You never know when you’re living in a moment that you will one day refer to as “back in the day.” You cannot manufacture nostalgia. The only way to enjoy nostalgia is to move on. Maybe one day the moment you are living now will be nostalgic. Maybe it will be forgotten. It is unpredictable. And there is not much you can do to turn a present experience into a nostalgic memory. It just happens.
Having a child represents a new chapter in one’s life. Therefore, the lifestyle changes that a newborn brings can create nostalgic memories from a time when you were childless. Sometimes this makes me feel guilty. Remembering fond memories of my pre-parenthood life seems like coveting. It almost feels like I wish that I did not have a child so that my wife and I could resume our previous lifestyle. Instead of enjoying the memories for what they are, we are inclined to feel bad about yearning for a time when our priorities were different.
Other nostalgias do not elicit feelings of guilt because often times they are simply a function of aging. Parenting, however, is a choice. Sometimes it is an unplanned (and maybe even unwelcome choice made by mistake) but it is a choice nonetheless. I never feel guilty when reminiscing about my own childhood because it was always inevitable that it would come to an end. As an adult, I understand that maturing and aging bring on new phases of life and that I must move from being a kid to an adult. From being a student to an employee. From being young to old. These changes are a result of time and they are uncontrollable.
Becoming a parent is controllable. Because of that, remembering those days when I could do whatever I wanted – eat and drink whatever I wanted – stay up all night and sleep all day if I wanted – cause me to feel shame because I made a conscious choice to be a parent. It was not a natural change like growing older. Moreover, it is not the child’s fault.
You should never feel guilty about remembering the good times before you had a baby. Those, just like any other nostalgias, had to end eventually. Admitting that you’ve moved on from that era of your life is a struggle. Even more difficult, is acknowledging that the moments you’re experiencing now – the ones that involve your child – will one day be gone as well. What’s frightening is not knowing when something “nostalgic” is happening and understanding that we will always forget more than we remember.
We never know when we are living a moment that we will one day refer to as “back in the day.” They key is not capturing those potential nostalgias now, but releasing yourself from the guilt of looking back and being able to reminisce with glee, knowing that living in the present will one day create a new set of memories to yearn for.