I do not have to be at my kids’ beck and call 24/7; Mommy isn’t always the only one who can remedy a situation.
Here’s the general evening routine during the week at my house: Dinner around 6, bath, books, bed by 7:30. My husband, Jeff, is the main bather and book reader, which means after dinner he corrals the boys and I
clean the kitchen check Facebook on my phone and stare mindlessly out the window, thrilled to have a few quiet minutes to myself.
Inevitably there are the days when one or both of the boys wails, “NO! I need Mommy!!” When that happens, I grab the dog and bolt outside, even as the cries escalate and the demands for me grow louder and more desperate.
When I’m back from the dog walk, I hide in the downstairs bathroom where I’ve stashed an old issue of The Sun and read about other people’s problems instead of heading up and fixing those of the people I love most in the world.
It’s not that I’m the meanest mom EVER. I’m really not. I’m good for a kiss, a hug, or a cuddle most of the time. But I dread the multiple, daily INEEDMYMOMMY demands. Although I love those boys in a way no other person humanly can, I know that if I rushed to their side every. single. time they insisted on it, it would be detrimental to all of us.
Here’s why: For Jeff, I’d be robbing his ability to be the problem solver, the affectionate one, and the authority of the moment—in other words, a parent.
For the kids, I’d be cheating them out of the knowledge that other adults—in this case, he who spawned them, but this also holds true for other family members and some close friends—care about their welfare as much as I do and can comfort and love them.
And for me, I’d be cheating myself out of the precious ME time, the few minutes of taking care of myself first that I rely on to keep my sanity.
I thought about all of this tonight, when Silas insisted on a premature end to the bath and then declared the world absolutely WRONG unless I held him in my arms for the remainder of the evening. Naturally, he didn’t say all of that. He’s 2. But he said, “Mommy! I need Mommy! Mommy!”
I saw him flying down the hallway toward me, naked, still with bubbles on his head. Cruel as it may sound, instead of swooping down and scooping him up in my arms, I raced into my flip flops and out the front door.
As his sad little voice called out “Mommy, I NEED YOU,” I thought of a sweet blog post I read recently by Megan Mortan on your best nest. In it she wrote about her two older kids “helping” with the newborn by letting her know, “Mommy, somebody needs you” whenever the newborn fussed. The post perfectly captured the sacrifice and selflessness that befalls all mothers of young kids.
Still. Although I appreciated the sentiment, I didn’t completely relate to it. There was one passage that illustrated for me HOW DIFFERENTLY I respond to the constant neediness from my kids than the author does. She wrote:
Over a three-day weekend, my husband couldn’t believe how many times our boys kept saying, “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy!” “Are they always like this?” he asked, not able to hide his terror and sympathy. “Yep. All day, everyday. That’s my job.” And I have to admit that it is the toughest job I have ever had.
Full disclosure: I am not judging her. At all. But I am also not like her.
Chez moi, kids who say Mommy more than two times in a row are chastised to make the next words out of their mouths a complete sentence or a request. If they can’t, I tell them (often) to find Dad and say Daddy 100 times in a row. Other times, when there are squabbles or dirty diapers or laundry to be folded or anything remotely domestic that the kids need, I have no problem not doing it and directing them to…wait for it…yep. Jeff.
No, it doesn’t always work. But it can interrupt the tedium and it reminds both me and everyone else in my house that I am more than Mom. I also happen to be “Rachel,” just as Dad is “Jeff” and the boys are “Henry” and “Silas.”
Yes, as the people who created and ushered these boys into the world, BOTH Jeff and I are charged with meeting their needs and helping guide the little ones toward independence.
For me, that is not synonymous with subjugating my own needs. I do not have to be at my kids’ beck and call 24/7; Mommy isn’t always the only one who can remedy a situation.
Tonight, Silas really, really thought he needed me. I decided I really, really needed fresh air. Jeff was the one there to take care of him, and I trusted he’d be fine. When I got back, both boys were in their PJs reading about trucks and making loud noises with their dad. No one needed me—at least not in that moment. They’d forgotten about me, which I find absolutely wonderful.
So please consider this advice: when your kids NEED you and you need a break, don’t feel bad or guilty or anything by sending them in the direction of someone else who will nurture them for a bit while you nurture yourself.
Rachel Walker is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado, whose reported pieces and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Backpacker, Skiing, babble.com, and others. She is working on a memoir about the lessons learned from failed attempts at training young thoroughbred horses in her 20s. Find her on Twitter: @rodellwalker.
This originally appeared on Spawn & Survive. Republished here with permission.