Sunday, June 12, 2016

The "What if" Brand of Millienial Motherhood

I've been thinking about this for a really long time and right now my kids are watching Winnie the Pooh's Grand Adventure giving me exactly 54 minutes of time to write out my thoughts.  Yep that's right, my kids are rotting out their brain cells by watching a stuffed bear and his pals search for their best friend only to find out the following:

You are stronger than you seem
And braver than you believe
And smarter than you think.

It's been a hard couple days in the midst of the difficulty of parenthood but this weekend my inlaws were up to see the kids and it was wonderful. They let us go out on Friday night for like 6 hours.  It was time for my husband and I just to spend away knowing there were vigilant caretakers at home who love our kids desperately.  It felt like a little break from the constant onslaught of picking things up.  I have learned that the majority of my time each and every day is just spent picking things up and so when someone else does it for me it's brilliant.

The truth of the matter is that if I want to actually have my house picked up, my children can't be moving around in it, which gives me one of three options.  They can either be inside asleep, inside sitting quietly watching a show or outside playing in the yard.  

My first instinct is always always, outside.  Go play in our yard, we are blessed enough to have a giant yard and kind neighbors and live in a pretty secluded area so the front yard is a rather uninhabited area.  But, if they are outside and I want to clean up I can't watch them and there lies the rub.  I am constantly caught in this onslaught of doubt that says I need to be watching over them every moment because what if the bear or bobcat in our woods shows up and eats my kid, what if the UPS driver or neighbor boy comes down the driveway too fast and Jude doesn't run out of the drive way quickly enough, what if they decide to adventure out to the main road to watch the cars, what if... what if... what if...

So I watch them, or distract them or promise myself that I will fold that laundry once they are asleep until the sun sets and I realize I haven't had a moment of peace all day and that laundry pile becomes tomorrow's problem. And please hear me, I love spending time with my kids, my kids are awesome, no buts, they just are. 

Photo Credit - Lisa Felhous Photography
So people tell me to forget about the laundry and be present with my kids, I am told to let my kids loose and spend some time by myself and also that if I could just DIY myself an efficient cleaning caddy and do one load of a laundry per day my house would be sparkling.  But what if my day doesn't allow me to be present?  What if the demands of my job outweigh the demands for clean socks?  What if "me time" isn't going to happen in the next four years?  What if.. what if... 

When we go to the park I have to consciously choose every moment whether or not to follow my eldest as he climbs the big blue slide, I know he can do it and I know he loves it and I know he doesn't need me to catch him.  But, what if he falls off the side that has the fireman pole?  What if a bigger kid pushes him?  What if his foot catches on the way down the slide and I wasn't there to catch him and he cracks his head open on the slide footing below?  These are no exaggerated points, these are honest to goodness doubts I have all the time. 

If you are wondering, "Why does she think that?"  My answer would be "Seriously?  Don't you see it?"

Every day I open up social media I am bombarded with articles about the dangers of helicopter parenting and not letting your kids get hurt climbing trees and scraping their knees.  I agree with that wholeheartedly.  I want my kids to grow up knowing it's OK to learn by doing, to be brave enough to venture out without being certain, to make friends by traipsing in the woods.  I want all those things.  But I also am freaking terrified of the monster of public opinion.  Because WHAT IF my kid is one of those kids who makes a kid-choice when I'm not looking and then when everything hits the fan, I'm one left in the wake of being a terrible parent because I wasn't paying attention.

Each day I see people post vitriol about how some parent had been paying attention to their kids instead of their iPhone than that kid wouldn't have; been abused, been kidnapped, fallen in with the wrong crowd, gotten into drugs, climbed into a gorilla enclosure, etc..  They make sure the parents know that they are to blame for the behavior that has put them under the microscope of internet scrutiny.

Those same people post memes about being allowed to play outside all day without their parents.  They take incredible pride in the fact that when they were kids, they played tag instead of tagging their friends on Instagram.  They talk about telling their parents they were going to go play in the neighborhood and didn't get kidnapped, as if that's a sign of their own fortitude.  

We all need to understand one thing:  You can't have it both ways.

You can't allow your children to roam outside until dark and watch them the whole time.  We can't expect our children to form healthy friendships and check in with us every 15 minutes.  We can't let them learn the consequences of falling or riding their bike too fast or what happens when they take their eye off a baseball and then blame their parents for not teaching them better balance or hand-eye coordination or not dressing them in head-to-toe foam rubber.  

And when the world of older parents is placing a set of paradoxical expectations on an entire generation of new parents, especially mothers, we are not creating a generation of strong guides but of self-doubters hoping therr is a Google map to this journey called parenting.  

This is the same issue with all the "millennial issues" that people poke fun at or get enraged over on social media.  We scoff that "milliennials" want high paying jobs right out of college when older generations had entry level positions, but we also tell them to go tens of thousands of dollars in debt to get that education promising them that their job will pay for it.   The world wants employees that have youth and vitality and bring the voice of a younger generation but they also want them to have at least ten years of experience.  We are raising a generation of adults who are told they need to know everything, be everything and experience everything and in return they will only be scrutinized for their efforts.  We are raising doubtful and cynical and fearful mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.  

The hardest part of this is the fact that we are doing this from a distance. I would never imagine to say that my mom or mother in law or sisters would ever tell me to doubt myself or that I'm doing a bad job.   But their voices get lost in the din of the everyday expectation to have it all, even when all of whatever it is ends up contradicting itself 90% of the time.

So where is the hope?  Because frankly if there is no hope, then this is just a rant and like I said, I'm tired of being expected to be a cynic.  

The hope is this:  We must be radically encouraging of one another.  We must not prop each other up for the sake of ego but in honest engagement we much commit to walking this journey together.  We must look young mothers and fathers in the eye and say "You are doing really well," and "Your kids are doing great."

Above all else we must be allowed to TRY.  We must be given the chance to make our own choices without fear or doubt.  We must be allowed to gain the experience you say we need and even if we fail, we need to hear that you failed once or twice as well.

So can we agree to check our expectations against the reality we live in?  Can we agree that there is no Pinterest perfect world that actually exists?  Can we let our children fall and get back up without blaming anything but gravity?  Can we let our young mothers trust themselves?  Can we allow our new fathers to be the kind of dads they hope to be and give them grace when they're not?

Because you sweet mom, who loves her children desperately and would give anything to go to the bathroom without an audience, you are stronger than you seem and braver than you believe and smarter than you think.