Recently, I have run across numerous articles on parenting and blog posts about failure as a parent, which – if taken to heart, would make me cower in a corner sobbing and rocking myself, reflecting on my own failures as a mother. They all run along the same topic – being there for your child, like on a leash attached – bowing down to their every call and desire. They read as though it’s requirement to fulfill your child’s every wish and need for companionship and socialization with yourself in order to be a good mom—as if self-reliance and independence as a child mean you have missed out as a mother. The one I read yesterday was titled, “Dear Mom. I needed you. You did not come.” The little girl was in bed, and after being tucked in and read to, her mother promised to come back — upon coming back, she found her child already asleep with a note scribbled on the ground – I needed you and you didn’t come.
Heartbreaking. Devastating. I cried. I saved it. I shared it. Other people shared it.
Then came bed time…and quite frankly, it ticked me off.
I don’t have one child. I have three – all under 5 years old, all in separate bedrooms. My husband works late or is out of town more nights than I can count, and I feed, bathe, and put the kids to bed alone – and a lot of the nights he is home, they (especially the girls) just want Mommy. He tries, he begs…they yell. The only way I get to lay with all of them until they all fall asleep is if they all sleep in my bed – in which case – I don’t get to sleep in my bed and they giggle until midnight…which happens at least once a week when my husband is traveling.
So, I am doing my juggling act, making the rounds through the three kids in the three bedrooms, circling from one to the other – tucking in, reading, tucking in, singing, tucking in, playing action figures, and circle again. I am promising each to come back when the other two are asleep. And I do….I always come back – even if they have fallen asleep and tuck them in one last time, kissing their forehead. They know that.
The thing is – it’s bedtime, they all three “need” me. They all want their own time to lie down staring into their stars projected by their magic plastic turtle onto the ceiling and talk about their day or what they want to do the next day or their imaginary play house or say their numbers forwards and backwards twelve times. They all three “need” me to lay with them until it’s completely dark and they have drifted to sleep two hours later. And they work it… they werk. They manipulate, they spin stories, they guilt me — whatever they can do to keep me in the room longer, to prolong bedtime. They can be mean little boogers about it too – “do you like laying down with Oliver better than me?”, “Mason’s mommy reads him 5 books at bedtime, you read me two.” My favorite is my two year old that lies and screams that she “threw up puked” so I come back in quickly–then dies laughing when I run in her room.
There is one small problem with this —and this whole concept of “being there” at your child’s every whim. There’s just not enough of “me” or anyone else with more than one kid to do it – nor do I think you should.
In large part, the moms I see writing these articles are parents of one child. One child to whom they are solely devoted. The moms I see reading and sharing these articles, the ones who are so touched emotionally by them are mother to 2 or 3 or more kids. It’s not a fair comparison. It’s apples to oranges – truly. You peel an apple and you still have one apple. You peel and orange and it’s split 8 ways, with never enough to go around.
Yes – I try to give my kids the one on one time they want at night (and every day for that matter)- but too many nights, one falls asleep before I get back to them – two of them are left crying because one is sick or actually in “need” – or like last night, three of them are left crying while I desperately search for my son’s dog dog so he can sleep.
I haven’t made every tee ball game because we undoubtedly have had one of the three sick or the time of tap class conflicted with tee ball. I’ve missed parent watch nights at ballet because we’ve had two others sick at home. I’ve missed sending things for school that I needed to because the paper got lost in the shuffle of 20 papers on the fridge from three kids and I missed seeing them. I’ve been late in the carpool line – once – by two minutes – because my youngest had a pooptastrophy all over herself and the floor of my house. I have disappointed them. I have “failed”.
It’s hard. Parenting one kid is hard. Parenting more than one child – sometimes it feels impossible. If you have more than one child, you cannot physically “be there” all the time, for everything. I will always, come hell or high water, be there when they are truly in need – and for everything that matters. But I (you) cannot walk around taking abuse and beating myself up because I can’t do it all—-all the time, and maybe I did leave them in bed to do the dishes and they fell asleep, but you know what…They’ll be ok.
I can’t be in the room when a teacher scolds them for the first time, or a bully pushes them on the playground, or their first crush makes fun of them in the lunchroom, or when they’re terrified their first day of college, or their boss yells at them on their new job. I can’t always physically be present in every capacity of everything they do – with one kid or with three. It’s my job to prepare them for those days, to give them the foundation to know – it’s ok. They’ll be ok. They’ll be better than ok- they’ll learn from their experiences and get past them smarter and stronger.
My kids are loved deeply – with everything I have and am. I live and breathe them – like literally, this morning – after I failed to find dog dog last night – I woke up to Oliver in my bed two inches from my face and snoring into my mouth.
My kids are not now, nor will they ever suffer from me “not being there”, because I am here. I am here for them. Always. If I make a promise to them, I keep it. Period. I am their home base. Their anchor. That’s my job. My job is to love them. It’s to make sure they have the strength, the confidence, the self esteem to know they are ok. They will be ok. No matter the situation, they can come to me. They can call me. If they truly NEED me, I am by their side.
They are also learning patience, compassion and a sense of self-reliance and responsibility. Yes – they have to wait for me sometimes, and that’s ok. Yes – sometimes their brother or sisters are in greater need of me at the moment than they are —and they learn to be concerned for them versus their own wants at the time. And – yes, sometimes I have to leave them to ‘do the dishes’ because they have more than likely been sitting in the sink all day or for two days because I have neglected them already to spend time with them. While, I treasure each and every moment I have with all three of my kids individually and live for those middle of the night cuddles and conversations, I need them to know that when I can’t be with them – they will be ok.
I have not failed by teaching my kids that they will be ok. I have not disappointed them in a scarring way because I didn’t make it back in before they fell asleep. And I am not going to beat myself up because my kids made me feel guilty, awful, like a blubbering mess because they wanted me to stay in the room with them for longer than I possibly could – because I have two other children who also needed me. These kids will be ok. They will be better than ok. They will be happy, thriving, successful adults, because they are being loved and supported, but they are also being taught that their mother is giving them her all – and just because they fall asleep before she makes it back in the room – or because she’s running a few minutes late in the day – any given day – she’s not a disappointment, and she’s not trying to disappoint them – she’s doing her best. Always. She is always doing her best, and while she may not answer to their every whim or be able to be there beside them in some trying times, she is still here for them and always will be when they need her — and she is teaching them how to do their best –and sometimes, in life, there are disappointments. Sometimes your best isn’t enough, but when it’s not – it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You’ll be ok. You’ll learn, you’ll be smarter, you’ll be stronger, you’ll try to do better next time – and you’ll still be loved. Always. You’ll be okay. When there just isn’t enough of me to go around – I want my kids to understand this, because when they are facing the bully or the boss — I want them to know how to handle it without disappointment when I can’t be there. I want them to know that I am with them – I support them, even when I am not standing physically beside them. I don’t want to miss a single moment with them, but where you encounter the situation daily of a shortage of time, mind, and bodies to go around—you will inevitably miss moments. That’s not a failure. As long as you are there when they truly need you – when they are sick, injured, hurting, happy, celebrating….they’ll be ok. And….You’ll be ok. You will all be better than okay.