One of the loveliest experiences of motherhood, for me, is the happy, impromptu interaction with strangers. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, almost five years ago, I noticed people smiling at me more. Mostly, the smiles were from women who had walked the motherhood path before me. I loved observing their downward glances at my tummy and the lovely reminiscent smiles that followed. It felt good and I sensed they knew something of the magic to follow.
Recently a mature woman stopped to enquire about the ages of my three girls. I wasn’t as harried as usual and I welcomed the adult company. We chatted for a while and there was something warm and genuine about her interest. She admired my kids, which they enjoyed immensely, and when we said goodbye she looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, these are the best years of your life.”
There was something about the way she delivered those words that resonated with me. Initially I responded that they were certainly the hardest but her words echoed within me throughout the day. Were these really the best years? I could certainly think of other years that were pretty good like backpacking through Europe in my 20’s, the carefree nature of university days and early marriage during which spontaneous fun and freedom all qualified as fabulous. Being a mother is indisputably the best thing I’ve ever done but I rarely stop to enjoy it as such.
Later that day I was playing with my daughters and the three of them were deliriously happy making mud pies. I quietly and happily watched as they built an entire narrative around dirt, water and imagination. And then it struck me. I recognised the woman who I had met earlier that day. She was me. I had met myself, in 30 years time, aching to have a glimpse of my past again; to experience the sheer joy that accompanies raising children. Maybe the early hardships are softened with time, and you retrospectively remember only the good stuff – the exquisite joy of mothering young souls. Life is infinitely more complicated once children arrive. It’s infinitely more tiring, too. But it’s infinitely more amazing.
Cathy Freeman has openly declared that motherhood is harder than competing in the Olympics. The early years are especially tough and it often feels like a nuanced experience – joyful but punishing too. Perhaps you don’t get the depth of heart without the depth of struggle. Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s also fascinating and full of optimism. Witnessing early learning is such a privilege. For me, it’s brought more emotion into my life than ever before. Put simply, it’s moving. And I don’t doubt that the greatest years of your life happen as you are growing, and watching life grow alongside with you. I don’t want it to be upon reflection that I realise these are the best years of my life. I want to start appreciating them as such now. I want to resist the rush to move through to the next stage, which is so engrained in our culture of fast parenting. I don’t want to move to the “best” stage, whatever that might be. I want to enjoy the stage I am in now.
Thank you, lovely woman, for looking me in the eye and reminding me of this. You delivered a message I need to hear. To be a happier mother is to indulge in all the good moments, to move on from the hard moments quickly, and to be conscious that these years will pass too quickly. I will be you one day, and I hope to impart the same offering on a young mum who may feel more tired and more compromised than ever before. I will remind her of what you have reminded me – that often the best moments in life come in the seemingly mundane, everyday moments and there are plenty of them in early mothering. “It is worth it,” I will say. “These are the best years of your life.”
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*First published on Essential Baby.