Monday, May 5, 2014

Liberation

“MOM!  I was getting something out of the refrigerator and the couscous fell out and the top fell off of the container, and it went all over the floor!  Can you help me?”

I rolled my eyes.  This was the second interruption I’d had while at my desk.  I told everyone at noon that I was going to be reading blogs today.  It was 7:30 pm.  I just sat down to read thirty minutes before.

My immediate response was to help.  Of course I would help.  Couscous is hard to clean up.  I envisioned the mess, little congealed balls of pasta exploding as they hit the tile, tiny bits rolling under the oven, the fridge, everything.  They smear when you wipe them up.  What a mess.

But then – she’s ten, almost eleven.  She knows how to wield a paper towel.  She can do this.

“No.  You can do it.”

“But MOM!  It’s all over!  It will take me forever!”

“It won’t take forever.  But it might take some time to do it right.  Get the paper towels.  You can do it.”

I heard the stomping, the muttering.  I went back to reading blogs.  I expected the guilt to follow, imagined its tentacles squeezing my conscience.  I’m a MOM.  My job is to help my children thrive, grow, succeed.

No.  Cleaning up a mess for her, at the very least supervising her while she does it, won’t help her in any of those things.

The guilt never came.

Maybe it was the week I had.  I had juggled all the balls unaided, deflected chaos, managed daily schedules, and solved problems.  I tackled large projects.  I threw a birthday party sleepover.  I was going to sit still and read some blogs, darn it all.

Or maybe it is because I’ve spent so much time wallowing in mom guilt that I’m over it.  I can’t still allow myself to feel badly for all the things I don’t do for my family – my weary soul can’t take it anymore.   I’m breaking free from being everything for everybody.  After years of preaching it to others but not always believing it myself, it’s time to take my own advice.  Don’t feel bad for not doing it all.


It’s easier now that they are older.  That I am older – I literally can’t do everything.  Things are more of an effort these days – I’ve decelerated as they have become more capable.  We’re trading places, slowly.

I make a mental list of all the things I recently no longer felt badly about: Not making dinner, cleaning, or washing that one shirt that was found under the bed after I did the laundry. Watching my own TV shows, reading for hours, going out with friends.  If they haven’t dressed appropriately for the weather – hello, it’s 45 degrees outside, shorts are for summer.  Saying no, I won’t help you find your iPod, notebook, permission slip, phone, shoes, hat, hoodie, book, headphones.

And saying no, I won’t help you clean up that mess.

In grad school, I was rushing around in my apartment to get to class on time.  I had a long, busy day planned, and in my haste to grab something out of the fridge for lunch, I knocked over a pot of soup, spilling it on the floor.   I couldn’t be late, so I cleaned up what I could but had to leave most of the mess for later.  I spent the whole day thinking about what waited for me when I got home.  After that, I learned to take my time in the fridge.

That lesson was a valuable one.  Although small, it shaped me in a big way.  It taught me to take my time, that lack of physical deftness was a real obstacle.  What this meant for others, for me.  I found out that I was meant to be more deliberate.

I don’t know what lesson my kids will learn from having to clean up a mess in the kitchen, other than to be careful.  I don’t know what else they will learn from suffering through a chilly day with only half of their bodies covered other than to dress appropriately for the weather.  Maybe they will learn common sense, basic skills, self-sufficiency.  Maybe they will learn something more about themselves.

As for me, I’m learning not to feel bad for letting them learn these things.  I’m learning to be nicer to myself.

It is a good lesson.

*******

31 comments:

  1. I'm doing the same here - trying to liberate myself from allthethings that I know they can do. Or hiding in the closet so they cannot ask for help. It's a slow but steady process - this working ourselves out of a job thing. xoxo

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    1. It's a good feeling, but there is a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth sometimes. I can't even be sure if it will be them or me.

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  2. I think you're a wise one, my friend. Taking a cue from you.

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    1. Thank you, Alison! It's a constant lesson for me. :)

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  3. It also teaches them to clean up couscous, which, we can both agree, is a valuable lesson.
    Trying to be rid of the guilt is a constant battle for me, too, but a liberating one. Who started this whole "mom guilt" thing anyways?

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    1. I don't know who started it, but I'd like to give that person a piece of my mind. And my fist.

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  4. Oooohrah! I'm in trouble bc I'm feeling like you but mine are 5 and 7. My grandfather refused to drive me to school when I was a sophomore bc I kept missing the bus. I walked through the woods, neighborhood, and another neighborhood to get there on time. I'm ten min early everywhere I go now. Lessons learned the hard way are lessons learned. Great post, Andrea!

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    1. Thank you! You said it - hard lessons are the ones that stick with us the most. If only they were easier to administer.

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  5. Thanks for this! It's so true...we *know* some of this stuff in our heads, but remembering, in the moment, can be so hard to put into practice. That's why we need solidarity! We've got to keep reminding ourselves and each other to stick to our guns, refuse to take on guilt, and how much it actually helps our kids be ready for real life when we don't just cater to them, and make them do the hard things. (Which is a hard thing for us!)

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    1. It does help to get support from other parents who struggle with the same things. 'Refuse to take on guilt' - I like that.

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  6. I'm guessing it's a tad early to make my 2-year-old clean up all the couscous, but I do love hearing this perspective and knowing that the day will come when I'm not the only one cleaning up the messes in front of the fridge.

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    1. The only trouble with making kids that young clean stuff up is that you have to teach him how to do it, supervise him when he's doing it, and then clean it up yourself after he's lost interest. It's why we end up doing everything ourselves in the first place.

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  7. Oh I just love this! I'm so with you on learning to be more deliberate after making my share of klutz- and rush-induced messes. Lessons learned "the hard way," and on our own, certainly stick. Love your reminder that our kids need to understand the natural consequences of their actions, and sometimes we're doing them a favor by just butting out! (Now I'm trying not to feel guilty for wishing my kids were old enough to clean up couscous on their own ;) We all have our battles!)

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    1. And those battles, no matter how seemingly insignificant, are hard-won. Butting out has never been so difficult as it is with children. :)

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  8. It feels so good to read your words again. I feel like I'm breaking free of the guilt of not being able to read every single post of my very favourite bloggers (i.e; you). Guilt serves some purpose, I suppose, but not always, and not in everything.

    Maybe because summer is on its way, things feel lighter? :-)

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    1. Thank you so much, dear friend! The guilt doesn't serve me well in blog reading; I often feel as if I'm missing something when I don't read, and who needs the noise of guilt on top of all that? So happy to have you back. :)

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  9. I will admit that I'm fully entrenched in OMG just let me do it (with the little one) but the other two? Man, I catch myself playing an internal hot/cold game with them when I know where whatever they're looking for is. Have you seen my iPod? Nope. (I do, though). I watch them search half-assedly and think to myself getting warmer, getting warmer...nope, you're ice cold now. And I giggle. I figure I'm teaching them to LIFT THINGS UP and how to get up all the couscous because um, did you not notice that some of it landed aaaaaaaaaaall the way over there? I'ma need you to get that bit too.

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    1. Yep. I'm a "you missed a spot" mom, too. The half-assedness makes me nuts. I'm not sure if it's OCD or just plain meanness on my part. I'm learning not to feel bad about either.

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  10. Remind me to engrave this on my heart for future use! Mine are one and four right now and need me for everything and interrupt everything I do.

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    1. Yes, I remember those days. They seemed to be just last week. A friend who has adult children once said after hers had left the nest, "All the running, and schedule-keeping, and doing and helping - it all ends abruptly, and amazingly."

      I never forgot that. They will be one and four (and 11 and 13) just for today.

      Tomorrow, all the needing and interrupting will end.

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  11. I like the lesson you learned from the soup spill incident: Going slowly (and more importantly, deliberately) is the much quicker option. Cleaning up large amounts of fluid are never fun. But you taught yourself a valuable, messy lesson that day. Hopefully your daughter also learns to be careful. Even more importantly, I hope she walks away from the couscous at some level being proud of herself for being able to do that clean up on her own.

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    1. That's the whole point, I think - giving them the tools and experiences to know that they can do something on their own. When we learn these things, we look to others to do it for us less and less. Responsibility: who knew that it wasn't an innate quality? ;)

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  12. As a dad who works at home, I feel your pain. It's so much easier to DO for them than to listen to the bitching, but you're right: it does them no favors. My goal right now is not to be fazed by my child's protests. You want to jump to help them to stop the whining, but they must learn on their own. Bitch all you want, but you're still going to solve your own problem, child.

    Also: guilt is overrated. And almost selfish in a way. I fight it, too.

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    1. Guilt is overrated, and I never thought of it as being selfish, but you're right - it can be. As if the world stops turning if we make a mistake. Who am I to think that I have that kind of control? Well, actually, I do - a lot. But I'm determined to change that.

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  13. I think you're right to let go of some of that. Of course she can clean it up on her own, she just doesn't want to! I mean, neither do I! ha! ;) I am FINALLY making my kids help me with some chores around the house and it is SO awesome that I do not have to put ALL the laundry away myself. That's right. They CAN do it too and no guilt. NONE. :)

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    1. I don't want to clean up the messes, either! WAAHHHHHH!

      It is a good feeling to know that they can tackle some of the work themselves, isn't it? It's like a little exhale.

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  14. Oh, holy cow, there is ALWAYS a shirt under the bed when you're done with the laundry, isn't there?

    And one extra sock in the dryer.

    I blame it on math. Or science.

    (It's NOT is poetry. That's for sure.)

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    1. I save all the lone socks. They always seem to turn up - in toy bins, under the couch, in the yard (THE YARD!!!!). It could be math or science, but I see it as a vacation from its mate.

      Clearly I spend too much time thinking about lone socks.

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