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Thursday, May 14, 2009

M is for Moderation

My kids cried today because no babysitter was coming over and they would be stuck with just me.

I wasn't annoyed at them for wanting someone else. I felt a sense of relief that over the years, I have brought other people into their lives. To add depth. To add variety. To add another layer of security and joy for them. How could I be upset that they cried for Daddy last week when they were stuck with me? The fact that they want other people and not just me all the time is a gift. Because I can't always be with them.

There was a time when I had a hard time letting other people parent my kids. I was paranoid about the mistakes that people might make around my kids (like giving the wrong dose of medicine) or offering them a viewpoint that I disagree with (Hummers are great!), or just that it was wrong for me to be off doing things for myself or by myself (because somehow being a parent meant that I was to sacrifice everything in my life for the creatures that grew within me). So I was with my kids every day. I dragged them to the store and was frustrated with them when they demanded my attention when what really needed was some alone time. A chance to reflect on the changes that took place within me as I transitioned from a woman with dogs and a writing career to a lactating, over-tired mother with little sense of direction.

But eventually I did hire childcare, drop my kids at the daycare at the gym, and get sitters so that I could go learn salsa or drive to a concert at the beach. I slowly learned that my kids would be okay if other people took care of them, changed their diapers, made their dinners, read them books and tucked them into bed. Letting someone else do those things does not mean that I love my children any less. Although there certainly have been times when I've questioned my love for them. But I do love them, especially when I don't spend all of my time with them.

It seems silly to have taken six years to learn all of this -- and it's remarkably obvious -- but I now know that it really is quality and not quantity.

I had the best Mother's Day ever this year. I was without kids, I slept in, and had brunch with one of my best friends. It was a joy and there wasn't any guilt at all. I've realized that guilt serves no purpose in parenting or in other types of human relationships. The only thing it does is make us feel inadequate, as if we've fallen short of some expectation (set by whom exactly?), and takes up time as we wonder how we could have done things differently.

And after time away from them, I look forward to playing games with them, playing baseball in the yard, to creating bubbles with giant wands and large, soap-filled bowls.

I don't have the time, the energy, or the desire to second-guess every choice I make as a parent or as a person. But as our lives evolve and schedules change and relationships wander down different paths, I'm grateful that my kids like me in moderate doses. The feeling is mutual.