“My favorite child is the one who needs me most.” That quote is attributed to The Husband’s Grandmother. I have no idea if she actually said it, because I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but she had 15 kids so it seems like maybe a good parenting lesson to take from her, whether she actually said it or not.
I’ve lived by this philosophy ever since the day there was more than one baby for me to focus on. Three kids isn’t Duggar level, but it can most definitely feel like I’m managing three rings of a circus at times. (I mean, there is a reason my first blog was called The Traveling Circus.)
Therefore, in an attempt to keep my kids out of too much therapy when they’re older, I try really hard to make sure I focus on each ring of my circus for at least some time. When they were younger, I made an effort to spend one on one time with each of them a few times a month. We’d run errands or have lunch or movie days together. I’ve written about my Valentine dates here before, those were an attempt to focus on the Middle One when he was feeling especially put upon in those early days.
As they’ve gotten older, The Grandmother’s Philosophy has taken a more natural turn. The kids each have times when it is clear they need me and they get my total focus. School problems. Friend issues. Sports drama. Puberty. All of these instances come and go with each of them. So far, I’ve been able to manage it when that happens, and mostly, the other two recognize when it’s time to blend into the background while the needy one takes center stage. We’ve had a good run of this for a few years now.
All that shit fell right apart last week.
In one week, every single kid needed me and I was particularly wrung out by my own needs and thus failed every single one of us. It happens. I mess up way more often than I get it right, but I particularly hate it when I mess up and my kids feel it as if I don’t care. Because, I may have been able to handle logistics and enable my physical presence, but emotionally, I did not have enough for any of them, much less all of them last week. So, it certainly felt to them like I didn’t care.
I care. So much, I care. I want to be there for every one of them no matter how big or small the problems or the joys. But, sometimes my human emotions tank is full and I can’t carry any more. So I have a moment, like last night’s dinner, where I unload about the state of the world on my sweet innocent cherubs all while ruining the lovely steamed vegetables and stuffed bread.
Or, I snap at The Husband when he tries to communicate the kids’ emotions that they shared with him because I take it as a personal offense. Like, I’m not allowed one day off from you people without you pointing out to your father how badly I’m doing it all?
Yikes, Cristie, get a grip. The fact is, I’m not mad at the kids for feeling hurt, I’m mad at myself because now, the self-flagellation over all the ways I’m mothering poorly has been confirmed by the kids’ hurt feelings.
So, what to do? Well, step one is be more kind to myself. I remember once someone saying to me as a young woman, if you’re worried about being a bother, you’re not a bother. As a mom, the fact that I’m constantly (and I mean constantly) thinking about how to best do the job of parenting is a sure sign that when I mess up, it is not catastrophic, nor does it undo all the former good.
I am human. I cannot do all things (try as I might). This year, with a return to full time work coinciding with a house full of changing teens and preteen children, I am almost learning how to parent all over again. There are bound to be days (or weeks or months) where it feels like I am messing it up on all fronts. So, I shall practice forgiving myself and moving on from mistakes so that they don’t add to the pile of things that can overwhelm all of us.
The second step has to do with the kids. I will refocus on finding time alone, even if it’s just a few minutes. I will make time to check in and have a conversation where I am really listening. Not just nodding along while I fix dinner or clean rooms or throw laundry in the dryer, but really listening, even if the topic is not my first choice.
The truth is my favorite kid is the one who needs me most and sometimes that may be every one of them at once. So, listening may be the best (and only thing) I can do.
I can’t do it all, but I sure can try and often, the most love is in the trying.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.