Making Memories or Growing Up?

I have an eight-month-old baby right now, and she is very charming. I am fully aware of this, and I am appreciating and enjoying it. But when I go places with her, people tell me, “You need to enjoy this time with your baby. They grow up so fast!” I feel tempted to retort something like, “I hope to enjoy that too!” Or, “What, are you expecting me to raise a monster?”

Now I get it, babies are charming, and innocent, and sweet, and helpless, and it is a lovely phase… But it is only a phase, and if it lasted more than a year, there would be a serious developmental problem.

Appreciate What We Have

I agree that we should appreciate the different stages in our lives. Each phase happens only once, and has unique features that set it apart from other stages of life. And taking baby pictures and making baby journals can be happy and useful activities. (If nothing else, 20 or 30 years later, when your kids ask you how to deal with babies, you’ll have something to tell them because you will be able to refresh your memory with the journal and the photos.)

But “enjoying” your baby can become an obsession, too. In fact, some people are so overwhelmed by being told to enjoy their babies, that it comes as a relief when people tell them that it’s okay that you aren’t necessarily enjoying your sleepless nights, and being bitten by your teething baby. Some mothers end up with unnecessary feelings of guilt because they are not taking enough baby pictures, or not getting professional pictures taken.

In a few years, people will probably start telling my child that she should enjoy this time when she has no responsibilities, because “Life will never be so carefree again.” Then in highschool, she will be told by well-intentioned adults that, “These are the best years of your life, you need to enjoy this time, because once you’re an adult all the fun is over.” And then she will graduate, and if she starts thinking about getting married, the message that will face her everywhere is that the wedding is great, not the marriage, and it all goes downhill from there.

Now, once again, I do think that children should enjoy their childhoods and that teenagers should have some fun in highschool. And it is true that adults have more responsibilities than children, and that responsibilities can be hard. (See my article about why responsibility is actually amazing) But there is no reason why the rest of their lives must be pointless drudgery.

Babies are supposed to grow up; that’s what babies are for. Children are supposed to become adolescents and adolescents are supposed to become adults. And the more you grow as a person, the better your life should be. Your experiences are there to make you grow. And the goal of growth is maturity.

Experiences Are for Growth

Each stage of life comes with experiences that are unique to it. And the purpose of these experiences is to allow us to grow into better, more mature people—to develop virtue, as philosophers would have once said. A baby is working on developing physical virtues when she sticks her toes in her mouth, or crawls, or takes her first step. This is why these events should be celebrated, not because they are “memories” that you will be able to savor in your later life.

Your baby grows into a child. Soon your child can not only walk, but run, talk, and read books. Each of these events should be celebrated, because each of them marks a stage of development toward the virtuous adult that your child is meant to become.

And then your child becomes a teenager. Teenagers have an instinctive desire to grow up. They want to take responsibility for their lives, but they aren’t very good at knowing what good decisions are. Their behavior is often looked upon as rebelliousness by their parents, and in a way it is. It is the adult attempting to put away the things of the child. But teenagers lack the control that an adult needs to handle adult responsibilities alone. He or she should be helped to reach that goal. But if the teenager is told that teenage years are basically just an extension of childhood, and that he will have no new responsibilities, but continue to be treated as a child, he is bound to be frustrated. Or if he is told that being a teenager is the best time of his life, he is unlikely to take the effort to learn the self-control needed to become a responsible adult.

The teenager’s attempts to gain independence should be celebrated too, even as they are disciplined and directed, because they are an attempt to develop the virtues of the adult. It is also important to make the teenager realize that responsible adulthood is the goal to which he should be striving, and not “having fun” or “making memories.”

It is strange to me that people still tell teenagers that highschool is the best years of their lives despite the prevalence of teenage depression and even suicide. I wonder how many of them are depressed because they have been told that life goes downhill from there, and they find that life is already unbearably bad.

A more useful tactic would be to give them a mission to accomplish, something to take their minds off the feeling of pointlessness they so often have. What we should tell them is something more like what Jordan Peterson says in 12 Rules for Life: “We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for our individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It’s asking a lot. It’s asking for everything.”

Now of course no teenager can do this alone, or without direction. They will need guidance to find their own way to make the world better. And if they do this, and only if they do this, their own lives will become better, as they themselves grow and develop.

Let’s Empower Ourselves

A mature adult is one who has accepted responsibility for is or her own life. The mature woman has recognized that she can make a difference in her world, and that she has the duty to do so. She cannot blame someone else for all her problems, which might seem hard at first. If you can blame someone else for your problems, then you can momentarily feel good, “It’s not my fault.”

But the victim mentality is the most dis-empowering mentality in the world. If nothing is your own fault, then you can’t fix anything. If you can’t fix anything, then life is hopeless, and you might as well give up now. And I think it is closely tied up with the “making memories” mentality: the idea that you must try to get the most possible pleasure out of life, right now, rather than doing something that is meaningful and good, just because it is meaningful and good.

“Just enjoy them while they’re young. Soon they will be teenagers.” Implied in this seemingly innocent comment is the idea that your children will be awful when they are older, and there’s nothing you can do about it. When people tell children or teenager that they need to enjoy their lives now because being an adult is harder, what they are really telling them is that they will have no power to make their lives better. In fact, they are telling them that the more power over their lives they have, the worse it will get.

Let’s stop trying to “make memories,” and start trying to learn and grow. And if making baby albums helps us and our children learn and grow, then let’s make baby albums. Let’s stop telling our kids that their lives are better now than they ever will be again, and start helping them develop the skills and virtues they will need to make their adult lives more satisfying and fulfilling every day.

And finally let’s do good things just because they are good, and fun things just because they are fun, and not because some future version of ourselves will be able to sit in a rocking chair and say, “Remember when…”

Rearranging the Furniture

So, Christmas vacation is over and we are finally back to a normal routine. (well, as normal as it gets.) It wasn’t my intention to take such a long break from the blog, but I’m back now.

A few days after we got home, we rearranged the furniture in the master bedroom. I’d been having a few issues with the room—like not wanting to spend any non-sleeping time there, and having clothes pile up on a chair as a result. This was bothering me. My husband also stated that he didn’t like being in the room much, except when sleeping. We had our bed and the baby’s crib in the room, and it turned out all that was needed was to move both of them over a few feet so they were against a different wall. Now the room seems spacious, I actually cleaned it, and you know what? Last night I hung up my clothes before I went to bed, instead of just throwing them on a chair.

Now some people make fun of women for rearranging furniture, but this experience, combined with a podcast I listened to lately (highly recommended), made me realize that rearranging the furniture isn’t a frivolous waste of time, but can actually be a fantastic tool for self-control.

Typically, bad habits involve following the path of least resistance. When we feel energetic, enthusiastic, and fresh, we can make all the decisions we want, and make good decisions, but, like water flowing over a surface, humans tend, when they are tired, not paying attention, or depressed, (and most of us are in one of these states most of the time) to seek the lowest point, travel the same well-worn paths, and break no new ground.

Decisions

Making decisions can be exhausting itself. According to Inc.com “It’s said the average person makes 35,000 decisions every day.” Some people react to this by making the more trivial aspects of their lives as routine as possible. Former President Obama was an example of this. He only wears gray or blue suits, so that he doesn’t have to think about that aspect of his life. The way he put it was, “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Whether or not you agreed with the former president’s politics, this is something that makes sense.

So what does decision fatigue have to do with rearranging the furniture? Well, every time you walk into a familiar room in which everything is the same as it was before, all your routines for that room kick in. Sometimes these routines are helpful. You don’t have to think about turning the light switch up for on and down for off. This is something your brain has routinized; you don’t have to consciously process it.

But sometimes our automatic routines are less useful, like dropping clutter on a particular chair or table, or turning on your TV the moment you walk in. Or just leaving it on all the time. Or wasting time on social media all day long on your phone. We do these things, not because we have consciously chosen to do them, but because they are easy and automatic. So the key to changing these habits is not to use more will-power—we only have a limited amount—but to to make them less easy and less automatic.

Furniture

This is where rearranging the furniture comes in.

Do you have a piece of furniture that collects things? (I used to have this problem with the kitchen table. You can read about how we fixed that problem here) Why do the things go there instead of where they’re supposed to go? Often you will find that the clutter-collector is on the way to the place for the things it collects. Or sometimes the clutter-collector is in a logical place for those things, and should be replaced with something designed to store those things. In the first case, moving the piece of furniture can solve the problem. In the second case, it should be replaced with something else, perhaps some other under-utilized object you already have in the house.

Do you have a habit you want to change? How about constant snacking? Even something as simple as putting your snack food on a higher shelf can make a difference. Or putting healthier snacks in places where they are easier to grab and less healthy snacks in more out of the way spaces.

If you are watching TV more often than you want to, an option is rearranging the furniture in your living room so that it doesn’t center around the TV. If the furniture doesn’t make you face the empty screen, it won’t tempt you to fill it.

But what will you replace your TV watching with? Rearranging furniture into a conversation circle can do wonders for your family social life.

What else can we change?

What I discovered by rearranging my bedroom furniture was that I hadn’t wanted to spend time in that room because the furniture was near the door, and so in order to move into the working space of the room, you had to walk past or around the furniture. It was not difficult except psychologically, but I never wanted to do it. In a book of applied psychology I read that neighbors tend to be more friendly with the neighbors who are on the same side of the street and whose doors or yards face each other. It isn’t hard to cross the street, but people rarely do it if they don’t have to.

How many things could we change in our lives, simply by rearranging the “furniture”? Is there an app you could delete from your phone that would save you time and energy? Would moving a chair or table make you exercise more often? Instead of trying to use your limited will-power to help you make your life better this year, why don’t you think about what furniture your should rearrange in your life?