A few weeks ago, I met two of my lucky-to-still-live-in-Manhattan college friends for dinner. The other mom of three, Gina, and I bored the stink out of our single, child-free (and super smart, adorable, and patient) friend, Deb. We compared notes and shared stories about everything from breastfeeding to toddler tantrums to entertaining our kids–anyone else amuse their kids by explaining how you learned to speak Dog? (We also spent a lot of time talking about non-mom things, right, Deb? If not, I’m sorry. Please continue to invite me to child-free outings.)
During a particularly grueling week, while Gina’s husband was in London on business last week, her nanny was plagued with a stomach bug, and her kids were on spring break, she had all three kids all by herself all day long–from early morning wake-ups to late night feedings. The combination of wrangling boredom, sibling fights, and the WHINING alongside feeding all of them, wiping butts (before someone pulls up underwear too soon), getting them down for naps, baths, and bedtime can be prime time for some serious hair-pulling. Add to that keeping the laundry done and house clean, and some moms may choose to conveniently fall down the stairs as time in the hospital would be a break from the pain of raising small kids alone. (A side note here to SINGLE MOMS EVERYWHERE: You TRULY are the heroes of the world. No joke.)
Anyway, my friend told me that during those days, she felt overwhelmed and kept thinking of me and the fact that I am frequently solely in charge of the kids sans help. “How do you do it?”, she wanted to ask me. How do you manage it alone? Don’t you go crazy before your husband comes home?
I was slightly (okay, VERY) flattered when she seemed so impressed with the fact that I take care of my own kids without help (for the record, while I can’t afford a nanny, I do have a fabulous daycare where I bring the kids when I have to work or write and a husband who is always knee- deep in kids’ stuff when he’s home). Because I don’t think of myself as a supermom (nor does anyone else), Gina’s question made me think about just how I do it. And the answer I came up with was easy: YOU JUST HAVE TO LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.
During the few years that I’m raising my young boys and am running around like a lunatic finding the find right kind of underwear, feeding little mouths four HUNDRED times a day, wiping booties, kissing boo-boos, feigning amusement at whatever game they’re currently playing, teaching a baby to walk and talk, all while trying to maintain healthy adult relationships and OH, A JOB, I am unapologetic about being a bit of a jerk sometimes. And that is all part of the advice I gave to Gina that night: during this time of the intense insanity related to raising our youngins, we must lower our expectations. First, of ourselves, then of our kids, and then maybe even of our partners and other people who deal with us on a daily basis.
Before I became a mother, I thought my kids would be walking, talking, doing math, and reading literature by the age of two. Or something like that… I also thought I would be a perfect mother/professor combination where I would be publishing books alongside raising perfectly well adjusted genius children and have a marriage that everyone would envy. But the real world is just not like that—and as parents, we need to recognize that reality. In fact, my real world consists more of just staying alive. Are the kids fed? Are they semi happy? Is my husband coming home tonight and maybe slightly looking forward to seeing me? Yes? YESS!! Success!
During a huge chunk of the day, I have to do work around my kids. While frequently that work consists of washing dishes, preparing meals, and cleaning up, it sometimes also means I’m trying to write, do research, grade papers, or prepare a lesson. I let my boys run around the house (sometimes naked as that is their choice on a pretty regular basis), smack each other’s butts, and I choose not to react to some of the atrocities that leave their little mouths: “I’m going to kill you, Scout Trooper!” or “Venom wins! Your guy didn’t win. MY GUY WINS!” When Giorgie makes a decision to throw something (that hopefully doesn’t hurt anyone), I pretend not to see. When Jube continuously “beats” or “kills” his little brother’s figures, I don’t wave my helicopter-parent wings to swoop in and save the day. Parents don’t always have to save the damn day (isn’t that what superheroes are for anyway? Until I get my own cool costume, I am going to reject that full time job). When they run up to me to tell me something they are building, destroying, or a fun fact, I respond with an idle remark that will affirm their comment, but will not prompt further conversation. My favorite lazy-parent responses are: “Cool, big boy,” “Wow, (insert child’s name)!” or the overly enthusiastic, “Really? That’s crazy!”
Sure, those reactions aren’t super thoughtful, but it doesn’t mean I love my kids less or that I’m not a good mom. I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving household, and while my parents raised me well, they didn’t constantly play and interact with me all day long. In fact, I spent much of my time playing by myself. I read a lot and played with my dolls alone A LOT when I wasn’t playing with my friends or when my much older sisters weren’t kindly entertaining me. Perhaps my parents’ decision (whether conscious or not) to not hover and control our games (and later, homework and choices related to school and careers) is what made us resourceful, creative, and able to figure things out?
All I know is that as a parent who spends a lot of time with my kids, I can’t be everything to them all the time. Sometimes, I have to let go in order to not only survive, but let my kids a) figure things out on their own and b) do the stuff I like (and need) to do because I am not just a mom, but also a teacher, writer, wife, daughter, and friend. This also means I need to not hover over my husband when he does things with the kids (which is pretty much every waking moment he is not working). I think that parents today put a lot of pressure on themselves, and I am no different as I have a tendency to want to be my kids’ everything (and beat myself up because I’m not a size 2 with seventeen publications among a slew of other things).
So while I’m not saying we need to lower our expectations so much that we drink a gallon of vodka as we watch the kids, I am saying: let’s have a few glasses of wine. Cheers, mamas!