“Cherish every moment.” This little phrase haunted me since the birth of my first baby a couple of years ago. Now, I have two babies and the words still follow me around from time to time, but the scary howling from them is not as intense.

I thought at first that it was well-meaning advice, something that I would soon come to relish as my credo of motherhood. Of course, seasoned moms would tell me to cherish every moment! Based on their experiences, they wouldn’t want a new mom like me to take parenting for granted because it goes by so fast and kids eventually grow up.

I know now how I truly feel about it all – and I would never tell another new mom to cherish every moment.

Maybe my friends and family did give me this advice innocently. I’m not exactly sure where the gut instinct to say, “Cherish every moment” comes from, sprinkled amidst other common expressions that people direct toward new moms. I’ve heard everything from “Sorry,” uttered by a random man in a drugstore parking lot who saw that I was bringing home a newborn, to “You’re never going to sleep.” These are all quite contradictory and confusing messages touted by society toward new moms.  

Two years ago, when I brought my baby boy home and missed a whole night of sleep, I started wondering when I’d get a chance to cherish every moment. A few nights, a week, and then a month later, I started complaining about it to my boyfriend, the father of my kids. I asked him when I would finally get a chance to cherish every moment with our baby because all I openly cherished at the time was sleep. I wasn’t spending much quality or fun time with my son at all because when he was alert, I was tired and vice versa.

My boyfriend just looked at me and said, “This is it… you are spending quality time together. What experience could be more quality than helping your baby boy to calm down and go to sleep?”

I was bowled over. First off, my boyfriend is not a mom – obviously. Yet here he was watching me being a mom who was trying to cherish every moment, and he was giving me better advice that was less exhausting, frustrating, and guilt-inducing.

I knew, then, why this phrase felt wrong the second I heard it fall from another mom’s lips. It implies that I, and other new moms, don’t know how to appreciate what is in front of us – this new, weird, cute creature – without first taking an oath to cherish every moment.

Panic ensues when you first hear this advice. How? When? In what manner do I cherish correctly? Why are they telling me this now, so early in the game? Especially when the baby’s crying ramps up in those first six to eight weeks of human life, you can’t imagine cherishing the passing seconds the way you’re being told to.

Then you have to start negating what you’re really experiencing, which is being a real mom. A real mom is tired  She is learning to deal with new stress, cleaning up unforeseen messes, rebalancing her hormones, crying at weird times, and still cuddling with her baby as he or she wakes up repeatedly during the night. A real mom has ups and downs all day long and when added together, this roller coaster doesn’t look picture perfect to anyone.

“Cherish every moment,” may have good intentions behind it, but it suggests that moms can control every moment enough to have time left to cherish it. It’s as if we don’t know what to take away from our experiences in a natural and organic way.

Worst of all, the phrase instills doubt and regret. You don’t want to look back and wonder if you cherished every moment during some tough times. We all know that when a baby is born, life keeps going on around us and the innocence a baby brings can’t make all our troubles go away. We’re all dealing with life at the same time that we are trying to raise our kids, unable to cherish every moment of reality itself.

The words also instill so much guilt. When I wanted to write, or work, or just have fun as a woman, I wondered to myself, “Am I still cherishing every moment as a mom?” When I ran to shelter from my guilt storm and just dove into a fun activity, I noticed both myself and my baby would be refreshed afterward. “Yay!” my baby seemed to say, “mom is taking a break from trying to cherish it all.”

Demanding of ourselves the perfectly captured moment puts a lot of pressure not only on us but also on the babies. They can’t provide that gilded and smooth hand of a clock that cherishes every second with its ticking any more than we can. They’re going through gas, teething, shots at the pediatrician’s office, and sometimes they just stare off into space. If we force our babies to provide endlessly happy and cherish-able moments for us, how much stress are we subjecting them to?

Sure, this is just an innocent saying that many knowing moms share with brand new moms. Except that it’s not that helpful or innocent after you notice the kinds of unfair expectations it stirs up in new moms toward themselves and their kids.

The truth is, you can’t cherish every moment, no matter how hard you try. A mom who is telling you to do that never did it herself. Trust me. She’s telling you in so many words that babies grow up fast, which they do. She’s saying that she wishes she could revisit some of those special times once again. Which she can’t, except through memories. She wants you to know that you’re lucky to have a sweet little baby, which you are. She’s telling you to squeeze the life out of every moment of being a mom so you can put it in a jar for later, which you can’t.

I’ll never tell a new mom to cherish every moment. I can’t say those words after being a new mom who failed at cherishing every moment. I think what’s more helpful is to be who you are while you’re a mom. Learn from what you go through, both the hits and the misses. Be in your own space. Get to know yourself as the mom you are. Take care of yourself, too, along the way!

Remember: What time could be more quality than the hours you spend helping your baby sleep or get through painful teething? No excessive doubt, regret, or guilt needed. Even though you can’t cherish every moment, there will be plenty of opportunities for you and your baby to have fun together. These experiences are even more special because they don’t happen all the time. Your baby will help you see that it’s true. At the end of the day, babies have the best advice for us new moms, they just use a different language. Luckily “Cherish every moment,” is not a part of their vocabulary