Posted by: Kate | March 25, 2008

Priorities

I’m back in New Hampshire today.

It’s cold here.

There are two feet – really, I checked – of snow standing in my front yard.  Four-foot snowbanks.  This is actually a one-foot improvement from the last time I saw it, a week and a half ago.  I’m back at work today, sitting in an uncomfortable chair at an uncomfortable desk and resenting that the Powers That Be have reorganized my employment priorities, without considering silly things like logic or if-it-ain’t-broke, because I’d rather be at home on-call.  My kids are hyper and clingy, as though I might just disappear at any moment even though we gave them lots of prepration and information before I went away.  My husband is now willing to express a lot more of his fears and reservations about my vacation, which I appreciate because I had many of my own, but I also wish he’d shared because who needs to deal with that stuff alone?

Just a big, fat pile of reality waiting here for me.  Ready or not.

I took it all upon myself, I know.  Because I made a choice to prioritize other aspects of my life over my husband and children for a few days, and I didn’t have to do so.  I could have stuck to the routine, kept everything normal and predictable, walked the straight and narrow.  I also could have gone on vacation with them, enjoyed it immensely, and then simply returned home with them to settle back in as a group.

Instead, I chose to go on vacation with them, and then send them home by themselves and go on a second vacation with my mother and sisters.  To a third-world country, with no internet or cell phone access (both of which I could have paid for, but, again, made a choice not to), thereby rendering myself as completely absent and removed from my closest family members, from my heart, as possible.

What kind of mother am I?  What kind of person, to do such a thing?

I can remember, in my pre-child days, an aunt and her husband who had two children together (and even got married to each other, after an extended breakup, before the second was born).  They had a relationship that apparently worked for them – still does, I suppose, since I believe they’re still married though no longer an active part of my life – and one of its key points, in my 12-year-old mind, was the fact that they took separate vacations.  “I won’t do that,” I swore.  “When I get married, it will be because I’ve married my best friend and want to do everything with him.  I won’t want to travel separately or do things without him.”

Turns out, I was right about that middle sentence.  I did marry my best friend, and would be happy to do everything with him.  But I also have interests he doesn’t have, relationships he doesn’t share, and sometimes those other things pull me in a literally, geographically different direction.  I’ve become a mother who sometimes takes vacations with someone else while leaving the kids home with my husband.

Last year, it was Paris.  And that was an unequivocally wonderful, exciting, interesting trip, and if the kids had gone along we’d have found a way to make it work for them… but they’re children, and as such I don’t expect them to have my attention span for museums and palaces and catacombs and yarn shopping.  Rather than impose my interests upon them, sublimate my interests to theirs, or compromise both, we found a way to let them continue with their daily lives while I went and played overseas for a while.  I relied entirely on my husband’s capability as father and adult, and didn’t leave a single list, or note, or instruction to follow.  They ate and played and slept and went to appointments as he saw fit, not as I saw fit, and it went perfectly fine and bumpy and different and normal.

This year, it was Jamaica.  Less a trip for me, myself, and more reflective of my mother’s interests.  Which is fine and good, because I don’t want to be a leader of a group, just a member of a family.  The trip itself was not unequivocally anything; there were moments that will stand out as highlights of my whole life, and moments that left me as scared and stressed as I have ever been, and sometimes those two things happened within hours of each other.  My husband and the kids did great once again, even though this time I couldn’t do a daily late-night check-in online.  They functioned without me.

I think that’s part of what this is all about, this solo vacationing.  Showing them that they can function, because of all the just-in-cases and you-never-knows in life.  Letting them be physically separate from me for a short time, to start to develop a sense of self and independence in small, safe doses from an early age.  Demonstrating to them, as well as to myself, that motherhood can still involve personal priorities and an outside life without abandonment or neglect.

It can’t be an easy lesson to learn.  We all struggle for Time With Mom, I think, on some level.  Even when Mom is not a good, or safe, or caring parent.  I see it at work all the time:  The child or teenager who insists that they hate their mother, while peeking sideways at her to make sure she heard them say it, watching for her reaction even as they prepare to deny it.  The children of abusive and frightening mothers, clinging desperately to her leg as they are removed from the home.  The adult who never knew his or her birth mother and insists that they had a fine upbringing but still defining themselves as fundamentally different, with a question mark where many others have a period.  Motherhood matters, even in its absence.  Even when it matters in a bad way instead of a good one.

So I understand that my kids are inevitably going to push and pull in and out of a relationship with me, craving my attention even when, sometimes, they’ll reject it.  They were born into a household in which, despite all of my myriad faults and imperfections, we’ve created a solid and safe family environment.  I can be serene, or even a bit smug, in my sense that their struggles with me, their quests for independence and dependence and identity and interconnectedness, are all normal things.  But “normal” does not imply “easy,” and having Mom gone for five days when they would rather have her home is going to be hard on anyone.  They missed me, and I do feel guilty about that, even knowing that I will certainly take more childless vacations, even while they’re still children.

I wonder when they’ll know that even as the lesson is hard to learn, it is also difficult to teach?  Because it does hurt, knowing that I’m letting them down and focusing on myself and my relationships with my own mother and sisters.  Knowing that I was selfish enough to spend time and money away from the people that I will always unhesitatingly refer to as “the most important in my life.”  Wondering, as always, with everything, what the difference will be between the messages I want to send to my kids, the intent behind the actions, and the messages they actually receive, the interpretations they make.

It’s complicated stuff, this parenting.  Who knew?


Cross-posted at New England Mamas.

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Responses

  1. I think it’s extremely important for kids to see that their parents have interests that involve other things. I don’t think it’s good for kids to be the “end all and be all” of their parents lives.

    I think it was great that you went and had a good time. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. I don’t think kids understand how hard it is for parents to teach some lessons until they have kids of their own. Even now, my 33-year old childless self sits here and thinks “Eh, it can’t be that hard to go away without them.” I consider myself to be old enough and mature enough to understand a lot about life and whatnot, but there are still some of the emotional things about being a parent that I don’t understand fully, and won’t until I have kids of my own.

  3. That was so perfectly said, I am right there with you. I must agreet hough that you need to follow interests outside and show your children you aren’t “Just a Mom.” There is so much more to you and it will give them a good sense of self as an adult and with their partner in life.

  4. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I could honestly see that my mother was a person separate from “mom”, with her own dreams and wants and wishes. I struggle with this now, knowing my kids think that I exist solely for them.

    I think it is important they see us as ‘whole’ people. Sure it is hard on them when you go, but they will come to terms with this. My vow is to get out one night a week alone. My oldest has such a hard time with this but I do it because I need that time.

    (one other thing, I get really jealous of all you people with snow—we live not far from you, but have nothing! It was another terrible winter for snow! All this grayness makes me melancholy).

  5. It’s all a balance thing, I think – there are ways in which my kids are the be-all-end-all, that I do live for them… but they won’t be kids forever, and I don’t want to suddenly be clueless and without a personality when that happens. I want to have things to talk to them about. I want to show them that they can balance priorities and do things outside the family without lessening the family at all.

    But it is hard – I’m there with you, Beverly, until I had kids I didn’t have any idea just how hard – to leave them behind. I think it’s actually a good message to receive, that you’re not the only thing in your mother’s life, but that’s also a little bit of an insult to a small ego. And you miss them and worry about them constantly, no matter the circumstances.

    Sigh. Hard work. So far it’s still worth it… guess I won’t list them on eBay just yet.

    The snow, though… we woke up to a dusting this morning, FOM, and you can have every single flake of the “storm” predicted for the weekend. I have had enough.


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