Sasha Brown-Worsham has an essay up on The Stir that I can only assume is a bit tongue-in-cheek about how she’ll be a better parent when her kids get older. She writes, “Photos of Cindy Crawford taking her 10- and 12-year-old to Nobu in Malibu made me so excited for the day that my children also like expensive sushi. Because I think I will be a better mom then.” Later in the piece she says, “I have decided I will be a better mom to my children once they’re past 8.”
Any parent who is being honest would have to concede that raising young children is tough. I don’t dispute that the years when our kids “throw themselves on the floor and scream no matter how fun our day was” are hard on even the strongest and most patient of us. I can even sort of understand the idea of wanting your kids to be older, thinking that your relationship will be richer when they can control themselves and have interesting things to say. But I’m uncomfortable with the idea of putting off being a good parent until then. After all, if you don’t start giving your full self to your children when they’re infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers, by the time they’re 8, they might not be as interested in you as you hope.
I’m not trying to criticize Worsham personally, nor to play semantics here. I have no doubt that Worsham was trying to be at least a bit controversial in broaching the subject of not really liking her kids. I mean, none of us was blog-born yesterday; this is supposed to be one of those “bad mommy” reveals that gets everyone to take sides and generates lots of hits and comments. I’m not interested in that dynamic. What I want to impart in this post is a pretty simple parenting lesson, but something that I almost had to learn the hard way.
Everyone who has followed my story knows that I went through a really horrible divorce, and as a result of that process, I had to take a really long, hard look in the mirror and face some of the choices I’ve made throughout my life. I’ve always loved children, always been good with kids, always wanted to have a baby (or two) of my own. And yet, after my daughter was born, my life spiraled out of control, and I began to realize that if I continued to let things happen to me instead of taking charge of my own life, I wasn’t going to be the parent I’d always dreamed of being. Because my mother and I have had a contentious relationship from day one, I vowed as a teenager never to be the kind of parent who ignored her kids, who yelled, who didn’t approach talking to them with an open mind and open heart. To be a hands on parent like that, someone who is really involved in their child’s well-being – that takes effort. Effort that for some of us doesn’t come naturally but rather is a choice. Because of my childhood, thanks to my divorce, I chose to be a better parent.
My daughter is almost 6, and during her toddler and pre-school years, there were times when I’d say to myself, “I don’t like playing dolls. I don’t like sitting on the floor. I don’t want to color right now. I can’t slow myself down enough to be a part of this.” But you know what? I made myself do it anyway. Not because I am an amazing person or because my willpower is enviable or because I am a saint-mother-goddess-being. Nope. I did it because I knew if I didn’t I would regret it later on. I would regret it when my daughter was 8 and didn’t feel as close to me as she should. I did it because the love I have for my daughter and the responsibility I feel towards her is the only motivating force in this world that makes me want to be better than I am. It’s not that I am great and capable by nature, it’s that my desire to provide a safe and secure life for her makes me so.
So I’d like to take a moment to urge Worsham and anyone else who is putting off til tomorrow what they can do today to stop waiting until your kids are older. Be with them now. Even if you hate “the sad reality of chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and Pirate’s Booty.” Find a way to like it. Yes it’s true that “toddlers thrive on predictability, structure, even voices [and] discipline,” but don’t use the fact that you are “impulsive and fun” as an excuse not to bond with your children. I’m a comedian, for God’s sake. I am impulsive to a fault. Even tho I would rather wake up at noon every day and eat dinner at midnight, I have learned, for example, that children like to eat breakfast when they get up at %$%^# in the morning. Rather than complain about that or fight it, I’ve found ways to make that easier on myself. Now that my daughter is old enough, she gets herself a piece of fruit if I’m still in bed, pretending I don’t have to get up to take her to school. When she was 3, I’d get her breakfast and sit there with her, me bleary-eyed and sipping coffee curled up in a blanket. Then when she finished eating and there was no longer a choking hazard, I’d lie on the couch with her, me gently napping while she watched PBS Kids. I found a way to get up at noon without actually getting up at noon, and both of us were happy.
Worsham says, “I look forward to the time when I can see my kids more as pals than strange little people who demand all my time,” and I get that, but also, why not see them as pals now? Find a way to connect with your kids. Even if it’s just through snuggling and tickling, interact with them in ways they understand now. If you hate reading books before bedtime, find a way to make it palatable. I do it lying in bed with my daughter – makes me feel less exhausted by the process so I’m not resentful about it. If you don’t want to color or play dolls, do an activity you like at the same time nearby – the kids will never know the difference. But they will feel like you care about them enough to share a moment with them.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t spend 24/7 tending to my daughter’s needs and addressing her every whim. I’m writing in one room right now while she’s playing Battleship by herself in another. But I do take time each day to interact in an intimate way with my child because I want her to know that I care about her, that I love her, that her well-being means everything to me. And if that means I have to create live-action dramas with Zhu-Zhu Pets Princesses, so be it. Do I enjoy it? Not really. I don’t enjoy the actual playing itself. But I enjoy the act of loving my child. And – to be fair – I’ve gotten at least used to it enough to let go and have a little fun while doing it.
One thing no one ever tells you before you have kids is that they take time, or, rather, that they will make you slow down and take your time. Or that they should, anyway. We’re taught by Hollywood’s example that women should be able to go-go-go and the kids will just kind of tag along or deal. It’s just not true. The women who lead that type of life have nannies to take Zhu-Zhu duty. Not that that’s a bad thing, but my point is, someone’s gotta do it. And if you want your kids to want to hang out with you when they’re 12 and fun, you better start hanging out with them when they’re 2 and a pain in the ass. Also, don’t delude yourself: 12-year-olds come with their own set of problems, even if they do like expensive sushi.