Dear Young (er) Mamas,
I turned 40 last year, and my kids are all in school now, so I guess it's officially time for me to stop calling myself a young mother. There is a whole new crop of you all out there now. You have young children and your days are filled with diapers and snack time and toys all over the floor and rigorous bedtime routines that MUST be followed! I remember it well. Good times. Exhausting in a lot of ways, there's no denying that! But lots of sweetness, too. These are the days when you are a constant presence in your child's life. You do, pretty much, everything for them. But here's what I want to share with you about having older kids so that maybe, just maybe, you will remember a little of it when your child is older and it will be a source of freedom for you.
You can't be a constant presence in your child's life anymore. You can't be everywhere all the time and really, it is okay.
See, I think as our children get older, we have this skyrocketing sense of mother's guilt. That's what I call it. And it's kind of gotten out of control. Maybe it's because as our children naturally make the transition from baby to toddler to school age and so on, we don't always naturally make that transition with them. And so, in our brains, we still feel that need to do everything and to be constantly present.
And maybe also, it is Pinterest. Because Pinterest can drive anyone crazy with all it's perfection and precious ideas. (By the way Pinterest, feel free to hold my recipes for me in a neat and orderly fashion, but can you stop suggesting what pins I might like? Because frankly, you are often way off base. I don't care one bit about how to lose my stubborn belly fat. One more belly fat crack like that and we are likely to break up for good.)
The truth is, we moms are pretty good at the guilt thing all on our own, but it certainly doesn't help that those sweet cherubs of ours somehow know that we feel this way and they are surprisingly deft at using it to their advantage. "You aren't coming to my (unimportant) basketball scrimmage an hour away from town???" they say with those sad eyes. "You aren't going to pay $75 for the whole family to attend the high school's Dinner and Jazz concert where we middle-schoolers are not the main event but sort of more like an opening number or two?" with shoulders slumped. (Well played, band boosters. You play on our mother's guilt like an expert instrumentalist and make thousands for your cause doing it.) Well, no sweet, precious child, I am not. I will, instead, be happy to buy groceries for the entire week with that money, and also, I will listen to you practice those songs every day at home. I will also be thrilled to come to the (FREE) concert that you will give at the end of the year, in which the same songs will be played...and probably with much more skill since you will have a lot more practice under your belt. I am not a sucker.
Don't get me wrong, I love watching my kids do what they love. It's thrilling in a way that only a parent could understand. And I want to be there as much as I can. But, I also know that my kids are moving towards a life outside of mine, and, the truth is, I am also moving towards a life outside of theirs. Ouch. It hurts even writing that. But that doesn't make it less true. We are both learning to get along without the other. And that is good and right and necessary. After all, those kids will be adults someday and we will need to know how to do life apart from one another. Actually, maybe that's why we mothers hold on so hard sometimes. Maybe that's why we try to be everywhere, all the time. Maybe we can sense it slipping away and we are trying to soak up every moment.
But here's the reality, young moms: we can't. You and I both know that we would never just blow off an event that's important to our kids. We love them too much. But there are just legitimate reasons why we sometimes can't be at all the things. And, instead of owning that mother's guilt as if we deserve it, how about teaching our young ones how another person can't meet all of their needs? Even their mom. How about teaching them that they can be disappointed that someone can't be present while also knowing that it isn't because that person doesn't care for them? How about teaching them that there won't always be someone cheering and clapping just for them in life, but it's still important to do what you love? How about teaching them that even when mom or dad aren't right there, we are still their biggest fans? Those are important lessons. They don't negate our need to be a consistent presence in our children's lives, but they do mean we can trust they won't be scarred for life if we can't make it to the (fake) track meet where our own team is the only one participating.
So, start early, young moms. When you need a night out with your girlfriends, or your husband, go. Leave those kids with a sitter. Hug and kiss them on your way out the door and say, "Bless Mama as she leaves." Teach them to say, "Have fun, mommy." And then, leave the guilt on the doorstep. There are plenty of ways we will fail our children, young moms. But, teaching them to get along without you for a few hours is not one of them.
Bless you, Mama.