Do you have a favourite mum mantra?
A pithy little phrase or quotable saying that you like to keep in mind when it all gets a bit much in the trenches of motherhood? Perhaps something you say to your friends to persuade them that it really does get easier (eventually...) or maybe even a few words of wisdom that you’ve stuck to the fridge door or some other prominent place to help get you through those moments where you’d happily lock yourself in the loo for a spot of silent weeping, if only you could manage to get the place to yourself?
When I was a kid, mum mantras seemed more than a bit dull to me. ‘Because I said so,’ ‘Wait till your Father gets home’ and ‘Maybe later, we’ll see,’ to name but a few. Yawn. And now that I’m a mum myself, I often have to stifle a laugh when I hear myself rolling out the very same tired lines.
But the mum mantra that really sums up my parenting philosophy is this:
‘The days are long but the years are short.’
Ain’t that the truth. You rarely notice that the years are short, of course, until you stop to realise that they’ve flown. In contrast, you just haven’t known a truly ‘long day’ till you’ve spent the night pacing the floor with a wailing newborn and then been dragged out of bed at 5am by a rambunctious toddler keen to get his party started. We’ve all known the sinking feeling that comes from glancing at the clock to work out how many more hours until bedtime, only to discover that it’s not even 9am yet. Urgh.
And yet, having recently celebrated my eldest’s 10th birthday, I can vouch for the fact that the years do indeed fly by. One moment your sticky-faced kid is staggering towards you on trembly legs for a soggy kiss, arms outstretched, and the next they’re dropping your hand in the street when their peers walk past, and plastering KEEP OUT signs on their bedroom door. It’s dizzying.
And that’s what I love about that saying; the way it encapsulates the contradiction at the very heart of motherhood. You know exactly what I mean - the bitter sweet truth that some days you’d give anything to wind the hours forward to bedtime and wine o’clock, and yet not so very long from now you’ll glance through the baby album and feel blindsided by the realisation that you blinked and BOOM - they grew up.
My mum mantra matters to me because it reminds me to try and live in the moment more, cheesy as that sounds. To really listen to my kid relay the playground drama of the day even though I could tune out and check my emails or scroll through Facebook instead. To take time to pause and drink in this day, this stage of their development, or this moment in our lives, before it’s consigned to memories and half-remembered family lore.
'The days are long but the years are short' reminds me, too, to keep the trickier moments of parenting in perspective. To not let the drudgery that can go hand in hand with motherhood rob me of the joy that hides beneath the mess and mayhem.
Above all, my mum mantra recalibrates the disdainful, grumpy state of mind that is my default. It takes me by the hand and leads me out of the particular stress of any given moment of motherhood (teething, tantrums, sleepless nights, sibling rivalry, trouble at school, the list goes on...) and makes me sit for a minute in a calm, quiet place, where I can appreciate that being a mum, with all the monotony that goes along with it, is indeed a gift, and one which I must stop to treasure while it’s here in my hands, before it's just a lingering imprint on my heart.
Yes, I’ll always be a mum, and parenting never really ends, I know. It’s not some finite experience that stops the day the kids leave home, but my mum mantra persuades me of the importance of living as if it does; of cherishing these days - long though they may be - when I’m still the first person they want to tell their fears and dreams to. Before the years, short as they are, have passed us by...