My six year old said that to me tonight as we were getting into the car to leave the mall at this evening. Of course she was referencing the sun setting earlier as we plunge deeper into autumn and away from her endless nights of summer. She even continued to explain. “Just a few weeks ago we still had a lot of playtime after dinner and it was light out when we went to take our tub.”
She’s right of course, but for me her sentence carried much more weight. She put into words what I had been feeling for months now. A year ago at this time we were all under one roof, her Dad and I and her and her little brother. We lived in a different house with different schedules. Our divorce finalized over the summer and now we split time with the kids fifity-fifty in two different homes.
Of course I didn’t sign up to only see my kids half of the time when I gave birth to them. I’d also never dream of keeping them from their dad and he’d tell you the same about me. Suffice to say, the adjustment has been monumental but not in the ways that I expected.
For starters, I expected to feel completely sad all of the time when I wasn’t with them. You can imagine the guilt I felt when this didn’t happen. The nights that I didn’t have them, I just didn’t have them and there was good reason why I didn’t so I could in theory be guilt free. This meant time that I could stay later at work and catch up on projects, I could take a run, I could meet a friend for coffee or just have some time to myself. I didn’t feel sad but I did feel selfish and less-than. I know this is healthy and normal to enjoy pressure-free alone time but I am far from guilt free about it. I’ll see parents with their kids while shopping at Target and suddenly wonder if my kids are missing me the way that I am them. I wonder what blind bags or slime we’d be looking at if they were with me.
A few days ago I found myself getting short with them. We walk my daughter to school every morning and my son has a new hobby of slowing us down. He absolutely has to get his own shoes on without help and he has to open the door. Fun thing is, he can’t actually open the door because its too heavy. However, if you even try to slightly help him with the handle he flips out and shuts the door again. Pure three-year-old shenanigans but we were running late. He was screaming. His sister was moving at the pace of a sloth. I found myself saying “I need you to STOP crying!” and “I swear you’re going slower on purpose.” Not some of my finer, more composed parenting moments. I rushed them off to school and daycare and my heart sunk as I watched my daughter make her way with her over-sized backpack into her school, knowing I wasn’t going to see her for two more days and that I had ended our time together in frustration.
I must have clung to that feeling for a day straight. Finally, her Dad and I were discussing logistics of something and he mentioned being impatient with them that morning. I confessed that I had been that way the day before and he said “Isn’t it so hard when you have them part of the time? You feel like pressure is on. You can’t mess up and you have to make every second count.”
I was stunned. He captured everything I had been feeling. It’s something we all feel from time to time as parents. I think there is added pressure when you don’t have your kids all of the time. Throw in being a work-outside-of-the-home parent on top of it and….well, you see where I’m going with this.
Yes, indeed the days are getting shorter. They are filled with checklist items and homework and baths and quick dinners and a five minute story and a stunned reflection on where the night went. The unaccounted for moments are quickly packed with trying to make the most memorable time possible in the short time allotted.
The other morning, my daughter climbed into bed with me early in the day and much earlier than we needed to be up. Her rustling awakened her little brother and in an effort to ease into the day I asked if they wanted to both crawl into bed with me and cuddle. And so we did. As moments passed, I imagined the sentiment was mostly (selfishly) for me and offered to go downstairs to put on their favorite TV show. She responded with “Actually mom, I’d like to just spend a little more time doing this.”
And so even though I know this in theory, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter the amount of time but the quality of it. I’m not the be-all, end-all qualifier of what constitutes quality time either. It doesn’t take an expensive vacation or Pinterest-worthy craft to show my children I love them. I don’t have to be perfect all of the time, just honest and apologetic when I slip up. Despite feeling like a crappy mom for enjoying a quick jog before I picked him up, my son ran to me with the biggest smile and open arms when I grabbed him from daycare.
The pressure we put on ourselves as parents, regardless of circumstance, is unattainable. Love fully. Forgive yourself for your imperfections. Enjoy the things that resonate with your soul, even when they don’t involve your children.
Yes, the days are getting shorter, but love is infinite and unconditional.