How to Fail Your Kids in 72 Hours

Last week, my husband travelled to hunt Snow Geese in North Dakota, leaving me alone with the kids. I dove into it like a champ (meaning that I was in a state of complete denial): I am gonna get SO much work done, I lied to myself, and finally get alone time – yesssss.

 After just 24 hours of pure, uninterrupted solo time with my children, I realized two things:

  1. Nothing was getting done this week
  2. There wasn’t nearly enough wine in my house

Still, I put forth a valiant effort. I tried like hell to write, strategize, make lists, and check off tasks during small chunks of time when the kids were sleeping and/ or playing. But the problem is, when you’re the only “responsible” adult around, your mind never shuts off. You don’t have that luxury. One ear is always listening for a wakened child, a sibling squabble, or worse: total silence (because the kids are playing with knives, or gobbling medicine).

Existing in this constant, heightened state of awareness isn’t something to which I adjusted. Instead, I became more bitter and hateful as the week progressed. I strained to juggle both duties – watching my kids, and getting work done – consequently draining any fun out of either task, and accomplishing neither up to my standards.

Even worse, I began to view my kids as distractions, barriers to me actually getting somewhere with my work. Feelings of resentment bubbled, and all three of us grew more agitated. I wondered if Newton missed a crucial universal law: that a child’s ability to frustrate the shit out of you correlates to the amount of work you need to do – as one increases, so does the other. I’m not certain whether my kids only seemed more needy that week, or if, sensing my total emotional absence from their lives, they became more in need of attention, and reassurance that they were still a priority in my life.

On Friday, I dropped the kids at daycare, taking myself and our neglected red lab for a long walk in the Missoula hills. The sky was a clear blue, and from the hilltop I could see the entire panorama of white-capped mountains encircling the city. It was finally quiet, apart from the birds singing, and a kindly older lady following close behind to educate me on the wonders of dog breeding. I stopped briefly, smiling patiently as I turned up the music in my headphones, and I took the first opportunity – a passerby leading a beautiful greyhound puppy – to power hike away from the situation. No offense, lady, but if you knew how close my brain is to exploding out my eyeballs, I think you’d understand.

 I received a text from my husband, “On our way back.” I breathed a sigh of relief and silently celebrated the light at the end of this solo parenting tunnel. I thought of all my single mom friends, and prayed for their souls – they truly are heroic super humans.

As I shuffled through the grass, I recalled a mental exercise I’d completed for a book I’m reading, one that aimed to pinpoint my natural gifts and priorities, and my higher purpose in life. Apparently, what really brings me joy is making others feel good about themselves, and having fun. Those are, deep down, the things that fulfill me, that give me purpose, and for which I hope to be remembered – especially by my kids.

Oh, shit. If this were my last week on earth, that is not how my kids would remember me. They’d probably say that I was a hard, laser focused worker, and that they were a burden on me, and not particularly important. Ouch.

As I hiked down the hill and headed back to my car (narrowly escaping the Dog Breeding Expert), I decided that for today, I would just be Mom. No more work, no more juggling tasks, I’d focus solely on my kids. And that night was amazing. Wouldn’t you know it, they were the sweetest, easiest kids – playing independently, fighting minimally, eating their vegetables, and (hopefully) feeling loved.

Motherhood is definitely not the most efficient lifestyle choice. You will, often, accomplish nothing of worldly value. Career goals will be more difficult to reach. And if you’re like me – a stubborn workaholic with a mile-wide selfish streak – you’ll find yourself hating it from time to time, the incessant weight of putting somebody else first, even before your drive to accomplish, go, do, be something.

Many folks reassure me, “But you already are something – you’re a Mother, and that’s the most important job there is.” This feels like cold comfort when, many days, I can’t even make a balanced meal for myself, or work up the mental stamina to text a friend. The job is important. Sure, I know. But I have other gifts besides mothering that I desperately want to share with the world, and sometimes it feels impossible to stuff down my growing impatience at not developing them, and bringing them forth.

On those days, I try to cling to the present, to remember that there is still time. And I hold to the wisdom shared with me by parents of grown children: that they miss it, that you can’t get it back. I remind myself that my kids feeling loved and wanted is, in fact, a high priority on my list, and that attaining any amount of success isn’t worth it to me if I lose them in the process.

If you’re feeling hindered, or held back by your little human distractions, breathe deep. Dig deep. Get out in nature. Get perspective. This is our chosen path, and however humbling and crushing the journey, it won’t break us, and it won’t stop us. We will reach our goals as stronger, deeper, more powerful women because of it. One day at a time.

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