I just spent the last 45 minutes listening to my two children make incessant sound effects while playing with actual action figures.
Since my family is blessed with the ability to work and stay at home, I didn’t care that it was inching on 11 o’clock. There’s no school tomorrow and there’s nowhere to go. No birthday parties or soccer games or any other scheduled affairs. Sometimes, and much more frequently than before, I have let my children’s happiness take precedence over routines. I’ve permitted myself to let go of my resistance to bending the rules or going past bedtime.
But, then again, prior to the pandemic, I had good reason to diligently enforce the laws of our household. We were always having to go somewhere, rushing to the next activity, dodging a miss on the next deadline. Our entire weekends were on a punched clock, desperately attempting to clean the toilet or wash the floor before I could afford to take a breath. We knew that if our kids didn’t have the right amount of sleep there would be a domino effect that ended in undue stress that far surpassed the stress of forcing my children to go to sleep at a decent time.
My exhaustion was palpable. I constantly chastised myself due to my ceaseless “doubt fatigue,” a deception of my own motor-driven mind that whispered personal discontent in my parenting. I knew that one little tantrum from a tired screaming child might really cause me to lose my mind. And I couldn’t risk that. Teetering on the edge, I always took the preventative approach with my children so I could avoid that nervous breakdown I feared would happen one day.
It’s funny how we don’t question our own way of living if we don’t have time to question it.
First, I recognize that I am most definitely blessed. I am employed, my family is alive and well, and my house isn’t near a west coast fire, destructive hurricane, or a terrible tornado. Check, check, and check. Compared to many, I have done well in 2020.
But it’s not just that. I recognize not all families can afford extracurricular activities, birthday parties, and performances. I firmly believed these were the meat and potato of childhood enrichment, indisputably synonymous with good parenting and, yes, with parents of certain privileges.
It turns out the pandemic was the slap in the face I needed. I no longer believe that we need meat and potatoes every day. Maybe some nights we’ll have cereal or ice-cream with a side of carrots. Every night doesn’t need to have a strict plan or follow a tight schedule. Sometimes our relationship thrives most during those impromptu childish moments we share with our children. We can revel with them as more than a no-fuss parent who runs a tight ship on a full schedule.
My mind used to be an impossibly cluttered circus act, compounded by the anxiety of my self-criticisms. Inevitably, the jugglers dropped their balls and the trapeze artists fell since I felt obliged to run more circus acts at a quicker pace. And every day was a reminder that I was totally and solely responsible for the sputtering circus I created and must sustain. Because every other mom had her own circus act and they could manage it just fine. I felt obliged to provide the same for my children, at the very least. And I finally realized it’s not worth all that.
I would rather be a happy mama who is able to fully appreciate those unabashedly fun-loving kids I have because I allow them to stay up and play while I happily chuckle at the ample amount of impressive, yet utterly ridiculous sound effects in the next room. I would rather be the mama who is more emotionally available to my children than the chauffeur parent who buzzed them off to their next scheduled affair. I want to be the mama who really knows her child, not for being a baseball player or a little violinist, but for being kind or funny, or for making those weird shrill beat boxing noises that you’ve only ever heard come from the mouth of your child.
I’d rather hear those sound effects than silent rides to a soccer game. Silence during those hollow rides allowed me to decompress, while I secretly hoped that my child, who I barely saw that day, would be equally quiet in the car. Now, my savored “moments” have been upgraded to the joyful banter of my children happily playing.
I let my expectations be influenced by the unspoken rules of my social circumstances. In a community where we’ve convinced ourselves that just being a kid isn’t good enough, it took a ten month quarantine for me to realize that perhaps just being a kid is the single most important thing a parent should ensure.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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