I was chatting with a mom the other day. It started out as regular chit chat. How are your kids? Did you have a fun Halloween? Isn’t the weather mild? That sort of thing. But then, as small talk sometimes does, it abruptly turned a corner into something real.
And I found myself talking about my worries about my children. About my daughter who suddenly won’t sleep unless all the lights are on, who gets nervous when I leave the room.
Is this normal? Is it a phase? Should I wait and see what happens? Is there a parenting book that addresses this? What would you do?
I had no idea what she would say. In fact, I had no idea how we even got to this place. She is not a mom I talk with often, not someone I commiserate with. Her kids are older than mine, but I’ve never looked to her for guidance.
I waited for her response, her advice, her reassurance.
And this is what she said to me:
“Do you love your kids?”
“Do you tell them?”
“They’ll be fine.”
In less than a minute, she saw my anxiety, my tendency to hyperfocus on a behavior, to turn it into a problem, then try to control it. This anxiety and desire to control is like my security blanket. Well, not like a security blanket, because I never feel warm and cozy with these wrapped around me. More like a cane really. Something to grip until my knuckles turn white, something that holds me up, that helps me walk through the uneven stones of parenting.
Do you love your kids?
Do you tell them?
They’ll be fine.
In three sentences, she ripped the cane out of my hand and I felt myself fall to the ground. Into a pile of uncertainty.
“How do you know they’ll be fine,” I asked, looking up at her, shielding my eyes. The light of what she was saying was too much for me to take in all at once.
“I work with really messed up people.” (She works in mental health and I’m sure she used a more professional term but it escapes me). “They weren’t loved as kids. Their parents never told them. They have problems. Real problems.”
“Your kids will be fine. Just love them. Tell them that you love them.”
And I knew in that moment she was right.
It seemed so easy. Too easy. But I knew she was right.
I can’t control my daughter’s need to be in the room with me at all times. That’s her need. Her feeling. Her fear. But I can stop myself from making it into more than it is. From obsessing about it. From showering her with my anxiety.
I have no idea what is going to happen to my kids over the years. I can’t control how they will perform in school or sports, what fears they’ll have, how other people will treat them. I can’t stop them from experiencing pain, from suffering.
But I can love them. And I can tell them. And I can trust that they will be fine.
Commiserating with mom friends is a must right?
Raising kids is hard. It’s nice to be around people who get that. I kind of thought I would be awesome at it and I would have all these great instincts and my kids would act perfectly because of my superior mothering skills. Turns out, that’s not the quite the case for me. I’m often without instincts, my kids do misbehave, and no one has ever described me as superior! At this point in my life, I’ve given up the ideal of what I thought mothering would be and am just trying my best. Trying my best to raise my kids and trying my best to enjoy them, even in our messiest moments.
Commiserating with other moms who really get it helps me to find the humor in our not so perfect moments.
Here’s how a typical commiserating session might go:
Me: You are never going to believe what happened to me this morning! I was upstairs on the phone scheduling a doctor’s appointment and when I came downstairs I saw that one of the girls had been cutting her hair with kid scissors!
Mom friend: I know the feeling. My daughter and I walked away from her homework for a second to look something up on the computer and when we came back, her little brother decided he wanted to do “homework” too and colored all over her paper!
And then we all laugh because at the time those moments are hard and stressful, but after a while it is funny, and it makes us feel better to get that off of our chests, and here’s another mom who really gets it. The rest of the day is a little easier.
So, that brings us to this week. Here I am at a mom event, a play date, a meet up, an excursion or whatever you young moms are calling it now, and I am commiserating with another mom.
Me: So get this, I’m running my 9 year old to the bus because we are late! Again! And my 5 year old apparently thinks I’m leaving forever because she runs out of the house in the cold with no pants on screaming, “Mommy, don’t leave me!”
I chuckle and wait for her to bounce a story back to me.
Mom friend: (pensively says) That’s funny. But, yeah, how do you make sure they don’t go outside without you? My oldest can reach the door knob now and I’m a little worried about it. Did you keep your doors locked all the time, or did you have a talk with them about safety?
Ummmm. Ok. Not a funny story, but…
Me: I don’t know. I can’t remember if I locked the doors when the kids were younger. But mine are pretty obedient and it wouldn’t really occur to them to run out of the house without me. I think this time was like a one time thing.
Ok, now that’s out of the way – let the commiserating begin!
Mom friend: Your kids are pretty obedient aren’t they? I saw them holding hands in the parking lot this morning. At what age did they start doing that?
And then it hits me. Like a ton of bricks. We are not commiserating. She is asking me for advice! Which in and of itself is not a problem really. It’s kind of flattering actually. The problem is that I was seeing us as contemporaries and we were going to COMMISERATE! But what’s happening here is I’m the older mom! The more experienced mom. The mom she can go to with questions. I know these moms. I love these moms. I’ve peppered these moms with questions. The their children seem great, so they must be doing it right, so let me get some tips moms. But that’s not me! I’m not “older.” I’m a mom with young kids!
But then I glance over to this woman’s children, a three year old bashing blocks with a plastic hammer and an 11 month old gnawing on the corner of a board book. The rest of the room shows a similar story. The kids are teeny. Babies crawling around eating cheerios off the floor. Toddlers impulsively grabbing toys and shouting, “mine!”
My kids are 9 and 5. We haven’t eaten a board book in ages. My youngest can dress themselves, brush their own teeth, and pour their own milk (kind of). My oldest is reading chapter books and gets off the bus on his own. She’s right! I am the older mom!
There will be no commiserating. There will be no laughing release of tension at the end of this conversation.
I politely answer her questions, give her all the best tips and tricks I can remember. I let her know she is a good mom and doing her best. And then I get the hell out of there! I certainly don’t mind giving advice to the younger moms. Just not when I thought I was one of the younger moms!
I run home, pull out my phone and call one of my best mom friends for some real commiseration. “You are never going to believe what happened to me this morning!”
I have a big family and I came from a big family. It’s not quiet in my home. It wasn’t quiet in my home growing up. When I was a kid the TV would be on in one room, maybe a radio on in another, a wrestling match that almost always ended with a broken lamp, and maybe a fight or two – all going on at the same time. And I loved it!
Second Generation Chaos
There’s a little less wrestling and a lot less TV in my house, but the noise and chaos remain. We have a school age son learning to play the violin. We have triplets worn out by their first year in kindergarten who occasionally melt down in tears. We have a mom who whistles and sings and dad who shares his loud music collection. There’s fighting, yelling, and more than one conversation happening at once. Our nearly dead clothes dryer squeaks so loud you start looking for the earplugs and sometimes there’s food burning on the stove, setting off the smoke detector.
And it’s not just noise -it’s a little bit lack of organization and schedule. I don’t know if it’s me or being raised by hippie parents, but my body does not want to be on a schedule – I feel a physical aversion to it. I’m like a toddler who doesn’t want to go to bed on time, even though she needs the sleep. My brain throws itself down on the floor in a complete tantrum, “I don’t wanna do the same thing at the same time every day!”
My Calm Friends Have Peaceful Homes
I’ve had the privilege of visiting my calmer friends’ homes, where there is less yelling and more patience. The space is cleaner, neater, more organized. A load of whites is done every Wednesday. The vacuum is run every day. There’s no faint scent of “litter that should have been emptied yesterday.” It’s so nice to walk into a space like that. And not just the neat part, but the calm part. Some of my friends just exude peace and to be near them is like stepping a sweet scent. I feel calmer when I’m near them, just being around them helps keep my crazy at bay. Now, I’m not saying these women are perfect. I know there are no perfect moms.
I used to think this was my goal – the calm, neat home. To curb my temper. To clean up the house. To run a load of whites every Wednesday. To get my act together. But now I know better. My calmer counterparts are not my goal. They are not me. It’s in their nature to be calmer and more peaceful. That is one of the reasons I love them and love to be around them. But, calm and peaceful is not my default setting.
My New Goal: Embrace the Chaos
So instead of trying to be something that I’m not, I’m going to start embracing who I am, to appreciate my nature.
What that means is yes, our house is filled with noise and chaos, but that’s not a bad thing. The noise comes from dance parties, sock skating, tickle fights, and attack hugs. The chaos that begins with a burned dinner ends in a pizza party. Embracing the chaos means throwing out the schedule to play my violin along with my son, staying up late on a school night to let the kids watch the Princess Bride, and throwing a birthday party for our guinea pig. These are great times for our family: loud, joyful times. And they’ll be great memories for my children.
Already I’m more content at home, now that I have given up trying to be something that I’m not and trying to make our family like someone else’s. Now we have the freedom to be our amazing, loud, crazy big family.