Reality check

The summer is already half over in my neck of the woods, but I just made it to the library with my children last weekfor the first time. 

Every summer I make a wildly ambitious bucket list for our family with an equally ambitious daily and weekly schedule that includes (among other things) chores and instrument practice. Why? Because I’m a mom. That’s what we do. The other universal thing we do as moms is stress out when our best laid plans/schedules/goals unravel before we even have a chance to implement them–which is what I was doing that day at the library.

We hadn’t had the greatest morning. It was like pulling teeth to get everyone to do their chores and other responsibilities (this time last year they would have doneanything to walk a dog!), and I was feeling absolutely distraught over my inability to work my wonderful summer plan that was supposed to bring us closer together through multiple bonding moments of fun while also working hard and learning to appreciate the value of a dollar. (Weekly trips to the library accompanied by hours spent reading together in the living room factored into this master plan.)

As I sat there on a little vinyl cube reading a baby book to my 5-year-old daughter at her request (because she’s not interested in reading books at her age level and probably won’t be able to read until the third grade due to the negligence of her mother), I saw a mom friend of mine who has almost the same number and ages of children as I do. Knowing what a great mom she is, I immediately thought, She probably comes here every week and is even doing the summer reading program with her kids. She’s such a good mom. But before the thought had even completely formulated in my brain, she asked me if I came to library every week and if we were doing the summer reading program. When I laughed and told her heavens no, it was our first time, an immediate look of relief came over her face as she confessed that it was her first time as well.

We laughed and commiserated over the busy-ness of summer with older children, how uncooperative and even lazy these same children are despite being capable (okay, she didn’t say that about her kids, but I was totally thinking it about my own), and how we missed the days of younger children and simpler schedules when everyone could and would willingly go to the library every week. It was just the conversation I needed to have that morning.

The moral of this story is two-fold (and the first fold is much shorter than the second fold):

  1. We need each other. As mothers, we are all fumbling and muddling along together, just doing our best. Sometimes that means failure, and sometimes it means success, but we need to support and lean on each other more often than we do because it feels so good to know we aren’t alone in our efforts.
  2. Our children are just…children. Why do my kids wake up each day in the summer with their little radars focused on nothing but fun, sugar, and screens? Why don’t they wake up and think, “Where’s that binder mom put together for me to mark my points in so I can earn some rewards?” “What can I learn or accomplish today?” “What should I be doing right now according to the master schedule?” “I’d like to do my jobs today without being reminded so my poor overburdened mother doesn’t have to worry about me. In fact, where is my beloved mother? Surely she is in need of my help right now if I would just go and but offer.” Gee, I wonder why these aren’t the first thoughts to cross my children’s minds each morning? Maybe because they are children. Bless their little hearts, but children are by nature rather self-serving and undisciplined. That’s what we are doing here as mothers–seeing them through to the other side.
So what does this mean for me, a mother of children? It means I need to suck it up, because a good chunk of motherhood really is like herding cats–from the brainless but mobile toddlers to the wanna-be-grown-up-but-don’t-really-get-it teenagers. It is my job to lead, guide, persuade, teach, direct, redirect, cajole, convince, encourage, and love my children into good behavior, good habits, and a good life–even if it’s not fun, and even if they aren’t interested in being “molded”.

In general, I am trying to take this mothering gig less seriously. I can’t take my children’s reluctance and uncooperativeness so personally, and I certainly can’t attach my happiness to their level of self-motivation. It really isn’t a reflection of my mothering if my kids aren’t excited about vacuuming out the car, and they are most likely not going to become criminals because they failed to read a pile of books this summer and don’t jump for joy when I tell them it’s their turn to practice the piano. (This is what my teenage daughter would call first world problems.)

This dance between uncooperativeness and persuasion has been the way of children and mothers…forever. What were you like as a child? Were you a totally motivated self-starter or did you require a little loving encouragement from a mother who could see your potential much better than you could? And did that same mother on occasion get tired of using loving encouragement and resort to irritated threats, even throwing her hands up in the air more than once leaving you to just sit there and think about your rotten behavior? I thought so.

So carry on, mothers of uncooperative, undisciplined, unmotivated children! You are not alone, you are not a bad mother, and your children are not destined for a life of failure and misery because they didn’t complete their chore charts this week. You and your children are like 99.9% of the world’s population of mothers and children. What you are doing matters, and if you keep at it, your efforts will eventually pay off. (When they are like 30. In the meantime, give yourself a pedicure and read one of those library books while your toes dry…)

QUESTION: How do you deal with uncooperative, undisciplined, and unmotivated children? Do you internalize it too much? Take it all too seriously?

CHALLENGE: When you’re feeling frustrated by the natural pattern of mothers and children, remember to lean on your other mom friends, not take yourself so seriously, and give yourself a break. Your children are…just children!

One comment

  1. Martin

    Hate to disagree, Allyson, but I read somewhere recently that notorious serial killer Ted Bundy visited the library only on average once per summer when he was a child. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

    Now I’m not saying that Bundy wouldn’t have killed all those people if his mom had taken him to the library more as a kid. But I’m not not saying it, either. Bottom line, libraries save lives. Never forget it.

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