We are not that family.
You know them. That family at the pumpkin patch where everyone is having an inexplicably good time despite the crowd and the blistering, ninety-five degree Alabama “fall” weather. The mom doesn’t have to raise her voice because the kids are perfect little cherubs sitting still, awaiting instruction. The husband is gently resting his hand on his wife’s shoulder as their kids frolic and giggle instead of dart and scream like it’s the first time they’ve tasted fresh air in six months. The family that asks you to take their picture and then settles into a perfect formation of serene calmness and perfect smiles like they’re going to be on the front cover of Vogue. Unfazed and easy-going, sometimes it seems like these families just exist to make us question every decision we’ve ever made in life. I always stare as my blood pressure rises and I slowly replay Aibileen Clark’s words in my head, “You is kind. You is smart. You is not a failure as a mother.”
The sad truth is, I’ve always worried because I feel like parenthood doesn’t come as easily to me as it does to others. Don’t get it twisted. I’m an awesome mom to my two littles. My connection with my kids is undeniable and our love for each other is a force of nature. God created me to be theirs and vice versa. We’re perfect for each other. It’s just all these external pressures have me feeling like I’m failing them. Like I should do better. I should know better. I should be better at creating a magical childhood for them to exist in and remember for the rest of their lives. That’s my job, right? I’m the maestro of the soundtrack of their little universes. The curator of their interests, their experiences, their memories. The conductor of the train of their imagination. (Okay, enough metaphors.) No pressure, right? Ugghhhh.
We are front seat on the struggle bus most times we leave the house, especially if it involves a crowd or any form of emotional cooperation from my kids. I spend hundreds of dollars on activities I’m sure they’ll love and they don’t. I spend thousands on photographers I pray that they’ll cheese for, and they act like they’re being abducted by a woman with a camera. I build up holidays and special events in my mind to absolutely unattainable heights. I buy them themed, smocked outfits to match whatever occasion we’re attending, and my daughter wants to wear the $2 Elsa nightgown from the Walmart clearance rack. I constantly set myself up for emotional failure. It is the definition of insanity, but every time I see Disney on Ice is coming to town, I buy the overpriced tickets. Every time I see the perfect dress with an Easter Bunny on it, I buy it and the matching diaper set for brother, praying they’ll love it and quietly knowing I won’t get quite the reaction I was going for once it’s all said and done and the Visa bill is paid.
On the flip side of that, my husband would just as soon not go at all. Like, at all. Like, I’ve googled the word “agoraphobic” before because he told me we weren’t going to eat at a restaurant until both kids were in middle school. Excuse me, Sir, but we’ve got things to do. Memories to make. Petting zoo themed outfits to wear. Suck it up and get in the car. I’ve accused him of avoiding family time. I’ve tried to make him feel guilty for not enjoying the endless activities I parade us to. I’ve said hurtful things because I didn’t feel like he matched my level of excitement for things like Zoolight Safari. Sure, it was twelve degrees outside and we had a four month old, but I’ve seen other people on Facebook taking their kids and they seem to be having an awesome time, so grab a scarf and quit complaining. How does that old saying go? If everybody’s going to the zoo in sub-zero temperatures, are you going to jump too? Something like that.
The truth is, his approach provides a lot less frustration across the board. I see this every time we manage to have an unscheduled weekend day at home just the four of us. My husband is happier. The kids seem more content. Laundry gets done. Naps get napped. We make it to church. I get to actually spend the time with my kids that I complain I miss because I work all week long. It’s just easier. So, why do I keep emotionally cutting/signing us up for all these things that take us out of our natural habitat? Why not take my husband’s advice and cut back on all the extra-curriculars? Honestly, it’s because I’m terrified that my inability to perform these mommy acrobatics means that I’m not as good as the other moms that can handle it. That when my three year old was more excited about the bus ride to campus than the actual football game on a recent Saturday, it was somehow a reflection of my parenting capabilities.
On the off chance that there are some other struggle bus families out there, here are some truths I’ve been focusing on lately to embrace being a “Not That Family”.
They want time with us.
We took my daughter to Pancakes, Princesses and Pumpkins at the zoo a few weekends ago. I pictured my daughter cuddled up with Rapunzel having an awesome conversation about why Flynn Rider chose a life of crime before meeting the long-locked princess, but what I got was a clingy three year old who just wanted to “Hold you, Mommy” and go look at the turtle. Here’s the thing: I’m my kids’ whole world. When I come through the door every evening, it is to a chorus of cheers and hugs and love because no matter what’s going on, I’m Mommy. Home base. Safety. Affection. Attention. Praise. Playmate. Protector. Provider. Love. I know that intensity will wane as they get older, so why not capitalize on their attachment now?
We want time with them.
My husband is a full-time farmer and I have a full-time job as well. My husband’s line of work adds a cushion of flexibility that is a blessing some families don’t have but we are both very busy, as are most families. I love to work, but there are numerous occasions when I am crazy jealous of my mother-in-law and the MDO teachers that got to see my kids so much more during the daytime than I did. So why fill up our weekends on my only two uninterrupted days that I get with my babies? I know the weekends are for a lot of things and that you can’t be homebound your entire life, but as much uninterrupted time as I could have available, I’m ashamed to say I end most weekends exhausted instead of refreshed.
Home is where the heart is . . . and the toys.
This one isn’t hard. We have all we need and more for our kids to do at home: books, crafts, toys (good googley the toys!), movies, food, stuffed animals, forts, tee-pees … you name it, it’s either crammed in a closet or thrown on the floor somewhere. And guess what? Every birthday or holiday we get a new wave of “stuff.” The real kicker in our situation is that we live on a farm and the possibilities of something awesome happening outdoors are ten-fold. My three year old told me the other day through an inexplicable whine-fest and tears in the car that, “I just need to run.” Whatever you say, weirdo. But when we got home, she literally went outside and ran around the yard and her energy completely shifted. She was happier, calmer, joyful even. Could it be that simple?
They’ll let me know when.
I don’t know why I keep pushing my agenda on my kids when, if they’re anything like me, they will have no issue expressing their opinions when the time comes. While we should definitely encourage our kids to do and try a multitude of new things, we shouldn’t be forcing our interests or expecting them to adopt our likes and dislikes. I’m not going to lie, I absolutely struggle with this as a mom; but when I let them, my babies will lead me exactly where they want to go. If my daughter wants to run instead of dance, I’m going to let her shine. If Knox wants to play guitar instead of being an NFL superstar like his mommy has planned, we’ll encourage his gifts. So when I agonize over whether to take them to gymnastics or tae-kwan-do or toddler pilates? Why not save everyone the trouble and wait for them to ask? Or at least show interest? As tiny humans, just trying to figure out the world, I’m sure it’s completely overwhelming for Mommy to expect so much from them at such a young age. They amaze and impress me every day, so the least I can do is extend patience and grace and not project my fears of what it means when they scream at a music class that they would rather be playing with Chuck the Chicken instead of enriching their left brain with classical music.
Maybe there are families out there that can make an Easter egg hunt with a 10 month old a non-stress inducing task, but it ain’t me, Babe. And that’s okay. We are blessed to have each other and will grow together until we’re ready to take on the outside world.