I have been contemplating our society’s take on parenting for a few days. Or four years. But lately I feel like I have fallen into catering to the cool crowd. You ever feel like you’re doing that? Like you’re trying to do the “right thing” but you’re not quite sure what that is, and you end up chasing around ideas and responding to articles, and raised eyebrows? I feel like I have been making this job extremely hard on myself for a few years now.
Here are some thoughts I have had about the general expectations of motherhood:
- we are expected to have a small garden
- we should be giving organic food to our children, everywhere
- we should be cooking every meal and be experimenting with new foods so that our children are exposed to different flavors as early as possible
- we should be using diversionary discipline, directing them to a new activity with each correction and putting a positive spin on each lesson. Patience in all things.
- we should be reading the fine print of every label in the grocery store while giving our kids their own cart and list, but not buying them anything because that’s an unhealthy habit.
- if they are fussing and whining, that means they need to get out of the house
- if they are fussing and whining, they haven’t gotten enough of our undivided attention
- if they are fussing and whining, we really should have had a planned craft for them to do while we got things done
- we hate screen time but its the only way we get anything done
- unattended children are unloved children and vulnerable to every kind of risk
- if we are at the park with the kids, we should be taking that precious time to play with them
- if we are at the museum with the kids, we should be taking that precious time to play with them
- if we are at the gymnastics center with the kids, we should be taking that precious time to play with them
- if our older child is in school, we should be taking that precious time to play with the younger one.
-this is all nothing new- check out more at fbofw.com
Joking (sort of) aside, I love a lot of those points, and I love what it says about our focus, but the thing is, I CAN’T GET ANYTHING DONE. And the other thing is, I have come to dread my time with my children and how much time and energy is involved to fulfill these expectations. This cannot be good.
And the truth is, a lot of this is baloney that I put onto myself. I thought I was pretty good in the beginning about avoiding mom guilt and just doing my best in all things, but lately it has gotten harder and harder. My mom’s day and my day have slowly become miles apart. And I thought a lot was expected of my mom.
Some real talk- to cycle laundry, I either have to sneak away while my kids are watching cartoons, or I have to ignore them while they whine and fight with each other to get it done. I am supposed to involve Ben in my daily chores, but when he burns out I am supposed to set him up with something extremely absorbing (but not television) long enough to be able to finish my task. It’s impossible. There is nothing that absorbing. If we have a play date, it’s with parents involved (thank goodness because that’s my social time) but it’s so much harder because we have kids crawling all over us the whole time. Birthday parties are adult affairs with themes and games and favors, and a cake that’s a work of art (chest bumps to the moms that pull that off, whether it’s in your own oven or from the bakery). Transitioning to a new teacher, to a new school, from full day to half day, to a new baby sitter, to a sitter at all, is harrowing. Kindergarten is straight up frightening. Driving on field trips is like having major surgery. The pick up line at school takes an hour.
Dropping everything and playing with them, organizing their day around activities, that’s not working for me. I’m exhausted, I am at the museum or the park giving them my full attention, and nothing is getting done at home. I love taking them once a week, but every day being centered around them just brings everything to a halt.
I also get the feeling that more and more of what they are seeing is that life is about playing all the time, and that if mom isn’t focused on us, she is sprawled somewhere exhausted. When I was growing up, and I wanted to go find my mom, I could find her folding laundry, cooking, changing sheets, etc, or just reading a book or watching the news. She supervised. She kept us warm and fed. We were expected to play. What we played wasn’t her job. We had toys, we had a yard. We were supposed to figure it out. If we were bored, we could call a friend and have them come over. Once in awhile we would go out and have one on one time with my Dad, or of course my mom would invite us to help her with things she was doing. They read to us and encouraged reading, and once a year we went on an unplugged vacation. That was unstructured, too, for the most part. What I’m saying is: A LOT of unstructured, self-guided play.
I want my kids to see me getting things done. I want them to see me taking time to relax. I want to play with them when it makes me happy to do so. Of course I chime in and encourage and correct them and separate them when they are fighting, but I really shouldn’t need to direct their play or fill their days with activities just because they are fussing. I want them to know that I think they are capable of figuring that out on their own, as they will be expected to do each and every day of their lives after they leave this house.
I am not a preschool teacher. I am not a summer camp director. I am not a gourmet chef, or a three year old. I am a mom. I love you, I keep you warm and fed and safe and think about your needs around the clock. But I don’t have to play trucks, or feed you exactly what you wanted, or throw you the perfect birthday party to get you to love me. Cause isn’t this what it’s all about? Proving that we love them? Hoping they know? Hoping they look back and think we did the right thing?
If you take real joy in the activities of home making that I don’t like that much- cooking, cleaning, crafts, that is so awesome. I really enjoy scrapbooking and blogging and I know a gazillion moms who dread it like the plague. We all brought hobbies and benefits to this gig, and none of us should be feeling bad about liking one part over the other. I mean, goodness we all have parts that we don’t like and we do them anyway. I’m thinking vomit here, but feel free to insert your own.
At the rate I’m going, my kids will remember a burned out, cranky mama who kept playing with them anyway, who drove to the park half asleep when we had a perfectly good yard, and snapped every evening at four when she was trying to put together some kind of perfectly proportioned home cooked meal but could barely make it to bed because they were waking up at 5am. I want to actually enjoy this, not get the A, just enjoy it.
So my kids are going to start doing some more of the work. I am going to try to let Ben do the things I know he can do, like dressing himself. I am going to make him (yes MAKE him) play outside in our yard. If he’s not in school, he should be out there, really. For hours. I’m going to separate the kids if they are fighting. One in the playroom and one in the yard until I feel better. I’m going to tell them to “go play” a lot more and I’m not going to tell them how to do that. If they throw a fit they can play in their room. I’m going to assume the role of supervisor and trust that our home has everything that they need, already. I know they can figure this out, but it will take me not figuring it out for them for it to truly happen.
Photo credit: Kerry Ko
I will stop trying to fill the role of three year old friend when my toddler is at home. I’m occasionally going to get some of my friends to drop off a kid here and there for them to play with. I’m going to drop them at friend’s houses. I will teach Ben how to make those phone calls. I am not throwing them a birthday party this year, just family, box cake, Etsy shirts (because I can’t stop, somebody stop me) and two small gifts. But next year, I will have a kids only drop-off party. There will be no party favors but your kid will have fun anyway.