Anticipatory Nostalgia: Presence Over Perfection

I woke my husband up in the middle of the night sobbing. In the quiet of the night, when the house was shut down and no toddlers were at my feet demanding my attention, it hit me: my babies were growing up. How, in the draining, exhausting days that never seem to end, do I have a four-year-old who needs my help less and less, and a 16-month-old who’s bottles were just packed away in the attic?

It all came crashing down on me so overwhelmingly that all I could do was cry. I started seeing images in my mind’s eye of my babies graduating from high school, driving cars, moving away to college . . . I was missing them being little while they’re still little.

Naturally, as in any middle of the night emotional crisis situation, I took to Google.

I typed in “sad my babies are growing up.” Surely this would make me feel better, or at least not so alone in my fretting. The phrase “anticipatory nostalgia” popped up under one of the article headings: “the feeling that makes us sad about our babies growing up while they’re growing up.” Bingo.

Now that I had a name for my feelings, how could I feel better? All I felt that night was heavy, unrelenting guilt. A steady stream of mental bashing followed: Why am I short-tempered with my family? Why don’t I spend more time doing Pinterest crafts? How could I have stayed home sick and missed my daughter in the church parade? A reel of movies played over and over in my head of the ways I thought I’d failed my kids, which only led to more heartache and more tears.

I vowed to start being more patient, more crafty, and the perfect mother immediately.

We all know how long that lasted. What’s the answer? Mothers are constantly told by others–typically complete strangers–“Enjoy these moments, because the days are long, but the years are short.” This statement does nothing but cause me anxiety every time someone says it to me. I want to shout back, “I’M TRYING!”

But how am I supposed to “cherish every moment” while playing homemaker, chef, maid, teacher, referee, schedule-keeper, appointment taker, booboo kisser, and all the while also trying to be a good wife and take care of my own needs?

In a nutshell, I decided the answer was presence. Since I don’t have the ability to stop time or rewind it, I’ve made a conscious effort to slow down. Do the dishes need to be done this second, or can I join my daughter in playing with play-doh? If my son hands me another book before bed, I can add those extra minutes to our time together. And a big one: putting down my phone.

Most of all, I need to stop demanding perfection out of myself.

I would never expect perfection out of anyone else; why would I expect that of myself? This is WAY easier said than done and is a daily battle with some days being better than others. Every time I ask my daughter what her favorite part of the day was, her answer always revolves around playing with mommy or daddy, taking walks together, bird watching, or something else so simple.

My kids don’t need Pinterest crafts, elaborate vacations, or daily outings. They need ME. Next time I want to beat myself up for missing an event or feel more anticipatory nostalgia creeping in, I can remind myself that I was present. I speak my love into them every day and celebrate new things they’ve accomplished. There will always be another milestone to look forward to, and I can cherish the memories we were so fortunate to spend together.

Being present means letting go of perfection. Stacy shares why we should all try to be a little more authentic in motherhood.


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