Enjoy it. It goes so fast. You'll miss these days.

When my kids were younger, I used to cringe anytime someone would say these things to me. These comments usually came in the midst of, or shortly after, a meltdown of some kind (the kids' or mine, sometimes both). Enjoy a tantrum in the middle the dairy aisle? Yeah right. Miss the sleepless nights? Nope, not a chance. 

Related: When you say, ‘Enjoy it, they grow up so fast’

But now that I’m on the other side of the baby and toddler years, I've realized why so many parents say these things. Because when I look back on those days, I realize how much I really did enjoy them. So much.

And I’ve realized what people really mean when they say these cliched (and admittedly unhelpful) comments. 

When people say these things, it's not because they think a public tantrum or sleepless nights are enjoyable. Not even a little bit.

They might have a teen who is struggling with anxiety or grades and they miss the days when most of their child’s problems could be solved with food or a nap.

They might have wanted another child but couldn’t because of infertility or finances or any other number of reasons people don’t have more children, and they wish they could have one more baby.

Related: The pandemic robbed me of my dream for another baby

They might have slipped through the baby and toddler years in a haze of postpartum hormones and mental health challenges, and they wish they could have soaked them up a bit more. 

They might have children away at college, who they are missing so much they can’t breathe sometimes.

They might be a former stay-at-home mom who is re-entering the workforce and is struggling to find her footing. 

They might be missing their little kids, missing the happy chaos of the baby and toddler years, missing the not-so-simple simplicity of being their child’s favorite person.

They might be admiring the way you are interacting with your child and this is their way of praising you.

They might just be feeling a bit nostalgic and wistful for what was a really joyful time in their life.

When people say these things, it's not because they think a public tantrum or sleepless nights are enjoyable. Not even a little bit. I remember the panic and embarrassment of public tantrums, sweat dripping down my back and tears springing to my eyes. I remember the visceral pain of sleep deprivation. I remember being touched out and talked out and desperate for a minute of quiet. Being a mom of little ones is hard and draining. But it is also an utter delight.

These comments aren't meant to diminish the very real struggles of parenthood, but rather to recognize the joy of parenting. 

When people say things like “you’ll miss it” and “it goes so fast”, it's not because we’ve forgotten how hard it is but because, despite all those challenges, there was an undercurrent of deep joy. 

The baby and toddler years are hard. Some days feel downright brutal. But with time, it's like the years have been shaken through a sifter. The pebbles and rocks are captured in the past, and only the goodness remains—and it sparkles.

I don't say any of this to minimize the annoyance and unhelpfulness of these comments, but only to put it in perspective. These comments aren't meant to diminish the very real struggles of parenthood, but rather to recognize the joy of parenting. 

Related: 10 things new mamas don’t want to hear 

Do I miss these days? Sometimes. 

Did I enjoy these years of parenting young children? Definitely.

Will I tell you to enjoy it? Absolutely not. 

Because I know you already are.