A couple of days ago, while I was trying to enjoy a peaceful shower with some lovely new bath gel, one of my usually sweet-tempered and patient daughters came downstairs to my bathroom, yelling about something her sister said to her. Exactly what, I really can't remember, because it (unfortunately) happens more than I'd like to admit (and it's rarely anything important or memorable), but seriously? Five minutes, that's all I ask, five minutes (and we all know how fast we learn to shower once we have kids - in 5 minutes we can shampoo, condition and shave), with no sister issues! I tried ignoring her, but I just about lost it when she started wailing, "Mo-o-o-m! She's being mean! Aren't you going to DO anything about it?" It was that dragging of a one syllable word - mom - into about 4 that really sent me over the edge.
Um, I'm standing here with shampoo in my eyes and shaving cream on my legs. What, exactly, do you think I should do? Is there a fire? an intruder? a bone protruding through the skin? Then leave me the @*%$ alone for five minutes to take a freakin' shower!
It's the same thing when I pour a cup of coffee and sit down at the computer. Suddenly, everyone needs me (or the computer) right away. And just try to use the bathroom in peace. I close the door - shoot, I LOCK the door - but they just knock on it until I answer. "Mom? MOM! I'm hungry!" Really? REALLY!?! I'm GOING TO THE BATHROOM! What do you think I can do for you? And do you REALLY want me to prepare food FROM HERE???"
Of course, it's even more annoying when my husband is home and they STILL come to me. And I ESPECIALLY love it when they walk right past him on their way to the bathroom to find me. Apparently, even with his advanced degrees and 40+ years of life experience, Daddy's not capable of slicing an apple, pouring a glass of milk, or helping them with homework. No, in my world, those are mommy jobs, every time.
Now, I love my kids and I love being their mom, I do, but sometimes I'd like to shower without anyone watching me from the other side of the glass door. I'd like to check my e-mail without anyone asking me where her pink Zhu Zhu pet is. (I swear to God, I was NOT the last one to play with it.) I'd like to brush my teeth, put in my contacts, or do any other tiny little five-minute job without someone, anyone, needing anything at all from me. Why is that such a tall order? Why do our kids think we are on duty 24/7, 'round the clock, for their every convenience? I mean, I'm just one person, and I will eventually have to eat, shower, poop, and/or sleep. And there comes a time when I am not available for anyone's anything. I'm not a 7/11 store. Sometimes, Mommy is closed.
So, after much reflection, here's my theory: our kids do this because we let them. Yep, earth-shattering revelation here, folks. We've trained our kids to think we are at their beck and call. Even the most conscientious slackers are guilty of it at some point. Oh, sure, when they're tiny, we really do have to pretty much respond to their cries rather quickly. Infants are learning to trust us, to trust that we will meet their needs and help them through their dirty diapers and colicky tummies and teething pain. Absolutely. But honestly, once they hit the preschool years, maybe we need to back off a bit and let them know that Mommy is a person, too, with needs and rights of her own, and they can wait. Maybe we aren't teaching delayed gratification - and independence - early enough.
From a developmental point of view, little kids are selfish little beings. That's not mean, that's just the truth. Kids are selfish. They believe that they are the center of the universe, that their needs and wants take priority over anyone else's, and that they have the right to Mom at all hours of the day and night. But it's up to us to teach them otherwise, to show them that everyone has rights, that their needs must be balanced against the needs of others. And we do this, naturally, as moms. You'll have to wait for your snack because I'm feeding the baby. You need to share your toys with the other children at preschool. Mommy's cooking dinner, so I can't take you out to play just yet.
But do we teach them that WE have rights, too? That Mom's needs and wants are JUST as important as theirs? Or do we let them see us as someone to meet THEIR needs as well as the rest of the family's needs? Do we consistently put our own desires last, after everyone else's needs are met?
I'd argue that yes, most of us do.
C'mon, how many times have you slathered the kids, scalp to pinkie toe, in SPF 70, then forgotten to do your own back? Ever eaten the heel of the bread loaf, even though you hate it, because you gave your kids all the "good" pieces? How many times have you heard a friend complain that her kids sat on the couch watching TV or playing video games while she cleaned? I say, hand those kids a dust rag and tell 'em to get dusting! If I'm running around cleaning up, they can be helping. How many times have you taken toys back upstairs where they belonged? Did YOU play with them? Then why are YOU putting them away? If they can't clean up the playroom, if I have to do it, then it's going to be MY playroom. I'm seeing a new computer, a comfy chair for writing, new bookshelves for all MY stuff. Maybe a poster of Edward and Bella on the wall, who knows. I could use a room to myself. Heck, I could use a bathroom to myself. I've been sharing with a boy since 1997.
Last month, I re-read the book Flirting With Forty by Jane Porter. It's a great book for many reasons, but one passage in particular really struck me. The main character, Jackie, is celebrating her 40th birthday with her two kids, ages 5 and 9. She cuts the cake, gives them the "good pieces" with intact roses and lots of frosting, and takes the broken piece with no rose for herself. Then, suddenly, she realizes: Hey, this is MY cake, MY birthday. She puts it back and cuts a better (and bigger) piece for herself. Her kids protest, "Hey, you already HAD a piece! And WE get the roses!" She looks at them and says, "It's MY cake. I'm getting the roses." And smiles. And I thought: YES! We all do that! We take the crap piece, the burnt toast, the broken cookie.
No more. I'm taking the good piece. I'm taking a shower alone. I'm finishing one article without interruption. I mean, my kids are 6 and 8. They can pour their own cereal, wipe their own bottoms, take their own showers. They get mad if someone intrudes on their "bathroom time", yet they think nothing, NOTHING, of walking right in on mine. But that ends today.
Slacker Mom Says...moms have rights, too. Sometimes, you do not have access to Mommy. Access Denied, Shop Closed for Repairs. If there's an emergency, if you have a serious problem that cannot wait, I'm absolutely there. Otherwise, the "closed for business" sign is going up now and then. And that's not being a bad mom, a neglectful mom. It's teaching our kids that WE matter, too, that Mom has rights and should be treated with at least as much respect and deference as anyone else - if not more! Most of the time, I'm fully available. But now and then, I'm not. Now and then, you can wait - or better yet, learn to do it yourself.
Or you can ask your dad. Preferably, when he's on the toilet or watching the big game.