“Mommmmm! Where is the leash?! OMG, Mom!” My nine-year-old daughter hollers at me from her bedroom in her most preteen-y voice ever while I sit on the couch, working away on my computer. She is stomping around, making it very apparent that she believes I am the most aggravating person on Earth for not helping her. But I’m doing something else. I’m working.
“Where did you put it yesterday?” I ask calmly, knowing the query will probably only irritate her further. I know this because some version of this conversation happens every day circa 4:30pm. But walking the dog is her job and I’m not moving.
Finally, she finds the leash somewhere (presumably where she left it), gathers plastic bags, yells for her younger brother, and bursts out the front door dramatically. She didn’t actually need me. But I’m still getting used this, this staying out of the way, this not feeling like a meanie for withholding my help. I’m getting better at it.
The truth is that as recently as a year or two ago, this afternoon would’ve gone differently. From the time we walked in the door from school, I’d be bolting around, helping to meet everyone’s needs straight through bedtime. I’d follow the kids around, picking up after them instead of insisting they clean up their own mess. I’d gather laundry from their rooms instead of asking them to bring it downstairs themselves. I’d also be making sure our dinner incorporated every color of the rainbow and that everyone ate it, too. (If not, no all natural avocado and cocoa pudding for you!) I’d make sure they had baths, and sufficient book time. Oh, and, books! I’d make sure the kids had big bags of library books each week. Then, after they were in bed, I’d get back to it, loading the dishwasher and folding laundry and maybe even packing lunches for the next day. Ideally I’d get to watch half an episode of Catastrophe before falling asleep. On weekends I planned brain-stimulating adventures for them. So much for “me time.”
But that’s what moms do, right?
Yes, old-me probably would’ve been appalled by the way that I run my household now. Not because I’m a terrible mean mom who yells and screams (I mean, sometimes I am) but because now I simply do less. A whole lot less. And I let my kids fend for themselves as much as possible.
It didn’t happen all at once, but gradually, over time, a slow dissolving of an old normal that made space for new patterns to be formed. It happened because the longer I was a mother, the more I started thinking about how I wanted motherhood to actually feel day-to-day. I got tired of everything falling on me, and when I got divorced and became a single mom, even more so. I noticed I was moving constantly to meet my kids’ needs even though they could get their own glasses of water, find their own lost leashes, and put their own plates in the dishwasher. More than any of those specifics, though, I just felt ready to change my perspective. I finally embraced the idea that I don’t have to make things perfect or even enjoyable for everyone at all times. Mind-blowing, right?
Now I look back and shudder at how much I was doing and how I never questioned the pressure to always be moving. A different style of parenting was never modeled for me, though. My own mother never stopped whirling. The only time of day I saw her sit was at dinner, and, even then, I was usually finished eating by the time she got to the table because she was always running around, filling cups of water and doing God only knows what in the kitchen. So I concluded motion was a part of the job.
Of course that lifestyle is a recipe for burnout. But I also started to feel like the constant motion wasn’t serving anyone. Doing anything and everything for my kids wasn’t doing them any favors. And it definitely wasn’t making me a happier parent.
So, how did I start to pull back? For one thing I’d get down on the floor and play with my kids a lot less (you’re welcome knees). And then I started to practice saying, “no, thanks, you’ve got it!” when my kids asked me grab them a snack or find them socks. Before I knew it, I had time to actually sit on the couch once in a while and drink tea or a glass of wine. I also took to rescheduling some after school activities for weekends, and I set limits on how many things they could sign up for. I told myself it was okay to feed them frozen food or leftovers sometimes. You could say I cut myself some slack, yes, but I also very intentionally settled into the idea of doing more for myself, which amounted to doing less for everyone else. And it didn’t make me feel guilty; it actually just made me feel like a complete person who was acknowledging her own needs, instead of an unpaid and very grumpy nanny/maid/driver.
These days I don’t measure my worth according to how much I get done around the house. There are afternoons I don’t budge off the couch. Other times, I embrace an actual want or need of my own, like watching a show or reading a chapter of a book. Yep, even when my kids are awake. I bask in the sun while they’re playing with neighborhood kids. I’m OK with leaving the living room destroyed or the dishes stacked in the sink. And I let them watch shows on Sunday mornings so I can stay in bed until eight. Or nine. Or nine-thirty…
Truth be told, I wasn’t very good at being a Do-Everything-Mom anyway. I don’t think I was meant to be her at all. Slowing down has led to a family life that feels like a much better fit. Now, doing less and allowing my kids to do for themselves feels like an intentional choice that I keep making day after day. Yes, it’s probably more aggravating for my kids at times. But I’m fairly confident they know I’m always on their team. And I wouldn’t do anything differently. Especially if it means getting off the couch.