I am a busy mom, but no more so than most parents these days. Along with all the other typical ‘mom-chores’ and volunteer duties, I do have a paying gig. I am fortunate enough to be able to do a lot of that work from home, yet, unfortunately, I don’t always do a good job of defining those boundaries and more often than not ‘work’ will seep into ‘home’. Yet, even when I didn’t work as many hours or from home, there were plenty of other tasks that I somehow felt were more important at the moment than the parenting that I should have been doing.
Our 3 daughters are capable of doing many tasks on their own without my hovering over them. For example, I expect that they will do certain things when they arrive home from school — hang up backpacks, empty lunchboxes, wash hands, get a snack and clean up after themselves before they get to their homework (I am a slave driver). Not surprisingly, those tasks are accomplished (for the most part…) with remarkable ease and good-nature while I am in the kitchen helping to ‘oil the gears’, as it were. While they are tending to these menial, yet essential tasks, we have lively chats about who did what at school and – with prompting – painstakingly detailed, sequential accounts of the educational experiences of the day. Friendly reminders help keep the scheduled tasks moving along. This is the ideal parenting situation! Yet, it seldom has a chance to come to fruition in our household.
That’s because often times I am at the computer finishing up ‘one last thing’ or frantically chopping up something to throw (last minute) into the crock pot to flame away on high for 2 hours – typical, everyday ‘emergencies’ that keep me from being fully present when my children need me. When this happens, the routines quickly unravel and suddenly these 3, otherwise capable young ladies are unable to do even the simplest of tasks. I shout from my appointed, yet distant spot, “Pick that up! Put that away! Have a fruit before you have the chips! Quit messing with your sister!” and again, unsurprisingly, my shouting-instructions-from-a-distant-location strategy fails. They know I am not engaged with what they are doing and that I can’t do anything about it while I am otherwise occupied. Crazy, isn’t it? These are girls who can do these things on their own when I am standing right there and focusing on them, but they can’t manage to pull it together when I am otherwise occupied. They are not dummies — while the cat is away the mice will play!
Yes, all children should be learning to be independent and to be able to do these simple things on their own, and often they can and do accomplish what is requested of them in a friendly and positive way. But they do so with a different level of energy and often with irritation (at me?!) When I call out from the office for the kids to stop playing with the Legos in their playroom and wash up for dinner, they should hear my voice, stop what they are doing, chirrup a happy, “Yes, Mom!” and hop to it. But, invariably, they do not. The are creatures of the NOW. They live in the moment and their lives are incredibly and developmentally appropriately about themselves. If I am not there in the room to help them disengage from what they are doing or not nearby for them to share the news of the day that has been bubbling up inside them all day, I truly am setting them up for failure. Being wholly there – fully attentive and present – the way I would expect someone I love to be present and engaged for me, is key to parenting. It is key to relationships in general, but parenting in particular. My job is to guide these chaotic cherubs to independence, to foster respect and empathy and to engage them in social interaction. I can’t do that from the computer screen or the phone text or whatever else is pulling me away from them at the moment they need me most.
So, I’m going to focus on shutting the laptop, putting away the i-pod, turning off the phone and give 100% to the job that matters most, the job I signed onto for life. Making clear boundaries about when I need time to work / be otherwise occupied and choosing the best times to do so as well as sticking to my own stated timetable, will help me to turn the volume down on my long-distance yelling style of parenting.