Those who know me personally, or who follow NYAM on social media, are probably well aware by now that I lost my grandmother about a week ago.
If you’ve never had a close family member die, I warn you that it’s completely inevitable that people will try their best to give you advice in an attempt to make you feel better. Most of it will be fairly innocuous and sweet, but there is one very popular bit that I feel does more harm than good. Parents get this on a regular basis anyway, but after a death in the family, you hear it more.
You ready for it? As you’ve probably gathered from the title, it’s this:
That’s why you have to be sure to enjoy EVERY moment while you have it. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and absorb every moment you can, because one day that’s all you’ll have.
If you’ve said this, I want you to know I’m not attacking you and I get that you mean well. But this advice is not especially helpful, because it’s impossible.
By nature, we can pay attention to one thing for a few seconds, before our brains are on to the next. It’s completely normal. Being told that we should be present at all times is setting us up for unnecessary guilt. The last thing this species needs, parent or no, is more guilt. So we should really stop doing it to ourselves.
Think I’m exaggerating? I was reading a post in a business group I frequent wherein a new mother was asking what she could do on her phone to help care for her business while her baby breastfed. Most people gave her useful answers, but one person commented, short and sweet:
Nothing. Put the phone down and enjoy time with your baby.
I bristled on behalf of the original poster. Firstly, have you ever breastfed a baby? The Pampers commercials lie. It goes on forever. It can be painful. There’s about a 25% chance that at any time the child will suddenly de-latch and boob milk will spurt everywhere. That gets old incredibly quickly; I, and many others, can completely understand wanting to focus on something else after the eleventy-billionth time they’re stuck in one place while they feed. How many times are you expected to stare at your child’s face, exactly?
Secondly, I have yet to see that advice given to a new father. It’s as if the idea of a mother having anything to do outside of caring for her children is still a foreign one that invites shame.
So I’m not saying this is only in instances of death, but this latest situation has made me realize that perhaps someone should say something about not doing this.
Truth is, not every moment is one to be cherished.
For example, as I sit here writing this, my kids are watching cartoons and I’m messaging with a friend of mine. I could absolutely close my computer and turn off the TV, and we could all hang out together, but that doesn’t work for me right now. The guilt that’s usually doled out for that is pretty huge -- after all, I’m missing really important moments that I won’t get back, aren’t I?
Not really. My kids are just sitting as I get work done. This situation as a whole isn’t really calling for my attention, and I don’t have much to soak in. None of us will probably ever remember this moment, and I’m ok with that. It shouldn’t make me or anyone else like me less of a parent because I’m not gazing at my children all day long.
There are also events I don’t particularly want to even be physically present for. Like when my daughter screeches at an unholy pitch because I cleaned her face. Or when my son is caught trying trying to flush a whole bottle of Benadryl down the toilet. Why in the world would I ever want to “enjoy” that? I only bothered to remember it so that I could tell the story later to you fine people.
I make sure I’m present, though, for when my son comes to sit next to me and puts his head on my shoulder. I make sure to focus on when my kids dance to the theme song of each show they’re watching. And that evil cell phone that we should be putting away at all times? I’m using it to snap a quick photo as my daughter puts a loving arm around her big brother as he gets scared of a scene on TV.
I make an effort to be mindful during the little moments, not during all of them. Those tiny occurrences are what will make the difference later.
The same goes for those of us dealing with loss. I won’t ever be upset that my grandmother went to bed at 3:30 PM and didn’t hang out to soak in the glory of me watching MTV. Because she lived for the moments when we ate ice cream and sang songs on rainy days. She relished the days we’d stay with her and have pancakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She didn’t need to soak in every single second with me to make the most of what we had, and neither do I.
All of this being said, we should absolutely make an effort to make memories with our loved ones. It’s important that they have that to hold onto after we’re gone. So please do put the screens away from time to time and pay the closest attention you can to the special moments. Burn them into your brain. But don’t feel as if every moment warrants your attention. You’re totally allowed to have more than one thing going on.
I’m going to take my own advice and power down for a little. I hope your day is an amazing one to remember.
Or not. No pressure.