“Noooo! Start the next chapter!”
As I was doing bedtime with the kids last night, I suddenly realized what for me has been the hardest part of being a parent: It’s the feeling that you’re never doing enough.
I don’t mean that in an abstract, perfectionist-y kind of way. I mean that literally my children are always asking more of me.
T (my oldest) was dragging his feet getting ready for bed tonight & wasn’t ready (despite lots of gentle prodding) until “lights out” time. Which meant there was no time for reading. Except I know that no reading really sucks, so I told him I’d read to him for a measly 5 minutes. When that came to an end (&, really, I’m 99% sure we went past 5 minutes because, I’m a sucker & love reading to him…), he pleaded for more time. This, despite the fact that he ran out of time, I still read more than I said I would & should have had no time at all.
Now, some authoritarian-minded parents might tell me, with some kernel of truth, that I’m reaping what I’ve sown. In other words, I didn’t stick to the firm limits I had set, so of course he’s going to ask for more!
But I know that bedtime without reading just doesn’t work. And he was none the wiser to the fact that I went over the 5-minute limit I had set. I simply said, “time’s up!” & shut the book.
And had we had time to read for an hour, he would have still asked for more. That’s just how my kids work. And I suspect I am not alone.
I live in a universe that is the exact opposite of the beautiful Neil Young lines: “Will I see you give more than I can take? Will I only harvest some?”
To answer (your entirely rhetorical) questions, Mr. Young: No, I will see them take more than I can give! No, they will not only harvest some. They will gladly take it all.
Or, at least it feels like that sometimes.
And then I start to wonder: Okay, even if it is not just my kids, is it just American kids? Western kids? Kids with some amount of privilege?
Am I doing something wrong? (Well, to answer that not-entirely rhetorical question: Yes. Plenty.)
Or is there something else going on?
Babies ask for the moon & the sun. Hold me. Feed me. Love me. Rock me. Show me. Touch me. Help me. Comfort me.
In the beginning, they take all we can give & more. It’s instinctual. They beckon us with a yelp or a cry. Then with a smile or a coo.
I never questioned the necessity of those asks. I just gave.
Yet, at some point I started to construe those asks, those demands on me, as selfish.
At 21 months, I’m definitely not there with M (my youngest). At 9 years, I’m definitely there with T.
But why? What changed? And, when?
Nothing’s really changed, but everything has. He’s pulling away, developing into his own individual identity. But when he needs me…. It’s like a rubber band pulled taught & then released; man, it snaps back with a vengeance.
He needs those moments when we’re both at ease & open to each other & alone. And, thirsty & in need, he drinks them up (as do I, honestly). (To wit: laying in his bed with a book we both adore, unconsciously leaning towards me until we’re in full-on cuddle mode.)
His needs are real. And while he’s at an age where I can say “no” or “later” & expect him to understand, at least in normal circumstances (like an average bedtime), I have to still find a way to fill those needs.
And I think that’s where I struggle. Especially with a young toddler who is still at an age where limits are difficult, to say the least, it can be difficult to manage & navigate their needs while not completely neglecting my own needs as a human being.
But what I’ve come to realize is that the demand for “more” is real & does not mean that my children are particularly selfish.
I’m simply playing a constant game of catch-up, trying to figure out how to meet their needs in developmentally appropriate ways. That’s the really hard work. The true challenge & calling of being a parent.
What do we offer to our children to harvest?
More lyrics, this time from Beach House: “It won’t last forever. Or maybe it will.”
I hope it will. At least, I hope that my relationship will persist with my children to the extent that a small part of them will always need me. I realize the upheaval of adolescence is just around the corner, really, with adulthood to follow. I hope to be there every step of the way with something to offer.