I think we all know by now that being a parent is hard. Really hard.
It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent or full-time working mom — or somewhere in between like me — being fully responsible for another human being(s) is tough work. I always say that the demands of having little ones is physically exhausting, and as they get older, it transitions into mentally exhausting.
But as hard of a job as it is, we as parents always seem to make it harder. We set unrealistic expectations on ourselves — and our kids — that can take the joy out of being a Mom (or Dad.) We spend hours shopping for the perfect outfits for holiday cards; we will stay up all night to bake just the right cake for a birthday party; or we will spend an entire day going store to store just to get the right pieces for a Valentine’s Day Box (not that I have ever done any of these.) And we do them all in the name of our children.
I often know that I complain a lot that I never have enough time. There’s never enough time to clean, or play that extra game with my daughter, or finish reading that book, or make that phone call, and the list goes on and on. But then there will be that time that I take on something so ridiculous, and I make my family go on that ride with me.
For example, one time I said I would bring the “special” treat for my daughter’s soccer party. Although I love to cook, I’m not much of a baker; but I wanted to do something creative and I wanted to do it myself. Of course Pinterest had “easy-to-make” soccer sugar cookies, so I set out to do this. Yes, I wanted to do it because I thought the kids would like them, but let’s be honest, this was more for me.
Of course I had to go to three different stores to get what I needed for these cookies, and because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, I had to do a practice run before making them for a bunch of judgemental seven-year olds. The whole process end to end probably took a good six hours, and I felt pretty good about the results.
I proudly handed them out post-game and the kids wolfed them down. I even received a few thumbs up from some parents. But my favorite part was when we came home and I let the girls eat the cookies that did not make the cut for distribution to those outside my family because they either were a little too brown on the bottom, or the decorations weren’t as good. It was then that one of my daughters exclaims: “I think these are even better than the ones we had at the game!”
The moral of this story is I don’t think my daughter cared so much about what the cookies looked like or that I had just put my blood, sweat and tears into them. She just wanted her cookie.
Now this does not mean our kids do not appreciate what we do for them and we shouldn’t try to make something special; but instead, we can’t always blame parenting for our own craziness. My daughter did not ask me to make those cookies from scratch and then go over the top with decorating them, and I’m pretty sure she would have been equally appreciative if I had swung by the grocery store on the way to the game and bought them. And if your kids are talking smack about the fact that you didn’t bake them home-made, well, that’s a whole different problem anyway.
I believe as parents our jobs are actually quite simple. We truly just have four things we have to do:
1. Unconditionally love our kids.
2. Provide them with the basic necessities (food, water, clothing, etc.)
3. Teach them self-care.
4. .Help them become productive members of society.
Anything else we do beyond this is parenting gravy. Of course, the gravy is always the best part, and things such as spending quality time with your child, getting involved in their education and/or extracurricular activities, and helping them navigate this thing called life is both the most joyous and heart-wrenching part of this parenting journey.
Last night, the beautiful Jared Leto won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his mom, who was a single parent to him and his brother. He gushed about how she taught him to work hard and encouraged him to get involved in the arts. My guess in that most amazing moment, he was not thinking of the events she might have missed, or even the extraordinary things she bought or made for him. It was the totality of her parenting and the support she gave while raising him. I can only hope my own children would feel the same about me.
It is easy to get caught up trying to keep up with the Joneses in the parenting game. Or, when we are natural over-achievers, it is hard to dial back and see what is truly important to our kids. And what is important, is the relationships we have with them, not what we do or buy for them.
So, when we complain about how hard it is to be a working mom, or how exhausting it is to stay at home caring for our kids — and it is — I believe we also have to look within ourselves. What role do we play in making it harder? And who are we really doing it for?
I think when we step back and look at life through the lens of what our kids think is important, we may change the things we choose to spend our time on just a bit. Or, if we must go over the top, perhaps we won’t blame the kids for being so exhausted. Well, at least not this time.