How much is enough?

By Mir
April 4, 2005

Somehow–mixed up with my headache and my fever and my general discontent with the entire world–I feel like the issue Where The Kids Rank has been striking me a lot, recently.

Jay just wrote an interesting musing on the issue of kids vs. spouse, and a parenting community I belong to recently had a discussion about what it means to prioritize your kids and your marriage appropriately. Granted, I have no spouse to worry about in this equation, but it’s still an issue about which I have an intense curiosity (due in part to the fact that my own marriage started unravelling as soon as the kids hit the scene).

I know someone who often refers to one of their (young) kids as their “best friend.” It horrifies me. We’re supposed to raise our kids. We’re supposed to guide them. We’re supposed to model appropriate adult relationships. We’re supposed to provide for them and accept that the relationship is unequal by nature. The disservice visited upon a child who is imbued with such misplaced importance at such a young age… well, I’d not want to be bankrolling that therapy fund. (I know, I know; it’s too bad I can’t tell you how I really feel about that….)

But I do worry that I’m too far afield, myself.

I’m a complicated person, with a complicated daughter… and we have a complicated relationship. I will fully admit to jealousy of others who seem to glide through the parent/child space with no bigger issue than the occasional “You’re a mean mama!” But I also have a… hmmm, I don’t want to call him simple… less complicated child with whom I have a pretty idyllic relationship. So it’s not as if I don’t get to experience that sort of ease, too.

I don’t love one of them more than the other. I love them differently because they are different; and then I agonize over how they may perceive that. Because guilt is my middle name.

Anyway, what I sometimes get concerned about (you know, when I’m not beating myself up about anything else, at that moment), is that I am so often laying down the law and saying no and making her tow the line, that she knows I love her, but she doesn’t feel it. Our “tender” moments (for lack of a better descriptor) are not as numerous as I’d like.

Today, I brought a pale and listless Chickadee back home. I offered comfort and toast and ginger ale, and let her crawl into my bed. We took a nap together. When she woke up, she threw her arm around my neck and thanked me for taking good care of her when I’m not feeling so good myself. (I didn’t tell her; she knew.) I kissed her sweaty forehead and smiled a little at her uncomplicated trust. Moments like those, it feels worth it. She knows. And it means I’m doing something right, even when I so often wonder if I’m not doing enough.

It’s a nice counterbalance to the times when I offer, “Small girl for sale!” and I’m only mostly kidding.

On the other hand, it’s not a substitute for the more adult, more equal relationships in my life. I’m grateful I can take care of her when she needs me to. I also wish I had someone to help take care of me. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that, again. And I’m not sure how I’ll fit in all the pieces together in the proper order.

All I know for sure is that love is complicated.


  1. Robin

    I look at my kids and wonder…will I ever “get it” more than I “don’t?” If I do – then maybe they’ll be okay after all.

  2. Betsy

    Once again, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head for me as well. All of it – the wishing there was another adult to lean on, the guilt, the ‘do they know how much I love them?’ and even the ‘uh, kids are so not meant to be your best friend.’

    That last bit is tricky. On one hand, my former boyfriend (who lost his adult son in Afghanistan last year) felt as if he’d lost his own best friend, and that he was lucky there’d been nothing left unsaid. On the other hand? He was talking about his adult son, who thankfully grew up unencumbered by the pressures and responsibilities that might accompany that kind of relationship placed on a small child. Rather, they grew to that point as Joe grew.

    I’d love to have my kids regard me as a good friend. Just not now – otherwise, I can’t possibly do what I need to do as their mother.

  3. dave

    Don’t worry, you will have someone to take care of you.

  4. Anne

    I have a similar situation in that my oldest boy is so much like me that we but heads a lot. I think I can just see him plotting evil before he does it, so there are fewer tender moments with him, and more corrective ones. (Finn on the site) One of the twins (Porter) is happy, eats everything, does his chores, loves to snuggle. I love them differently. As for the article, which I read (and boy has it created some fascinating feedback!), those who point out that spouse love and kid love are “mangoes and starfruit” as one woman said are right.
    I hope your head is better. And that someone will give you a night off soon so you can soak in the tub and read US Weekly (or whatever your weakness is)
    Anne Glamore

  5. mister`

    it is not easy being a mom. I always find it difficult to comprehend those who say that their children are their best friends. I don’t think that it is healthy for the parent or child. Too much pressure for the child. not easy being a parent, especially as they get older and everthing is more complicated. it sounds like you are doing a great job! It cannot be easy. Hope your head feels better.

  6. Amanda B.

    I have a feeling that there’s someone out there who would love to take care of you. He will be with you shortly, I’m sure of it.

  7. SarahJ

    Read you everyday…try not to lurk or highjack. Really relate with the daughter. I came to work in tears over my morning battles with my 5 year-old. When she gets mad, she tells me she wants her dad…I am her provider/nuturer and yet she wants the bad guy! I wonder sometimes if I have my current BF around just to take care of me and not for all the other right reasons. Thanks for making me think!

  8. Colleen

    Hugs..I have one of those complicated children also…and understand your wonder and guilt. No not “best friends” here either. Praying that “someone” is close. :)

  9. Amy

    My experience with my oldest child is a fine line between “I love you to pieces” and “I am certifiable because of you!” He makes me nuts and and I know he feels the same way about me…sometimes I feel like I never talk to him except to correct his behavior! Which is both frustrating (because he’s old enough to KNOW BETTER, dammit) and guilt-inducing (because he’s a kid and I want him to be happy). Walking that tightrope is enough to make anyone crazy! Hang in there!

  10. Bob

    I too believe that my job was to be a dad and not a friend, especially when our kids were at your kids’ages. The dynamic changes when they grow into teenagers and can understand and handle the more complex relationship of parent/friend. I am forever grateful that our marriage lasted and I had my wife to share the child rearing with. The kids always had a parent to turn to when having difficulty with the other. (I know that doesn’t do you a damn bit of good). I do understand your situation, though. I have several good friends who had to raise their kids alone – all the way to adulthood – and the kids matured into terrific people. I am more than confident that you will be able to do the same.

    BUT – with what my son has been through the past year, I have done some soul searching. What did I do wrong? What should I have done better (or differently) to prevent what he tried to do? The only answer I have come up with is that he is an individual, with the power to make his own decisions – no matter what I think of them – and at some point I have to allow him this. I can’t forever be responsible for him.

    Don’t give up looking for your life partner, I know you will find him – eventually. You have too much to offer someone to not to. I’m pulling for you.

  11. Liz

    Love is complicated, life is difficult, but you rock!

  12. HomefrontSix

    I wonder if it is the relationship that is complicated and not the love. Does that make sense? You love your kids – that much is evident, even to those who do not know you on a personal level. But the relationship itself is the tough part.

    Your children are lucky to have you. And you them (even though you – like me – sometimes want to sell them to the circus).

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