Winter always hits my family hard. With multiple children, germs come and go so often, you’d think our house was a CDC research lab. My husband and I are old hands at the runny nose/scratchy throat phenomenon. Most often, we’re the “tough it out, you’ll be fine” parents.
Occasionally, though, one of our offspring scores a homerun and gets stuck with an ailment worthy of a get-out-of-school-free card. Such was the case last month when I got a call notifying me about my vomit-sharing 6-year old’s performance in the lunchroom.
“I’ll be right there,” I barked hurriedly into the phone, snatching up a jacket on the way to the car.
In no time flat, I was back home with an oddly-improved minion at my side. Funny how that works. She insisted she didn’t need to nap, only that she get a chance to rest (in my presence). I granted her wish and puttered about finishing up chores around the house while she shadowed me at every turn.
As a special surprise, having a light day himself, my husband came home during lunch to bring soup and check on our invalid. He cooed at and coddled her while she soaked in the attention (and managed to finagle chicken tenders…instead of soup) from her dear old dad. To say she was feeling better in no time would be an understatement.
When he left, I sat with her on my lap before I went to retrieve the laundry. “Guess today wasn’t so bad after all.”
She shook her head, “No it’s great! I’ve got you guys all to myself!”
“And that’s pretty cool, huh? Getting to be the only kid for a while,” I asked, laughing.
“Yeah, it’s easier. You’re not all tired and mad or fussy,” she said, jumping up without another thought, to find the remote control.
I bristled at her back. Though she’d meant no harm, her words stung – my kids’ perception of me matters.
We moms are particularly sensitive when it comes to the ways in which our girls see us, I think. And my relationship with my oldest is one I’m always anxious about. She’s my first, the one who deputized me a mommy, after all. And the time that we spent together alone in the beginning – before her brother & sister arrived – bonds us greatly. She’s high-spirited and emotional. Sensitive to everything but quick to speak her mind and share her own grievances. We butt heads more than a little bit.
I like to believe, though, that she understands I’d do anything for her.
I imagine this is all part of the growing pains I’ve always heard about. These minor skirmishes aren’t necessarily indicative of teen years filled with angst. But, honestly, it hurt that she thought of me as a fussy, irritable and an always-tired mom.
As the one with my kids most of the day, I get the full range of emotions from all of them. I’m the default parent when there’s a fight, an illness, confusion or leftover anger from a tough day at school. I’m the one that catches the blows. The primary disciplinarian, nurse, therapist, and cheerleader (and that’s on a light day). But those are tough jobs, and more often than not, I’m spent by the time my head hits the pillow.
I think that parents everywhere try to walk that fine line between being a doting caretaker and helping their kids learn to trust themselves enough to go at life independently. But how do we do that without wearing ourselves thin?
It’s important to me that my kids recognize my contribution to the house. I don’t go out every morning, like daddy, in fancy clothes, coming home only to make more business calls with important papers stacked in front of me. But I do keep this household running smoothly. As a stay at home mom, I attend to their wants & needs much more so than I could if I had to split my time here with an office.
The benefits my daughter receives now are hard for a child to grasp, I think. She knows, deep down I’m sure, that I’d spend all day playing and laughing with them if I could but sometimes things need to get done. So where is the line between fun & functional mom?
As I reflected on her words over the passing weeks, I began to re-evaluate the way I parent. The kids don’t get free reign now, but I do want them to feel as if I’m present in this moment. Not merely pushing them along to get to the next. I don’t want to be so tired and cranky from stopping the boy from locking his sisters in the pantry (apparently that’s the only sensible solution when a toddler is trying to bite your ear off) that I forget that I know how to play a few games too.
In this new year, I resolved to incorporate more one-on-one time with each. As difficult as that may be, I’d at least try. For my oldest, another particular treat she’s warmed to is a Mother/Daughter journal that we’ve begun to keep. Nothing too deep, considering most of her posts revolve around why she’s not allowed to wear crop tops to school, but eye opening nonetheless.
I think it’s working well too. I hope to learn a little bit more about what’s going on in her head and hopefully, she’ll start to see what’s going on in mine. And that’s what so many of us need anyway, just somebody to hear us out and know we’re doing our very best.