Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Don't Try This Alone

First, let me say I don't know how single parents do it. I really can't imagine how single parents of multiple kids do it. I guess at least then you can ask the twelve-year old to watch the kids when you need that occasional time off. I guess. Still don't know how you manage it, but I guess.

Secondly, let me just say that my kids are great. During a recent spout of illness by my wife they were quiet and played well and generally made life much, much easier on themselves, myself, and our family - right at a time when we needed it most. Kuddos kids.

Thirdly, that my wife is pretty great as well. As a working Mom she struggles with many of the same things other working Moms struggle with: does she spend enough time with the kids; is she being enough of a "Mom." I was surprised that she struggled with that last one. She is a strong, reasonable, rationale woman (normally).

But there she was on recent evening, asking me if she was a "good Mom."  Rather than simply give her a quick "of course," I risked life and limb by asking her what she meant. Because, honestly, I don't want my kids to grow up like me, so why should her being a good Mom have anything to do with my opinion.  But secondly, I'm not at all convinced that meeting the standard for "good" parenting is all that hard.  Have you lost your kids today?  Is the child still breathing?  Ok, you are off to a pretty good start, then. The band for "good" is pretty wide and flexible. You can do what most people would consider an awful job parenting and entirely by accident instill a drive to succeed just to spite you; or push them like the dickens out of love and make them resent you and crush them.

Or the exact opposite.

Because, as much as we make raising children or caring for kids this herculean and Sisyphean task, we often don't have to.

Kids, mine at least, hardly even need me around.  Of course, I'm exaggerating, little kids literally need you around.  But how much is enough?  At what point are the returns diminishing?  As @stressfreekids says: Kids need your optimism.  There is a real nugget of truth there.  Because being around 8 hours a day, but being miserable the entire time, does nothing for your kid.  Kids are little mimicry machines.  They model the behavior they see.  They may see you 8 hours a day, but what are they really seeing. If it is how stressed out and miserable you are, then spending 8 hours or 10 hours, or 12 hours won't matter. It won't make you a "better" parent than someone you spends 4 hours of happy, fun times with their kids. It certainly won't make you a "good Mom."

If you spend all day with your kids, you might slowly collect hours, or days, or even years more time with you child than a Mom who heads off to work every morning. But if part of being a stay-at-home Mom is that you spend some of your day waiting for your husband to come home and fix something or suggest dinner options, what are you really teaching your kids?

In my mind, its much better to be a working Mom who sees her kids 3 hours a day and be optimistic and chipper and involved with your kids, truly involved, than be a stay-at-home Mom who is life weary and who feels trapped.

A kids' whole world is wonder and love. As a result, kids are an ocean of love into which you contribute drops, each one adding a little to what already exists, not a planter you have to constantly refill day after day at the risk of killing the plant.

My own Mom spent periods of being a stay-at-home mother and periods where she worked. All in all, I think the more you can expose your kids to the possibilities of the world, the better off they are. That isn't to say stay-at-home parents are doing their kids wrong. They aren't. Being a stay-at-home parent is a great thing. But being a working a parent lets your kids know that both women AND men work AND care for the kids. Conversely, I think both parents should be "primary" caregivers. You don't have to parent 12 hours per day. Four good hours outweigh 12 miserable ones any day, in my book.

But it goes further than that.  I remember being a kid, thinking the world was this place of limitless opportunity and potential.  Now that I'm older I wouldn't say I've given up on that, but I'm more self aware and more world aware.  I realize now that there are limits to the opportunity and potential out there.  But I still want my kids to think of the world as this limitless place.  As kids they only know the world and the limits I give them.  By being involved with my kids but also working, my kids are seeing - I hope - Dad as a person who can be both involved and employed.  In fact, for decades this is what we saw Dads as, because the vast majority of Dads worked.

Why wouldn't that be the same for Moms?

And all of this ignores one simple thing about working Moms: Moms get the benefit of the doubt. Because I work from home about half the time, a larger portion of childcare falls on me. Who gives them snacks? Me. I make dinners and give them breakfast about 75 percent of the time. When we can't arrange care, I'm the default fall back. My point: I'm around. A lot. And I'm not overly disciplinarian; you could argue I don't discipline enough.

And yet in the span of two days I've had one of my boys tell me I hate him and the other tell me that Mom is his favorite. When it comes to the game of parenting, Moms start out several moves ahead of Dads.

I know what you are thinking right now: Where did this lovefest come from? The question isn't where it came from, but why it is so long in coming, I guess.

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