No matter how much you look forward to the day when you no longer have to taxi kids around, text instead of talking on the phone, or hide in the bathroom with the door locked for a few hours of solitude, when children grow up and leave home, it leaves a big hole in your life. I’m not exactly a helicopter mom. I don’t hover over my children. I don’t get my confidence and security from my persona of “Mother”. I believe that as a mother, it is my job to work myself out of a job. To this end, from the time my children were little, I have not done anything for the child that the child can do herself. Or himself. I’m not the world’s greatest mom. I don’t do Martha Stewart birthday parties. I did. Once. It nearly killed me. I don’t like playing the taxi mom, and I hate sports where you have to sit for hours in the cold spring rain and watch your kid sit on the sidelines or daydream in the outfield as, all the while, I’m thinking of the hundreds of dollars I had to scrape together for the pleasure of doing so.
One of the biggest challenges ever, for me, besides being completely inept when it comes to choosing marriage partners, is the act of parenting. Getting pregnant and being pregnant and even delivering the babies was the easy part, but parenting especially through divorce, financial hardship and the rest of life, has not been the easiest thing I’ve ever attempted.
For starters, I am not one of those nurturing people. A kid falls down and skins their knee slightly and I’m likely to brush the incident off with a brief, “Get up, dust yourself off, you’ll be okay.” I am also not the hover mother or helicopter mom. It isn’t that I’m not involved with my kids, but I do believe that one should never do for a child what the child can do for him or herself. This, I find, annoys children to no end.
I remember my mother telling me when my children were young, that things got better as the children got older. I remember, when my kids were toddlers, hoping that was true. I remember being so exhausted all.the.time. And, for the most part, when the kids became potty trained and could dress themselves and headed off to school, it was.
Then they kept growing up. Then they reached middle school and high school. Those are the years where their social lives explode and they aren’t yet old enough to drive. This was something I was unprepared for. It was like the busy-ness and energy drain of the toddler years on steroids and then doubled since, at any given time, I had at least two and often three or four kids’ schedules to juggle. On two occasions, I was so exhausted and stressed that I ended up in minor fender benders, not from intoxication, but from fatigue.
That wasn’t that long ago. These days, I have a 21-year-old that is away at college and won’t be home for summer. I have an 18-year-old that just got her permit. She is working on learning to drive now. By summer, she should be more independent. I have an almost-17-year-old son who doesn’t have his permit. If insurance rates for him are what I think they are going to be, it might be quite a bit longer before he’s driving. He does have a bike and he can get around to pretty much anywhere that way.
But my kids, as grown up as they are, as independent as they are becoming, still have not learned to pick up after themselves or to help out (without being told) around the house. This, combined with the constant schedule disruptions and taxi service I must provide daily, is wearing me out. This last week, with everyone home for Spring Break, leaving their stuff about and having to be told twenty times to do a basic task like empty the trash or unload the dishwasher or pick your clothes up off the floor, I lost it. The final straw was when I told my son he forgot to rinse out his bowl and put it in the dishwasher and he responded with, “You didn’t tell me I needed to do that.” No, I didn’t. I do tell him to do this a thousand times a day and the one time I don’t? Yes, it induced a fit of craziness in me. It’s at this point, that all rationality leaves me and I end up in a catatonic stupor or I end up banging my head against the nearest wall.
Tonight, this same young man, at 9:45 pm, after the day is pretty much over…a day which included a trip to the grocery store…texted me the following:
I’m actually fairly impressed with myself that I texted him that response instead of switching into Shrieking Mom mode. Fortunately, I had an extra toothbrush on hand. Obviously, this has happened before. The craziest part of all is that he has his own drawer in the bathroom he shares with his sisters. How hard can it be to get a toothbrush back into the drawer, or underwear into the laundry basket which is a mere eight inches away or trash into a trash can as opposed to decorating the bedroom carpet with it?
Yes, tonight I’ve picked on one child, but I have four and they are all equally as talented as their brother. These talents weren’t ones I encouraged. I expect children,at minimum, to pick up after themselves and I’ve diligently worked to establish and teach routines, procedures, and to implement systems that are efficient and help keep our home clean with a minimum of effort. In spite of the fact that I do have a career outside the home which is, at times, very demanding and draining, I’m not one of those overwhelmed moms whose homes you go to where stuff is scattered everywhere, dishes are piled high in the sink, and clothing or dirty dishes cover every remaining surface. In spite of my best efforts to get my kids to communicate in advance what their schedule is, to organize themselves, and to pick up after themselves, the kids aren’t getting it. I have, apparently, completely failed in my parental obligations on this front.
Weeks like this kind of have me looking forward to that stage of life called the empty nest. Sadly, I have an entire decade left before that happens. Just as the youngest one launches, the oldest will return home unemployed with graduate degree in hand (at least that’s what everyone tells me is going to happen). With any luck, I’ll be able to enjoy a few empty nest years before I am relegated to the assisted living facility. I can only hope.