  • Anne
    January 6, 2020

    I do miss being able to sleep in and go out at my leisure, focussing on what I want to do at Christmas Day rather than playing with the new toys the kids got that are suited at 4 year old ones rather than 40 year old ones. And when the holidays are around, I miss that more than ever.
    As you said, I love my kids and cherish the time I get to spend with them, but my old life was pretty fab too.

    Anne from “Doctor Anne”

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Exactly: I just wish more people understood that it’s possible to love your kids, but still sometimes miss your old life – it”s totally normal!

  • last year's girl
    January 6, 2020

    Max’s namesake, my wee nephew, was three and a half this Christmas, and I feel like this was the first year that I properly saw what a wee one can add to the festive celebrations. Of course, I wasn’t with him on the day itself, when by all accounts he was so overwhelmed he didn’t even open all his presents…

    As for New Year, I was in bed at 10.30pm. Cannot think of anything worse.

    Happy new year, Amber. I hope 2020 brings lots of lovely things for your wee family, and no pressure to pretend when things are otherwise.

    xx

    • Fi
      January 6, 2020

      This. My littlest niece is three and a half and I feel like this was the first year she was properly into Christmas and really understanding what was going on. Plus she can now recognise her own name so was straight in there with the stockings at my mum’s house to find her one and get stuck into opening everything!

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      I definitely think another year will (hopefully!) make a difference: this year Max did understand more than we’d expected him to, but he’s at prime tantrum age, too, and everything still has to revolve around making sure he gets enough sleep to not be cranky, so it’s tricky. Fingers crossed next year will be a bit easier!

  • Hanka
    January 6, 2020

    “I worry that we’re creating a culture in which people are routinely shamed for having normal, human emotions, and encouraged to believe that if they’re not enjoying every single minute, then there’s something very wrong with them” Very well said! Amen to that! And thank you for sharing your honest thoughts!

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Thanks for reading them! I almost didn’t post this because I was worried it would just sound too negative, so I’m really glad people get where I’m coming from!

      • Steph
        January 7, 2020

        Hallelujah! I just wrote a post pretty much on the same vein. I love Bailey so much and loved having him here for Christmas but the reality is a 4 month old with sleep regression and constant visitors and stimulation simply don’t mix! There were magical parts for sure, but there were also really shit, frustrating exhausting parts and that’s life, why shouldn’t we talk about it? I’m pig sick of seeing mums (or anyone to be fair) lambasted for daring to vocalise that they find something really tough – especially when the rest of the time everyone is sharing ‘It’s ok to not be ok!’ memes! The hypocrisy is staggering!

        • Amber
          January 7, 2020

          It really is: it’s like, people want you to be ‘real’ and ‘relatable’, but they also want you to be 100% positive at all times – it just doesn’t work like that!

  • Kelly Glen
    January 6, 2020

    I don’t have children and never want to but I think it’s seems perfectly normal to fell the way you do and people should never make you feel guilty in anyway, parenting is definitely hard work and I’m sure that there can’t be that many parents who don’t feel the same way at some point.

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      I’m sure of it too – I just wish it wasn’t so frowned upon to admit to it!

  • Mary Katherine
    January 6, 2020

    You keep on keeping it real, sweetie. In this age of social media/FOMO/everyone’s happier/prettier/more sucessful than me, your voice is really needed. Hang in there – you’re doing a great job!

  • Anita
    January 6, 2020

    I’m childfree by choice but I absolutely agree with your comments about how EVERYONE on social media felt the need to post about how wonderful their year/decade had been. I had an awful 2019 in which I was brutally dumped from a 7 year relationship (so in other words, the relationship which had consumed most of my decade was over…) In fact, the Instagram post I posted on new year’s eve started with the line ‘I’m not doing a 2019 best nine because this year has been so crap’… (proof: https://www.instagram.com/p/B6vEhtZHily/ ) Anyway, nice to see someone else telling it like it is!

    • Nicola
      January 6, 2020

      I LOVE this post so much, I want to print it out and frame it on my desk as a daily reminder.

      Surely in this day and age where there is so much more awareness of mental health, it should be more acceptable and normal to admit that sometimes things are great, and sometimes they’re not?

      Thank you for being so relatable! ?

      • Amber
        January 6, 2020

        Exactly – it’s so strange to me that we simultaneously have so much emphasis on mental health issues, and, at the same time, this weird insistence that it’s somehow wrong to have feelings about things unless they’re 100% positive. It makes no sense!

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Aww, I’m so sorry: it’s such a tough time of year when you’re going through something like that 🙁 Kudos for your Instagram post, though: it’s so refreshing to see someone admitting to having *totally normal* emotions – it really shouldn’t be usual, but somehow it is, and that’s so sad…

  • Janean
    January 6, 2020

    This is a fantastic article, and honestly, all too true. I see this crossing over into real life as well– in one of my “lowest lows” I actually had a friend drop me because I was “too negative-” I was being harassed to the point of such high stress that it led to memory loss but yes, please tell me how I have to pretend everything is OMG THE BEST EVER. No, I won’t. I am one of the happiest people that I know, but just because I am happy a lot of the time doesn’t mean that I have to pretend to be at pinnacle joy all of the time. In short, which I probably should have just stuck to, I could not agree more.

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Oh wow, that’s awful – I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. I’ve also had the experience of going through something objectively horrible (In my case, being involved in a car crash…) and being scolded for not being able to see the bright side, and for feeling traumatised by it. There’s this odd idea that unless the thing that happens to you is the absolute worst-case scenario, you’re not allowed to have any emotions about it, which is just so bizarre and unrealistic…

  • Melissa
    January 6, 2020

    Yes! I think society is creating the impression that it is not ok to have a rough time or feel negative. I often talk to patients who have expectations that unless they are happy all the time, they are ill. We need to talk about normal feelings more.

    • Amber
      January 6, 2020

      Ooh, it’s interesting you say that – I have a therapist friend who said something similar a few weeks ago, about how a lot of people think they’re suffering from depression now, when they’re actually just sad about things that it’s perfectly normally to feel sad about: it’s just that society has taught them otherwise, and convinced them that they should be happy at all times. It’s so interesting that you’ve noticed that too!

  • Lauren
    January 14, 2020

    Brilliant & honest!

  • Jude
    January 20, 2020

    What a great post! There’s way too many images of attractive family moments!! Those joyful moments were brief. Most of it was much harder work than my previous professional role. I really missed going out for tea at 7pm after work and walking along the beach at 9pm without kids.
    Some things I found helped holiday season (and life in general with little ones):
    1. teach them to help with work eg put toys away as soon as they are old enough to get them out
    2. be positive and upbeat with preschoolers and move on rather than everyone dissolve into sympathetic emotional distress when toddler/child isn’t 100% happy. They are fine – really! Have a quiet laugh to yourself or with friends about their meltdowns at the smallest of things. Don’t let them know you think its funny!
    3, Common sense – rest, good food and some routine. They will suffer (and you) with late nights!!!
    4. Simple activities – We liked going out for coffee and beach walks in the mornings when they weren’t tired and simple stuff at home or nearby eg playgrounds, walk to shops, reading books together.
    5. Holidays based around playgrounds – kids are happier = parents are happier
    6. Don’t try and cram too much into life. Its ok not to be achieving ridiculous numbers of external goals. Kids are important and need time especially in early years. They are worth it.
    7. Spend time with other families and realise you are normal!
    8. Lower expectations – don’t spend too much time looking at online pics of “perfect” families
    I am past those younger years now and I absolutely love the kids being around most of the time. Its not perfect but its not as hard as toddler meltdowns. It has been worth the effort during the younger years. Anyway I hope these comments might help someone. Other Mums helped me so much to realise it’s all normal and there are ways to make it easier in short-term and long-term