When I look back on the past 17 years of raising my oldest son, it suddenly seems like it went by so fast. And yet when I think ahead to all the years I still have to raise my youngest (who isn’t even two yet), it seems like it is taking forever. I don’t enjoy every minute. And there are certain things I’m sure I will never miss (diapers, potty training, vomit, and car seats just to name a few). But certain things I will miss (like cuddles, slobbery kisses, chubby wrists and baby laughs). Parenting: we love it but we hate it. It’s impossible but we wouldn’t give it up for the world. We miss them being little but we are so glad when they can wipe their own butts.
Parenting is complicated.
I’m in an interesting situation right now where I am raising two teenagers, two tweens, and a toddler.
I have all the stages going on at once (except, thank goodness, the sleepless baby stage) and that definitely makes it complicated, but it also gives me perspective. I can see now that no stage lasts forever. Even though it still really does feel like it. I’m trying (often failing) to be patient with the fact that my stubborn toddler arches his back and refuses to get buckled in his car seat Every. Single. Time. I try to remind myself that someday he’ll grow up to be a big, (mostly) responsible teenager like his brothers. Someday he’ll get into the car willingly, and later still, even be able to drive himself around. This stage won’t last forever.
It’s complicated trying to meet the needs of each kid.
Sometimes, between me chasing a toddler and chauffeuring teenagers, the tweens are the ones to get lost in the shuffle. When things are revolving around the toddler’s needs (diaper changes, naptime, snacks) or the teenagers’ needs (Prom tickets, Rugby Sign-ups, rides to ASB functions), the tweens have to be more patient. Then, when The tweens and teens have homework and sports and activities and such, it’s the poor toddler who gets buckled in his car seat and shuttled from place to place, despite the fact that he’s bored, hungry and tired. That’s when it’s HIS turn to be “patient” (ha!). And then there are times when the littler ones just have so many needs that the teenagers get totally ignored. I forget sometimes that, though they can mostly take care of themselves, they still need one on one attention occasionally. We try to give each kid a “date” alone with mom or dad each month so we can guarantee at least a little one-on-one time. We find it necessary because normal life with 5 kids is just so complicated.
It’s complicated trying to figure out what works for each kid.
Once you figure out a potty training strategy or a style of discipline that works, suddenly all your theories go out the window with the next kid. And then both theories are crap for the third kid. And so on. Each child is so so different from the others. The more kids I have, the less I know about parenting. In fact, my only advice for new moms is to let go of lofty parenting ideals and simply do whatever they find that works. Because that’s all you can really do. It’s all trial and error and hoping for the best.
It’s also hard to know whether or not you are a good parent.
Sometimes I look at my teens and think, Man, either I’m a dang good parent, or I got insanely lucky. We’ll go with me being a good parent. That’s definitely it.
But then there are times when I think back to all the ways I screwed up as a new parent when my first two kids were little and I feel like the worst parent ever. Especially when I’m not so sure I’ve gotten any better over the years. I may even have even gotten worse. Do you ever feel like that? Like you should be improving over time because logically, you get wiser as you get older, right? But in reality you feel like you’re just getting lazier and doing less and less. Or is that just me? Then again, maybe, juuuust maybe it’s not laziness, but efficiency.
Maybe I actually am getting wiser (please, let that be true). Maybe we don’t need to put as much effort into parenting as we thought. Maybe it’s OK to do less for our kids so they can gain some skills of their own. Maybe it’s OK to do less WITH our kids so they can gain some independence. Maybe it’s OK to do less micromanaging of our kid’s lives so they can breathe a little, make their own decisions and even mistakes, and we can sit back and relax a little more.
I don’t think we need to be helping out in every classroom, attending every field trip, and bringing homemade goody bags to every party. I mean if that’s your thing, that’s awesome. My kids and I appreciate the moms who do that. But I don’t like doing it, and it’s not absolutely necessary, so I can stop it with the guilt now, right?
Keep in mind, I mean all this within reason. I used to help out in my kid’s classrooms every week, and I recently went to my daughter’s school to take pictures of her getting recognized for running 50 miles this year. It’s cool that she did it, but do we need pictures of the “ceremony?” Yes, apparently, we do. So I was there.
But I don’t help out or go on field trips anymore. I just don’t have the time or energy. And that’s OK. But I still feel guilty. Complicated.
Even “me time” is complicated.
How much “me time” is too much? Or not enough? We feel resentful when we don’t get enough of it, and guilty when we get any of it. How do we know we’re living a balanced life? I have a working theory that, unless you are being truly neglectful, no amount of self care is really too much. I think that for most normal people, our parenting instincts keep us loving and serving and nurturing our kids enough. And any extra time we get to ourselves, we should take-no questions asked. And no guilt.
We could all stand to make parenting a little easier for ourselves, but you don’t want to make it too easy. But still, not too hard either. We want to be firm yet gentle. Fun yet responsible. We want to have the perfect balance in all our parenting interactions. But that perfect balance is going to be different for everybody. Unfortunately there are no one-size-fits-all answers. The good news is that that gives us the freedom to figure out what works for us. The bad news is that it’s complicated.