Any veteran mom is used to dodging the slings and arrows of the child who complains that she is the meanest mama ever, or that all the other mamas are better, or that she revels in making her children miserable. Most of my compadres adopt the same attitude I do, when this happens: We feign great glee and comment that our dastardly plans are finally coming together! (Bonus points for a crazed glint in the eyes and fiendish hand-rubbing.) I am accustomed to such rantings from my kids. Such comments truly no longer bother me in the slightest. I expect them and know they’re a good indication that I’m doing my job.
I was completely caught off-guard, yesterday, when a seemingly innocuous comment from my daughter cut me to the quick. We were having a great morning (indeed, the entire day was lovely), and after I consented to perhaps the third in a series of granted requests, Chickadee hugged me and then ran off, calling to her brother.
“Monkey! Come quick! Mama’s being nice today!”
I closed myself in my bathroom and fought back tears.
I’m able to completely shrug off being called mean, but hearing my daughter sound so SURPRISED that I’m being “nice” reduces me to hopeless melancholy.
I can assure myself until the cows come home that my children will grow up understanding what I’ve done for them, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. Maybe what’s making the biggest impression in their little heads is that I say no a lot.
My job is to raise them the best way I know how, and I’m trying to do that. I don’t want to be the kind of parent who places greater importance on their kids’ WANTS than on their long-term NEEDS. Do I hope that when all is said and done, and they are grown and on their own, that we’ll discover friendship with one another? Absolutely. Do I think being their “buddy” at this point is the goal? Nope. Do I expect them to appreciate or even understand the sacrifices being made for them? Not really.
Maybe, when Chickadee said that, if I’d had a mate here to chuckle and rib me about it, I would’ve shrugged it off. If I had a partner in this parenting thing–a bit of perspective and a bit of support–maybe I wouldn’t, in my darker moments, worry that all the kids are processing is “Daddy is fun” and “Mama makes us do chores.” I can’t know for sure, of course.
[Also, I can hear that vein bulging in my ex’s forehead from here. I’m not saying that he never does anything, or that his parenting style is wrong. We have, in recent times, managed to come together productively on issues concerning the kids when we need to. But none of this changes the facts that 1) the kids are with me most of the time and 2) I am much stricter than he is. This is aside from the fact that his parenting style is wrong. HAHA! (Kidding; please no conniptions in the comments.)]
I did not set out to be a single mother. It’s harder than having an in-house co-parent, of course, in the purely logistical sense. Over the last few years I think I’ve largely adapted to where there’s very little about it that seems any harder than it ought to be. I’ve hit my groove, and things are pretty good around here. For them.
For me, the longer I’m on my own, the more keenly I feel the loss of having a someone around to reassure me that I’m doing it right, to help me recharge when I’m worn out, to remind me that a declaration that I’m “being nice” does not necessarily indicate an assumption that I’m usually a bitch. I don’t need a co-parent as much as I need someone that helps take care of ME, after I spend 90% of my time taking care of the kids.
Also, I would like my own personal leprechaun who periodically slides down his rainbow, chucks gold coins at me and tells me to buy myself something pretty.
(I never said either desire was reasonable or achievable….)
Anyway. It was a moment, and it passed. We went about our day–out with friends, running errands, walking up and down the aisles at the local craft store puzzling out a project Chickadee’s working on and what materials we’d need–and had a great time. Today we had a pajama day in the white glow of this morning’s blizzard, and by the time supper rolled around, we were in our familiar routine. I chopped lettuce and tomatoes while Monkey wandered into the kitchen, sniffing at the air with a distrustful expression on his face and peering into the skillet on the stove.
“Why do you always make things for dinner that I HATE?” he whined. I clenched my teeth and pointed out that he LIKES tacos, that in fact I had chosen tacos BECAUSE I know it’s something that he likes, and that I try very hard to make a nice dinner every night and– I stopped.
“I make things for dinner that you hate because I’m trying to kill you,” I told him. His whines turned to reluctant giggles as I kissed his neck.
“I like tacos, Mama,” piped up Chickadee. “In fact I like EVERYTHING that you make for dinner.” Her sucking up earned her a kiss and a squeeze as I slid past her to put milk on the table. And then she and I enjoyed our dinner while Monkey blew bubbles into his milk and whined until I excused him. Afterwards, he cleaned up in the playroom while Chickadee helped me with the dishes. Later, we all read together, and I tucked them both into their beds and bid them goodnight.
It’s okay. They’re okay. It’s only me who’s not.