I thought I had more time. I thought I had a lot more time, in fact.
For so long, I pushed my children away, intent on getting the “important” stuff of life done first. I thought if I could just finish the work, close out the article, update the spreadsheet, switch the laundry, start dinner, or make the phone call, they would wait for me.
“Just a minute,” I would say. “Mom will play with you when I’m done here. I just need to finish this really quick.”
With four babies in six years, I felt like my life was a never-ending roller coaster of trying to fit things in between the next diaper change or tiny person tantrum. I sprinted in between tasks, doing my best to support my family as I worked from home, while also protecting my house from those very family members who loved to tear through toy baskets and cupboards when my back was turned.
I dreamed of the day when I could complete a task without someone small interrupting me. Is it just me or do kids have a sixth sense that allows them to wake up from a nap or need to use the potty at the exact second you sit down to do something?
I once longed for silence in my house — for that space that would allow me to finish a thought in my own head. I pictured tailored schedules that would allow me to “have it all,” and it looked something like:
8 AM: Breakfast
10 AM – 12 PM: Work
4 PM: Time with children
I imagined that life would be so much calmer when my children could learn to wait for me in an orderly fashion. I envisioned a life where I would do my work, then turn to my children (who were, of course, waiting patiently for me to be done), so I could then pay attention to them. I thought life would surely settle down when they could just wait one minute so I could then focus fully on them. How could they not see that I was trying so hard for them?
But somewhere along the line, it started to dawn on me that something terrible could happen as a result of my demand for obedient children who could learn to wait: What would happen if my children, always learning to wait for me, learned to stop waiting for me, too?
My mind flashed forward to what my future would look like if I didn’t change my ways. I would end up one day looking for the children I asked to wait, surprised that they didn’t want to stick around with endless patience. I would be there, finally ready, coming to them excitedly with board games and books in hand, only to discover they had already moved on without me.
I would have my house of silence where children banished themselves to their rooms to play quietly away from me — a behavior learned from so many years of being chided for “bugging Mom.” Instead of waiting while I was distracted on my phone, I would find them locked away in their own online worlds, so very far from my own. Instead of toddlers and preschoolers at my feet clamoring for a snack and a hug, I would be the one chasing after them, begging and pleading their time and attention.
“Just one minute,” I will say. “Will you just spend one minute with me? What’s so great about that phone instead of real life anyways?”
I thought when I was an exhausted mother of littles that if I could just get to the point where I could get my work done first, then my children could come after … and I am just now realizing how very wrong I was.
Because childhood doesn’t exactly work that way. Children don’t wait for you to be ready before they grow up and stop pestering you for snacks and playtime and “Watch this, Mom!” Children grow and learn and silently absorb the lessons that we are teaching them each and every time we insist that we finish our “important” work first.
Children might learn to wait for us alright, but the question is: Will they still be there when we’re finally ready?