“You sound like a drill sergeant,” my childfree friend Ellen told me a few weeks ago. We were on the phone while I was with the kids in the playroom.
She was right. It was a typical phone conversation when you have toddlers nearby, something like:
Me: “He’s a narcissist and I can’t understand why he did that. I mean, to friend her on Facebook!”
Ellen: “That is weird. But—“
Me: (yelling to the side of the phone) “Hey! Get off the coffee table! You guys can’t be on there!”
Ellen: “Maybe he did it because he’s like Pam, you know, to prove that he’s the good one and you’re the shithead. I don’t get that either.”
Me: “Me neither! It’s either a clean break or—“ then “Hey! Stop throwing that! Time out if you don’t put that down on the count of three. You know the rule: ‘Outside we throw, Inside we roll’.” Then “So it’s either, fine, don’t be in a relationship and walk away, or be in the relationship, you know?”
Ellen: “Right. I don’t get that. Why do men hang on and then friend your friends—“
Me: “That’s it. Now! You, get on this side of the room. You, sit over there.”
Ellen: “You sound like a drill sergeant.”
After she spoke this truth, I listened to myself another time, and a lightbulb went on. It was one night when my kids had driven me bat-shit and were trying to delay their bedtime rituals. The winter rituals are: wash hands, dinner, baths, pajamas, playtime, watching Blues Clues on occasion, juice and small snack, brushing teeth, wash hands, storytime, individual tuck-ins where I sing to them or tell a silly “Real Life” story or where we just talk, then lights out. In that order.
Problem? As these rituals hardened over time, it all became about the Doing and Must Get Done. Other than the individual tuck-ins, my time with the kids started to seem as vapid as a grocery list. Because if anything came up that disrupted The List, it affected the rest of the tasks like falling dominoes. Result: everything else had to be rushed through to get them to bed at a decent hour, which became later and later every night.
“NEXT!” I yelled one night after I’d just brushed Jack’s teeth. Simon walked in slowly for his turn, and I wished he would pick up the pace. Lightbulb moment: why was this a cattle call?
Mommy Guilt & Mommy Types
Sometimes we moms need some Me Time. Occasionally. It refreshes us for the times we’re with our kids.
In other words, we’re supposed to not want: sex, fun, Me Time, friends who aren’t moms, interests that take our attention outside home and hearth, non-mom clothes, reading about non-mom stuff, or any other non-mom interest. Because anything that takes our attention away from our kids implies that we’re neglecting them.
Which is bullshit.
Before a bunch of Supermoms descend on me like locusts over saying this, obviously I’m not referring to extremes like becoming an alcoholic or locking your kids in a closet. I’m saying that it is not only possible, but common, to neglect our children by denying ourselves anything and everything that is not Kidcentric. Personally, I believe that we are hurting our children if we create an identity for ourselves that is only Mommy.
I haven’t read a lot of parenting books because I think they’re mostly BS marketing ploys, much like corporate management methodologies I’ve been subjected to over the years. All are saying, “You’re doing it wrong because you’re not doing it the way I do. Plus, I stand to make a buck over a new fad that vulnerable people crave.” After all, what commodity is more important to us than our children? We want to get this parenting thing right!
Here’s my $.02 on the matter: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SUPERMOM OR GETTING IT RIGHT 100% OF THE TIME. As I’ve said before, we’re going to do something that 10-20 years from now, our kids are going to throw in our face and say how wrong-headed we were. Shit, they may even add that they have learned to be a great parent by NOT parenting the way that we are. That’s gratitude for ya! How do I know this? Because do WE not do this—look back on our childhoods and find some moments when our parents did something we disagree with, causing us to do the exact opposite? Of course we do! Just as every couple thinks their marriage is better than their parents’, so too, parents believe they are doing a better job than their parents. It’s human nature.
Doing vs. Being
I’ve only found 2 pages of any book to be profound on the subject of parenting, and this was written by a dude who is not and never will be a parent. What he says about parenting makes sense to me. Here are a few paraphrases:
Kids bury hidden resentment toward their parents, because of inauthenticity of the relationship. Kids long for a parent to be there as a human being for them, not as a ‘role.’
Even if you are DOING all the “right” things for your children, even DOING the best is not enough. You have to BE THERE for your child.
Don’t lose yourself in DOING only.
How can you accomplish this? By giving your child attention. Not just formula attention: feed them, diaper them, all the daily basics. But by listening to your child, spending quality time on their level, being a human being to them in addition to just a parent.
This was a “wow” moment for me as a mom. We Gen X and Gen Y’ers tend to put ourselves on impossible pedestals when it comes to mothering. Even knowing all this, the Mommy Guilt often creeps in—it’s ingrained in our culture, unfortunately.
So last night we played a board game together, not as a thing to Do, but just Being together. My full attention was on them and the game. They were ecstatic that Mommy was not cleaning or doing something “more important” like baking an organic carrot cake for Jack’s snack day tomorrow (instead I bought a package of freshly baked sugar cookies from the bakery over my lunch hour—the sinfully good kind that are soft with thick frosting and are probably 90% fat).
I didn’t get worked up over the fact that we only had 18 of the 20 marbles for the game. Or even when, after we were done playing, that we were down to 17 (after begging each of the boys to tell me if they’d swallowed one and they said no).
We lost some of our marbles, but that is okay.
More fascinating BS: