Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Are They Better Mothers?

What am I doing wrong? Why am I so bad at this?

I used to ask myself those questions and wonder why other moms had everything so much more under control than I did. Scheduled children. Toys all picked up before Daddy came home. Sometimes, children fed and bathed and ready for bed when Daddy walked in the door in the evening to kiss them goodnight and maybe read a story or two.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that that's not the life I want, the way I want to raise my children, the relationship I want my children to have with their father.

How do they do it? I am frequently worn to a frazzle when Paul comes home from work (an event I'm often looking forward to by concentrating hard on the second hand, wondering if the battery is dying or something). Toys frequently carpet the house, dinner remains unmade, and children need to go potty or have their diapers changed.

At least that's how it used to be. Now I have more of the answers.

Did you know that it's actually easier to do all that routine stuff (straightening, cooking, eating, bathing) sometimes? Did you know that it can be harder to fill long, cranky afternoons with undesired free play or programmed activities? Unscheduled time leaves more room for potty accidents, sibling bickering, messy toy box explosions, and boredom to set in. And scheduling activities for late afternoon cranky kids can be even more of a problem.

In our house, mornings are for field trips and other fun activities. Post-nap-time is a time for whining and picking fights.

"Hey, kids, pipe down for a bit. I'm trying to write an email." I'd feel like a pretty rotten mama for saying that. It might be different if my kids were, say, 17 and 20.

But, "I need you to go play in the other room for a few minutes; I'm busy cooking and it's getting really hot and dangerous in here." Who could feel guilty about that? What can be more important than preparing a nutritious, delicious meal for the children?!

I'm not talking about 4-hour gourmet prep sessions, but cooking can actually translate to a few precious moments of alone time. Ahhhh.

And early eating forestalls late afternoon whining. Baths are just plain fun. Perhaps those other mamas don't have it more together; they're just keeping their shit together in a different way than I am.

I always cook dinner during the afternoon now, and I've moved snack time to 4:00 to push off our family meal until Paul gets home at 6:00. The girls and I also pick up toys together in the late afternoon when everyone's getting cranky. If they get bored with that and bail to play in their own rooms, I get a double bonus: the ability to pick up efficiently and in peace, plus the possibility of a few minutes to myself if I finish quickly!

I am not bad at this. It just took me a little while to find the strategies that work for us, both for the natural rhythms of our lives and for the time we like to spend together as a family, eating dinner and playing before bed.

It also gets a bit easier as the children become older and more self-sufficient.

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