I had quite a few jobs before I had kids. I was a college writing teacher. I tutored. I worked in media buying and marketing research. Prior to that, I waited tables and worked at a retail store. I was a day camp counselor, and I spent a truly awful few months as an advisor at a far less than reputable company.
Some of those jobs were stressful. Some were fun. Most were a combination of the two.
But none of them compare to the pressure I sometimes feel as a mom.
When I was teaching, I would put a lot of pressure on myself. I really cared about my students, and as their instructor I felt a legitimate pressure to help them improve their writing. They would come to me at all different skill levels and all different levels (or lack thereof) of motivation. My job was to help them get from where they were to where they wanted to be.
With their writing.
With my kids, however, my job is to help them get from where they are to where they want to be… in only everything.
I have four little girls. I desperately want for them all to feel loved. I want them all to feel special. I want them to all feel like they have a piece of me all to themselves. I want them to feel my presence. I want them to know that I am interested in their activities and their goals and their friends and their school.
I want to give them a lot. They deserve no less.
And so this year I started volunteering a bit more with their activities. I’m helping coach Magoo’s softball team, and I’m leading her scout troop. I led Goosie’s scout troop last year, and next year I’ll lead Mae’s first year. I’m helping out with some prep work at home for Goose’s teacher. I want to volunteer at Mae’s preschool at times when I can bring Tessie with me.
On top of that, I try to give them all one on one time with reading nearly every day. I try to do special dinner dates or book dates with them one on one. I try to work with each of the older two on badges by themselves. I try to foster inside jokes and make sure that they all know that they have a part of my heart that is all their own.
I try to help them with homework and with completing chores. I try to get them each what they need for activities and to practice with them or watch them practice. I try to attend all the choir practices and violin practices and morning Masses. Not because I’m required to be there but because they like it when I am there, and I think they like knowing that I want to be there with them.
And man does this stress me out.
It’s not the time commitment. I have a lifetime of experience being overbooked, and in some ways I thrive on it — it definitely holds me accountable for time management.
No, what stresses me out is the kids and not disappointing them. Not embarrassing them.
I’m planning a doll activity for scouts on Friday. It’s a badge requirement, and I have spent hours researching different dolls and how to make them and their histories. I have spent time shopping and cutting and gathering supplies. And tomorrow I have to finish up my samples.
But then the overanalyzing comes in. The worrying if the kids will like it. If it will seem too childish. If the craft will be too easy or too hard.
What if we run out of time? What if we finish in 15 minutes? What if no one will listen to me?
What if they roll their eyes?
And I’m reminded that college students are a lot easier to teach than 4th-6th graders. At least they are better at hiding their disappointment.
I just want to make my kids proud, you know? I want them to know that I am doing this because I love them. I want them to feel my presence in their lives. I want them to look back on their childhood and say their mom was always there and involved and excited.
Even when I was terrified.
And so now I’m having panic attacks like I’ve never really had before – the kind where my heart starts to pound and my breath gets short and I start to get dizzy.
And I guess I just have to remember what I always tell my girls – you can only do the best you can. People might love it or hate it, but you can’t control that.
And maybe I have to remember that whether they love it or hate it, they will at least be able to say I showed up. And I tried my best. And I loved them so very big.
And maybe I should remember that they are kind girls. And they appreciate effort. And that they don’t expect perfection from me.
Oh well. I hope you are all having a calmer start to your school year. I hope you are looking at all you do for your kids and your families. I hope you are enjoying the things you excel at and are wise enough to recognize the areas you need work in.
I hope you are teaching your children that mistakes happen and that we don’t have to be amazing at everything. I hope you are taking some of the pressure off of yourselves and remembering that the most important thing isn’t to do everything right for your kids – the most important thing is to let them know that you love them and support them and will never ever leave them.
I hope you remember that hugs are more important than the perfect words and that a kind look or a pat on the back can be more reassuring than setting them up for every single success.
I hope you remember that they won’t remember what you do for them. Rather, they will remember how you make them feel.
And I hope you remember that you are awesome. Because despite all your failures and weaknesses and deficits, no one can love those kids as much as you do, and because of that, you are the best and brightest person they could ever have in their corner.
We put a lot of stress on ourselves because we want to do right by our kiddos. But perhaps the best thing we can teach them is that showing up is more important than being a star. And it’s a whole lot more doable.
Wish me luck.