Monday, November 09, 2009

The relentlessness of parenting

Jody at Raising WEG writes about the relentlessness of having to be the arbiter, the house manager, the soother of emotions, etc. I remember a couple of years ago, when I got so depressed, I actually had to seek professional care, how I could not even begin to deal with the every day needs of the kids. I didn't really even realize that I wasn't tending to them. I'd just blocked them out, kind of going through the motions. As I began to realize that I had detached myself, I got even more depressed about it. The very least one is supposed to do as a parent is be engaged in the daily needs of one's children, but I couldn't do it.

In fact, I'd say that realizing that my needs and issues were taking away from theirs was one of the many reasons I left my job. All I could focus on at the end of the day were the bad things that had happened to me at work. Rather than giving my kids the opportunity to process their days, I needed to process mine first. And that seemed really unfair to me.

It's dramatically different now. I can actually have conversations with my kids, not just at dinner time, but after school and on car rides to various activities and in that space between school and dinner. But, the daily grind (outside of those conversations) does get wearing. Though I spend about half of every day doing my own stuff, a good chunk of my day is spent doing laundry, grocery shopping, meal planning, cleaning, coordinating drop-offs and pick ups, counseling on proper time management (aka homework issues), and negotiating proper leisure activities. The laundry, especially, seems never ending. Just when I think I'm going to have a few days' break, more piles seem to appear from nowhere.

Jody's kids are eight, and many of her commenters kids are around the same age. I'd say that having kids that are 10 and 14 is easier and harder.

Easier:
  • They do their chores properly about 90% of the time. I do usually have to remind them, but other than that, I am assured that the work will get done.
  • They can function properly and behave properly under most conditions. Even if they're tired, they can be counted on to behave properly at a family function or other event. I don't have to worry about some kind of breakdown.
  • They can go places on their own. They're old enough now to walk over to the ice cream place, the library or the game store. (Though Geeky Girl must be accompanied by Geeky Boy).
Harder:
  • School work. Especially for Geeky Boy, grades matter. For both of them, I still have to pay particular attention to their getting their work done, practicing instruments, etc. They would much rather watch tv or play video games.
  • Psychological issues such as body image, intimacy, etc. Geeky Girl is not that far away from going through puberty and already, there's been discussion of what girls wear, etc. Geeky Boy is old enough to be exposed to drinking, drugs, and sex. We are constantly having discussions about these things and also trying to assess their friends and relationships. It's quite difficult.
  • General negotiation of boundaries. When kids are younger, it's clear what they're allowed to do or not. As they get older, sometimes it's hard to decide. If one parent allows their kid to go to a movie unattended, should you let your kid do the same? And then there's just the general concept of what they should be able to do on their own versus what you're still having to help them with. I'm still helping Geeky Boy with time management, but I don't have to help him get dressed or clean up the kitchen.
It's sort of a weird feeling to tire of parenting. On the one hand, you're just tired. On the other, you realize how fleeting the time is. I think one of the reasons we get tired, in fact, is that we think our interactions with our kids should be more fun, more pleasant. If the time is fleeting, shouldn't that time be spent being happy more often than not?