Today I’m waving the white flag on motherhood. I can’t do it anymore. Not this way.
Last night my toddler thought 3 a.m. was the perfect time to watch television, and I couldn’t convince him otherwise for over an hour. At Mommy and Me, he almost ran into a parking lot full of school buses. Then he lay on the floor crying after class because the teacher forgot to sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
After-school pickup for my 8-year-old destroyed me. It always does. His teachers say he’s a perfect angel, but as soon as he sees me, all the angst of his day comes pouring out. He pranced out of school and pounded his backpack into my stomach while complaining that I forgot to put chocolate milk in his lunch. Then he tossed his big coat into my arms and ran out to the playground to play with his friends.
Both of my boys had a blast playing outside, climbing trees, chasing balls and running up slides. They were nice to the other kids: They shared snacks and caught their friends if they started to fall. My kids are cute. I love watching them play in the bright fall afternoon. They make me smile.
But then it was time to go, and suddenly all the cranky came pouring out again. My big kid wanted to suddenly leave right now, but my little kid didn’t. My big kid pulled my little kid by his jacket hood. I pried his hands off his little brother and threatened to take away after-school screen time. Finally I convinced (bribed) both kids to leave, but the walk home was just as annoying. The big kid corrected everything the little kid said, and the little kid sped so fast ahead of us, I was sure he was going to run into oncoming traffic.
Usually, I give them a free pass. Usually as much as their antics drive me crazy, I have empathy for them. After all, they’re just kids. They’re good kids, and I’m blessed to have them. I know it’s healthy for them to save all their big kid feelings for me, their trusted mama. I allow them to do that—to cry in my arms, to push the boundaries with me.
But today I was done. Today I was resenting every last second of motherhood. I felt like a servant. It felt like a one-way street. I felt vulnerable and shattered open. Today I wanted me to matter too.
When we got home, I had a new resolve. It’s called “Fuck this shit.”
The boys thew their shoes into the hallway, and I told them, calmly, sternly, to please put them on the shoe rack. I wasn’t yelling. I wasn’t losing my shit. I was owning my words, saying it like it is.
Big boy protested. Little boy put his shoes away; he can tell when I mean business. Big boy followed suit, then immediately leaned his pathetic cuteness into me, grinning with his crooked teeth. He told me he was starving and asked me to make him a bagel and pour him a glass of lemonade. Then he ran into the den to start his after-school screen time.
I stopped him in his tracks: “Okay, get the toaster down. Get yourself a cup from the cupboard.” He looked at me like I had nine heads and started to whimper, “I’m tired.” I knew he was, and most days I give in and make him his snack.
But today I said simply, honestly, “I’m tired too. I need your help.”
He whimpered again, then pulled up the stool to get the cup and crouched down to get the toaster.
The same thing happened when I asked him to take out his homework and put it on the table, and then again when I asked him to take out his lunchbox and put it on the counter. He protested a little, then just freaking did it.
Little boy wanted a bagel too and whined for it. I asked him to please ask nicely. “Pweeze?” he said, his big, green eyes lighting up.
Soon my big boy was telling me about his day, playing with the settings on the toaster, helping his little brother get a cup for juice. Both kids were laughing with each other and me. Big boy asked me about a story I’ve just published. Little boy stroked my hair. The kids were helping and being nice. Glimmers of compassion were showing through. I felt listened to and respected.
I usually ask for cooperation. I usually insist on it to some extent. We have rules that the kids are expected to follow and consequences for when they don’t. But often it just becomes easier to give up on it all and not follow through—either that or I blow my fuse and yell.
Today, no. Today my needs are as important than theirs. I am a woman—their mom—who expresses what she wants, who stands up for herself.
Today I told the truth. I said, “I need your help,” because I did, because I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t barking out orders. I wasn’t laying out rules. It was about me, what I needed from them, laid bare on the table.
And by some miracle, they listened. They cared. They returned all the love I give them every second of every day.
If there’s nothing in this parenting thing for me, there’s nothing in it for my kids either. From now on, I’m going to matter too. I’m going to tell them how I feel. I’m going to ask for help. I’m going to be human. I’ll still be their mommy, a shoulder to cry on, the one who makes them a snack when they’re too tired after a long day at school, the one who does it all. But I’m going to listen to that little voice inside that says my needs and feelings matter too, and I’m going to let her badass voice be heard.