Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day One

Every journey must begin with the first step. But I must admit, this seems less like a journey than it does an empty pledge from a freshly released rehab patient after her 3rd try.

I was browsing through my feed reader the other day, and I was knocked on my ass when I read this tribute Jenny Mac wrote to her mom on her birthday. Most posts about mothers are sweet and filled with memories and tributes. But this one struck a chord with me for the simple reason that it caused me to think about how I've been acting with my own children. I wonder what my children must feel about me and about themselves.

She writes, " easily you demonstrated our importance to you." and, "Everyone needs someone to champion them along, and I have no bigger champion of me than you."

I realized, sheepishly, that I have been everything less than a champion for my children. I have failed to demonstrate to them how important they are to me. Somehow, over time, I have begun to see my children as interruptions in my quest for quiet. They have become almost like the enemy: they are the ones who mess up the house I've cleaned, who eat up all the food I've bought, and who interrupt my sleep every night.

These thoughts have run through my head countless times before. I've made excuses like, "I've got 5 kids, of course it's going to be crazy." and "Kids need to learn to deal with disappointment." and "I just suck. I'll do better tomorrow..." I can't identify the exact moment when I stopped being surprised by these thoughts and just accepted them as my normal everyday attitude about my children. Maybe it was the constant bitching about never having time for myself and finding comraderie with other women who felt the same. Maybe it happened when I would hear the sweet voices of my children, over and over again, forgiving me for scolding them yet again too hastily or for frivolous things. Maybe it was simply my sinful self wanting to push blame for any personal shortcomings on someone or something else, never examining any culpability on my own part.

How in the world did I get here? How did I go from breastfeeding them on demand to being bothered by their demands? It seems that I am pretty good at recognizing the investment other parents have to make in their children in order to reap the benefits of a happy and healthy family. However, when it comes to actually putting in the sweat equity of my own parenthood, I'm coming up short. WAY short. I can talk a good game, but it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

So, today is day one. Today I smiled at my kids more than I'm used to but still not as much as I hope to tomorrow. Today I answered their questions every time, even if they asked the same question more than once or twice or five times. Today I didn't raise my voice, except when someone was physically hurting someone else. Today I didn't make my children feel like their bad choices were a disappointment to me. Today I reminded them that I could help them if they needed it, and I meant it. Today I noticed that they whined just a smidge less, and that I was better able to handle it when they did.

Tomorrow will hopefully be even better. It may be worse, it may be the same. It may cause me to drink unhealthy amounts of diet Coke as a coping mechanism, but I certainly hope not. But, I started today, and this journey has to start with the first step. I want my children to grow up and feel like I was their biggest fan, like they could trust me to be fair even if I might not agree with them, like they knew that the two constants in their lives are God and family, in that order. My kids deserve that. They deserve a parent who really has time for them, not just one who says she'll come play a game of Uno with them in a few minutes... in a few minutes... and without noticing, a few minutes turns into 2 hours and all of a sudden it's time for bed. They deserve a parent who will actually play a game of soccer with them in the backyard instead of making excuses about it being too hot or too windy or too close to dinnertime.

My kids need me: not just my physical presence, but more than that they need my emotional presence. What good is a mom who only makes meals and cleans house? Couldn't a chef and a maid do those things? Isn't this exactly the thing I complain about, that I feel like a chef and a maid and nothing more? Maybe that's not the fault of people around me not making me feel appreciated. Maybe, instead, it's my own fault for not acting like a person who is so much more than a chef and a maid. If I want my family to see me as someone valuable, someone who is irreplacable to them, then I have to BE IRREPLACABLE. I have to quit acting as just the chef and the maid (and the chauffeur and the wetnurse and the secretary) and I have to start over. I have to quit wishing the kids would take care of themselves and start hoping that we ALL can take care of each other.

So, for my family: Today is Day One. I love you and (more importantly) you aren't an inconvenience. The time you demand from me is worth it. The patience you so clearly desire from me is well deserved. I am going to try. I can't say I will always succeed, but I will always be willing to try again when I mess up. After all, YOU are why I am able to call myself a mother.

Texan Mama


Bear and Bones Mama said...

Well said G. And good on you for recognizing the changes you want to make and for committing to making them! But please, please don't be so hard on yourself, and when you do lose your temper, or grump, or whatever, forgive yourself. You are only one woman and you have A LOT on your plate. I bet those kids of yours don't have the same view of you that you have; I bet they know you love them and would do anything for them and that they are what makes you light up. And of course it goes without saying they know exactly which buttons to push too, and when to push them, and do so with angelic smiles upon their rosy faces.

Cookie Crums said...

It's not always easy to remember to smile and answer the same questions over and over. I loved reading this post though. Kind of funny too.... just last night I was reading a devotion about how children are a blessing and a privilege from God. So true! He loaned us these little ones to love and raise.

Thanks for writing this! I needed to hear it.

Julie from Momspective said...

You know what? That was the perfect post. I totally agree with you and I'm very happy I got to read it.

The Urban Cowboy said...

Stopping by for the first time from Megan's. All I gotta say is, right on! Your actions now will follow your children on into adulthood and beyond. What you are doing is awesome!

Rachel said...

Simply perfect.
I hope that the Stumbling brings more people to read this and it makes them stop and think, like it did me.

JennyMac said...

What a beautiful post TM. Thank you for sharing it with us and thank you for including me. I am honored you were inspired by my relationship with my Mom.

Laura @ The Things I Said I'd Never Do said...

This is an amazing and thought provoking post. I find myself already not being present to my very small son because of various excuses. You've helped me take a look at my parenting early on in the game. Thank you.

Melissa said...

This is so true, I love it: If I want my family to see me as someone valuable, someone who is irreplacable to them, then I have to BE IRREPLACABLE

We all fall into that trap, I know I do! Some days I get so frustrated....but your right, Only I can change how I feel and maybe if I change that everyone else will fall in line too. Thanks for the reminder :-)

Wendy said...

You are so hard on yourself!

My #1 recommendation?

Put those kids to work. If those kids are helping you so that you don't feel like you have so many nitpicky details to worry over, there's so much more time & emotional space to be patient with them!

It is super hard to train them, but once they are on board, life is almost a breeze. This morning my 6-year-old heard me running around folding laundry, fielding phone calls, and cleaning (daughter is off at her Gran's house). He starting putting away stacks of laundry without being asked and picked up all their breakfast detritus. The 6-year-old! He just finished kindergarten. He isn't even the most helpful - my daughter is SUCH a helper. Get those kids put to work so you can enjoy them more.

Five kids is way too many for one mama to spoil rotten. It isn't helping them, either. They need the self-esteem from knowing they contribute to the house.