The fact that it had been a long day was not unusual; life with my three young daughters has its challenges. Yet this particular day, I felt especially distracted by pending projects, overwhelmed with the emotional turbulence of my children, and burnt out after a long and hectic week.
As the hours dragged on, I found my tension and stress mounting with the squabbles, lack of obedience, crying, and general naughtiness. I was handling it, but not necessarily handing it well. I was ignoring the things I could have been contributing to, stamping out learning opportunities with phrases like “because I’m the mom” and giving plenty of generic comments like “just be nice to each other” when I should have been sincerely moderating. In the precious 23 minutes of quiet time that the baby napped, I squandered my time on the Internet when I could and should have been productive, which only exaggerated my downward spiraling mood.
With the help of my husband (finally 5:00!), we attempted to put a dent in the growing chaos of the messy house and got ourselves cleaned up and out the door for a neighborhood social. The evening passed quickly, and the girls ran happily with other kids. I was pleased to see them enjoying themselves. But though I finally had some social interactions that did not involve tattle telling or begging for DVDs and candy, I was struggling to enjoy myself. Of course I was grateful for the respite, but I felt the nagging weight of the poorly handled day on my shoulders.
I felt that I hadn’t done enough. Sure I had gotten them dressed and fed, to school and back home. But I had been provided ample opportunities to teach, many prospects to train, and even just the simple opportunity to make a hard day better. And I had missed it.
At the end of the evening, a band set up to play. Within the first few chords of guitar, beats of the drum, and blasts into the microphone, I unconsciously cringed–it was LOUD. My next instinct was exactly that–an intuitive stand and automatic crowd scan for my 3 ½ year old. This child is particularly sensitive to loud noise, and sure enough I spotted her a few groups of people over.
I couldn’t hear her cries, but I could see her panic. She was running in what I call ‘chicken with head cut off’ mode as she frantically weaved in and out of people, headed in the opposite direction. I acted quickly and in just a few moments was able to get her outside. Once we were in a quieter spot, I let her cry and sympathized with her fear of the overwhelming noise. She wrapped her thin little arms around me and curled up to let herself be comforted.
As I hugged her little body, all of a sudden, it clicked. The pieces fit together better than the final piece of the puppy dog puzzle she loves so much. I knew my child better than I realized. Within a split second of that noise, I had known she would be affected and I had acted quickly. Of course I knew she was not in any real danger; the crowd we were in was safe, and within a few minutes anyone would have seen she was upset and could have helped her. But in this experience I recognized that, as her mother, I had known immediately and exactly what her fear was and how to help her.
This simple realization gave me peace and flooded me with the assurance that my relationship as her mother is unique and important. It is true that on that day I reached a level of mommy burnout I am not proud of. And I fear that my struggle with feeling inadequate is a challenge I still need to work on. But just as my regrets over the day had drained me, this satisfying moment filled me.
I know my children. And though I might not feel that I am ‘doing enough’ every day, in this particular moment, for this particular daughter, I was there–mentally, emotionally and physically.
And for that day, it was enough.
QUESTION: In what ways do you know your children better than anyone else? Do you know their fears, their favorites, and their preferences?
CHALLENGE: After your next particularly draining day, look back and find one moment when you were “enough” for your children, even if it was simply knowing what kind of cereal they would want for breakfast or singing them a favorite lullaby at bedtime. Celebrate the unique and intimate way that you know your children, even if you are not perfect.