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Nancy Colier
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Another Long Weekend With the Kids… Oh My!

Motherhood defies all expectations: The depth of love for our children, profound purpose, and connection with something larger than ourselves that comes with being a mom. The experience is fulfilling on so many levels, nameable and un-nameable.

Let’s not restate what we know or even regale the deliciousness of mothering, much as I’d love to do that. Rather, let’s examine aspects of motherhood that are less regale-able and the feelings and truths we hide from others and ourselves. So, too, are the relentless expectations around mothering with which we punish ourselves.

A confession: When my kids were young, sometimes I’d tiptoe past their rooms, trying not to be noticed because I couldn’t bear the prospect of another imaginary skit on the floor with the Calico Critters and talking toothbrushes. I frequently dreaded the weekends spent researching and shlepping to arts and crafts fairs, build-a-bears, flower-plantings, and Legolands that nobody wanted to go to or particularly enjoyed but that I felt I had to offer to prove (to myself) that I was a good mom.

Believe it or not, now (and part of me knew it was then.), I felt too guilty not to do it. Interestingly, my husband never felt guilty, not even a little. He was OK with letting the kids do nothing or come up with their activities and most definitely didn’t see it as his job to entertain and engage them. On the other hand, I was convinced that if I didn’t provide at least one and preferably two interesting experiences or excursions each weekend, I was depriving my kids of a great childhood.

We all know that mom who can always find something magical to do with their kids. I had a friend like that when my kids were young. Wherever we went, she created an experience of wonder while I watched on, feeling befuddled and un-motherly.

In the park, she’d skip off with our kids and waft back what seemed like hours later, with everyone giggling madly, adorned in tiaras she’d made of daisies, and acting out mysterious forest adventures. At home, she delighted in playing board games, transforming french fries into Pick-Up-Stix, and, if time allowed, leading the charge to the bowling alley to spend more time together.

As to be expected, “Why can’t you be like Julia’s mom?” was the refrain in my home, to which I felt both righteous in my different-kind-of-mom-ness and, underneath the righteousness, terribly guilty, that I didn’t know how to do that, and that my kids didn’t get to have a mom like Julia’s.

So many women are convinced they should enjoy every moment they get to spend with their kids. The fact that we sometimes don’t enjoy it and don’t look forward to it, or worse, want to spend time with other people besides our kids or be with just ourselves, confirms that we’re selfish, unloving, and un-maternal. We’re choosing our own wants and needs over our kids. It’s either/or, and all roads lead us back to the same conclusion: We’re not good enough as mothers or women.

Watching our kids having fun and seeing their¬†imaginations bloom is a delicious experience. At the same time, our children’s games are age-appropriate and a good fit for their intellectual and emotional development, but not usually for ours.

Still, we remain convinced that we should be fascinated and delighted by every activity involving our children and should be able to meet our emotional and intellectual needs just by participating in their experience. If we’re bored or unsatisfied, then once again, we’re self-involved and too focused on our own needs. And what’s worse, our own age-appropriate boredom is scarring our children and teaching them that they are the ones who are boring.

A day in the house with small children can feel like an iron-woman triathlon. We expect our watch to say 6 p.m. only to discover that it’s 9 a.m., and we still have 10 hours of activities to invent, 10 hours separating us from Netflix or some other kind of anesthesia. Of course, some moms genuinely enjoy hours of designing stickers, making slime, and thinking up homemade science experiments.

But there are also many moms for whom occupying their kids feels painful and exhausting, and they run out of ideas, patience, and energy.

Women struggle with the day-to-day labor of parenting. Yet, they continue to berate themselves for their feelings and assume that entertaining their kids for long stretches of time should come naturally and feel effortless. But why should it be effortless, and why would we enjoy it? Still, moms pretend to love it and delight in the snow days and Mondays off, which may explain why our own sippy cups sometimes smell like Chardonnay.

The truth is, you can love your kids and be a supremely good mother and not enjoy and not be particularly natural at certain aspects of the parenting job. This truth gets swallowed up in historical narratives, cultural mythology, and old beliefs about female virtue and motherhood, which still limit us despite all the societal changes that have occurred for women and shifted our place in the world.

Perhaps, alongside our devotion to our children, we can also allow ourselves to acknowledge that the job of being a mom to young kids is frequently not that interesting. We can stop fighting with and denying the reality of parenting and, instead, own and respect the effort and discipline that goes into mothering, and even celebrate ourselves for being willing to do hard things when we don’t want to and tolerate the boredom and difficulty of it, usually, without going mad.

If we can do this, we’ll feel free to make choices that come from want, not just should. And, we’ll feel kinder towards ourselves and sometimes even more grateful for getting to be a mom. Every minute we stay on the floor with the Calico Critters or do any of the endless difficult things we do, we might consider acknowledging it and bowing to our strength and devotion.

A great mom is not always one who wants to be with her kids around the clock and enjoys every effortless moment, but rather, one who keeps showing up, being present and doing her best to give her kids what they want and need, for as long as she possibly can.

Ultimately, we must trust a deeper truth: Our love for our children is big, wide, and infinite enough to include all of its contents. That said, we need not reduce our worthiness as good mothers to something so infinitesimal as whether we like or don’t like the tasks of the job.

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