If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know I write kids’ books and study them in graduate school. What you might not know, however, is I actually own some of those strange little creatures myself. Five of them, to be exact. Cisily is 16, Emily is 14, Joei is 12, Conrad is 9, and Briar Rose is 5.
Once we clear the inevitable “why in the world did you have five children in this day and age?”, most people ask me how I do it. The general consensus is that I must me some kind of sleepless martyr, a supermom that no other parent could ever possibly compete with.
Well, I have a confession to make — I actually do it by being a pretty cruddy mother.
Here’s a short list of the things I don’t do for my kids on a daily basis:
- I don’t make them breakfast. Okay, so every once in a blue moon I might decide to try my hand at pancakes, but usually they get their own cereal while I’m either sleeping or taking a shower.
- I don’t change their sheets or blankets. If I smell something funky, I tell them to do it.
- I don’t help them with their homework. That is, except in the rare case when they need help with English. Being my children, however, they usually need help in math. Anything I could do would be the complete opposite of help in that regard.
- I don’t clean up after them. I tell them to do it.
- I don’t spend the day playing with them. I spend it locked away in my library, writing, reading and generally being a far more productive student and writer than mother.
- I don’t check labels when I shop, or create meals “from the cow up”. I get the same food every month, and use it in pretty much the same way, as I have since my kids were born. I’ve made a few little changes, such as butter instead of margarine and steamed frozen veggies instead of microwave from a can, but I am far from Betty Crocker… or Olivia Organic, for that matter. Yet somehow my kids are still healthy and energetic. Strange…
- I don’t drive them around to classes and extracurricular activities. I have nothing witty to say about this — I just stink at remembering it all. I’ve had paperwork for one after school activity they want to do for the last two months. I actually did look for the paperwork yesterday. It’s disappeared.
So what do I actually DO as a mother?
- I talk to my teenagers whenever possible. “Whenever possible” isn’t always that often, but they know that when they need me, all they have to do is ask. And if I feel like I’m starting to lose them, I make a point to drop what I’m doing, seek them out and ask, “so, what’s been going on lately?”
- I make dinner every weeknight. Sometimes it’s pot roast, and other times it’s baked potatoes covered in beans from a can, but we always eat at the table so we can talk for a few quiet moments during the otherwise hectic day.
- I always tuck them in. This only takes a few minutes from my life, and even if they know they’ll wake up to prepare their own bowl of cereal, they fall asleep with the assurance that Mommy loves them… with a little extra Mommy “love” stuffed into a pillow or stuffed animal to keep their dreams happy all night.
- I hug and kiss them as often as possible. This takes exactly one second out of my life, and it speaks volumes.
- I make it to every parent-teacher conference. They’re only twice a year, and if I can make no other parental appearance at my children’s school, I sure as sunshine am going to make that!
- Sometimes I randomly play video games with them. This is a memory I have of my mother that was very special, and it’s fun for all of us. Plus, it’s a great surprise for them when they see Mom doing what they love. (They also love to tell me how to play, and I don’t bother reminding them I’m from the original video game generation.)
So, I spend more time on my career than I do on my children. That is my confession. But despite it all, they have never once doubted that they are the very most important part of my life. Heck, my teenagers still hold my hand in public. I think that means I must be doing something right, despite what every parenting expert — and my childless friends — say to the contrary.
The one thing I have learned the hard way above all others is this — nobody can be everything all the time. All the planning to be a perfect parent never works out, and by the time you have a child in grade school you’ve either accepted this and figured out how to pick your battles, or decided you’re the worst parent ever — simply for being human.
What about you? What is your advice for juggling your kids with your career?