31 July 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I often feel like I'm not a great parent. I yell too much. I spend too much time doing life-stuff rather than playing with Maddie and Riley. I'm impatient. They don't eat enough veggies. I let them watch a Dora video every night. I take out my work and life-related frustrations on them. I get mad when they spill milk. There are lots of times that I'm worn out, stressed out, and just don't love being a mom the way I feel like I'm supposed to love being a mom.

I know I do the best I can. Maddie and Riley are clothed and fed and loved. I'm too hard on myself, as most parents are. I'm a perfectionist, but that's my battle to fight, not the kids'. I love Maddie and Riley fiercely and even when I can barely put one foot in front of the other and make it through the day, I'm glad I have them.

The adage that you can't miss what you don't/didn't have is complete hogwash. When John was first diagnosed with cancer, the immediate grief I dealt with was for the life we were losing, the things we weren't going to get to do, the experiences we weren't going to have together. It's possible that our married life together would have been awful and we would have ended up unhappy and divorced, but I have to believe that even if that had been our ultimate fate, there would have been at least *some* good times first, and I miss and mourn those times daily.

I feel the same way about parenting. By the time the twins were born, John was pretty sick. He dedicated all his available energy to being a good dad, and he was. But he needed a lot of sleep and he didn't have a lot of energy. And then he died. And I miss him so much. Part of that involves missing what it's like to function in a two-parent household where no family member suffers from a terminal illness. That structure would not make me a perfect parent—no such thing—but I am certain that it would make me a better parent.

I don't want more kids. I can barely handle the kids I have now. But sometimes I want to experience what it's like to have one newborn instead of a pair, and what it's like to experience infancy with a fully present, healthy partner. I want a do-over on mothering during infancy and early toddlerhood. I want a chance to do it on my terms.

I don't want that chance enough to do it on my own. Ha! Lunacy. (Although I've got two embryos on ice back in Boston . . . ) And, perhaps oddly, these days I am pretty much not interested in being in a serious relationship and/or getting remarried. I'd love to go on a date—good conversation, nice dinner, maybe a movie—but I'm at a point with Maddie and Riley where there's a lot I like about single parenting. It's nice to be the one who makes all the decisions about where we go, what we do, what we eat, what's OK and what's not OK. Sometimes I wish I had someone to discuss these things with, but often I like the flexibility that comes from being the sole decision-maker (in conjunction with the whims and rather strong desires of two toddlers, of course). We're not lacking for social opportunities. And while I'd love to share the burdens of running a house, or be able to go running before work while the kids are still sleeping, or slip out for an errand once they're in bed at night, that's not a reason to find a husband.

What this means, of course, is that I'm going to meet my next spouse while I'm out running errands after work today. I may not believe that you can't miss what you don't have, but I do believe that as soon as you say never, it comes back to bite you in the ass. And I am headed downtown after work, very close to the infamous Department of Transportation . . . I guess it's always best to keep an open mind.


Sadia said...

I get to live both lives. My husband is home every other year because of the army.

There are things I like about being a "single" mom. There are things I like about being a co-parent. Every time, the transition is a challenge and I don't know if I'm going to be able to handle it.

One thing I'm starting to appreciate is that my daughters are learning that perfectionism and compromise are compatible.

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I have a lot of unformed thoughts on the differences between single- and pair-parenting that I may have to take the time to crystallize now.

Ragtop Day said...

Oh, Snick - I relate to so much of what you say.

I'm a single mom, by choice, to 2 girls via adoption. I was married briefly, unhappily, when my oldest was young. I had a conversation like this with a friend just yesterday. In theory I'd like to date, but in practice I have neither the time nor the energy. The 2 hours I get to myself each night after my kids go to bed are extremely precious to me. I'm at a point where I would resent anyone or anything infringing on that time. I would however, love the freedom to go for a run, run errands unencumbered or even socialize for work or pleasure in the evenings from time to time. But as you say, those are no reasons to get a husband.

If I do meet someone, it's going to be in a way I'd meet a person anyway - another parent at a kid-related event, or through a friend. Much of the time when I'm out and about with the kids I'm so stressed with trying to keep my brain organized for whatever it is I'm trying to buy or do, and keep them corralled, that I am sure I don't project a very open self to any potential partner. I don't always feel very likable. I know I yell too much, have a much shorter fuse than I'd like, and often let the little things get to me. The irony is that I see my mother behaving the same way and I call her on it, but I can't seem to call myself on it before it happens. I'm big on apologizing when I've been out of line though.

In most ways I'm very much cut out for solo parenting - it's the control freak in me. It's the times when I really would like someone to lean on that it gets tough.

Hope you had a good time at the DOT! :)

Sarah said...

I think it's a select few that ever get to parent on their own terms.

People parent alone, with sick and dying spouses, with spouses that are overseas, with little or no income, etc...

People parent children with severe disabilities, with congenital and terminal illnesses, etc...


Millions of people parent after the hell that is infertility has ripped through their souls and slowly deconstructed their marriages until they are left with no choice but to bail or rebuild, and if they're lucky, the chance to do it while they parent a newborn (or two or three).

I wish we could all click our heels and go back in time and change something. I wish it for you and I wish it for us all.

Amanda in Atlanta said...

my BIL is 41 and single, loves kids, and eating out.lives across the river from you in PDX ( asuming you are near Reed).
a former biologist and current financial advisor, great cook and cocktail mixer! he's in great shape has frequent trips to parks thanks to his dog Cooper.
let me know if you need him to meet you at the DOT!

Katie said...

So, how *do* you get to exercise with the kiddos around? This has been a huge challenge for me with my two kids. My husband helps as much as he can, but he is out of the house 13 hours/day. I'd love to know how you fit it in with everything else that needs to happen.

And just so you know, you are an amazing mom. I am so encouraged to read about how you are handling your sweet kiddos. Thanks for sharing.

Susan said...

Hell, I have a healthy husband in the next room and I totally feel like I am sucking at this parenting thing. Much of it right now is the husband is working 14 hours a day and is dog tired when he gets home so it is like being a single parent.
No answers, just know that you are doing the best you can and they know you love them.

BTW, I've already started a therapy fund for the kids, I'm sure they'll need it eventually.

Crash Course Widow said...

Everything you wrote in the first two paragraphs, I feel or do too. Sometimes I think it's the big secret of motherhood, and of motherhood of toddlers. Three is a tough, brutal age. Given that you also have grief on top of it, it's no wonder you feel less than ideal about your parenting. I felt the same way when Anna was 2yrs3mo through 3 1/2, and when I was in that second and third year of widowhood.

And if you meet your future spouse at the DOT, check and see if he has an eligible, attractive brother/cousin/friend for me, okay? ;o)

We need to get the kids together for a playdate soon! Hope you're all doing well!

Crash Course Cardiologist said...

Snick, I have a husband who's not sick, a nice house near Boston, jobs where we both make decent salaries, and (just one) beautiful 4-year-old son. And I still feel that way ALL the time... wishing I could have a do-over on so many things parenting-wise. Like you, I'm a perfectionist. It's never enough; I'm never good enough. It's all very hard. We just have to try to believe we're doing the best we can, in the moment... and in the end, it will all be okay. It's trite, I know... but thinking that way helps me sometimes.


Snickollet said...

Amanda in Atlanta--

Your BIL sounds like he'd fit *right* in at the DOT. I'll let you know next time I'll be in that neighborhood and you can send him over :).


Re: exercise, mostly I don't fit it in. When I lived with CV, I ran in the mornings, which was GREAT. I was also sporadically dedicated to Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred video, which I would recommend. The workouts are only 20 min. long, which was about all I could handle doing once the kids were in bed. Lately, though, even that is too much. At Reed, I have full use of the sports center, and in theory, I will be exercising regularly at lunch. In practice, this has yet to become a reality, unless you count about once a week as regularly. It's hard. I know that exercising regularly (truly regularly, like 4-5 x/week) really helps my mood, not to mention my physique, and I know that I need to prioritize self-care. But there are practical limits to fitting in certain activities, and exercise has become all too expendable in my routine.


Snickollet said...

PS to Katie--

Thank you for the kind words about my parenting. I'm not only a perfectionist, but I need a lot of positive reinforcement. It's an awful combo, and your comment really helped!


Anonymous said...

Don't be so hard on yourself!

With my first I was much as you describe yourself: yelling, frustrated, angry at things that are actually to be expected of toddlers, etc. He's 13 now and he's fine! I might wish for him to have a bit more self esteem and I wonder if all that yelling when he was small made him feel he could do nothing right, or is it just a tween phase. With my second, who is 4, I have loads of patience and I don't get angry enough to yell. I can enjoy him and not get worked up, smile instead of be frustrated (partly because I saw with my first how fast the time flies and I want to savor every moment of my last child). So far, he's fine too. But he's quite sensitive -- leaving me to wonder if it's my "fault" for being so calm and accepting (maybe he hasn't experienced the emotional turmoil needed to toughen him up so he is ultra sensitive).

My point is, no matter what approach you take, you're always going to think you could've done differently, better, and you're always going to second-guess your parenting ability and worry about the end result of your efforts -- that's just part of the parenting territory.

Anonymous said...

I've left you comments before but it's been a long time since my last post. My husband died suddenly when my children were one and five. What I regret most is that I wished away my daughter's (the one year old) preschool years. I remember thinking, I can't wait till she's two, three, four, etc. Now's she's 24 and I can't even remember her childhood. All I remember is wanting the time to pass.
If I could give you some advice it would be to savor these days because they will be gone so fast. I have moments of great sadness now when I think about how I tried to hurry her babyhood.
PS I also agreed with you on how there are many positive aspects to single parenting!!I remarried when my daughter was five and at times missed my independence.

Mel said...

You are a total winner mom. We all doubt ourselves, we all suck at it sometimes and NO ONE loves it all the time. Their babyhood was such a hard time for you and I really do wish you get a 2nd chance one day with one little critter and a 2 parent family. In the meantime, cut yourself some slack, your kids are clothed, fed and happy, you too!

OTRgirl said...

As always, I love your honesty. You're so right about the 'never' seeming to be a doorway right into the unexpected. Both Jrex and I were perfectly happy with singleness when we 'found' each other. I think it makes the marriage much better when it's not from a place of 'need'. That said, we were babies in our 20's. What did we know?!

I'm always comforted when I reflect on how deeply flawed my parents were, and how great a job they did despite all that. Trust me, my mother was a VERY ineffective yeller. I'm sure you're MUCH better at the parenting gig.

What A Card said...

So how did the errands go? ;)

I don't think anyone ever feels like they're a great parent. At least I hope not...I hope it's not just me berating myself for all the mistakes I make! I suspect that most parents make mistakes, and feel bad about it, and try to do better next time, so I try not to get too down on myself about it.

And I get the desire for a do-over. As we expect #3, I've been trying to control my expectations that this will somehow be easier or more ideal than the occasional insanity that surrounded twins. I'm sure this lil' guy will be able to cause much insanity all on his own...

Rev Dr Mom said...

I'm divorced, not widowed, so I never had the kind of stress and grief you have had to deal with, but I do totally get the part about the pluses and minuses of single parenting. The Kid is off to college in a few weeks, so I don't have to think about sharing parenting anymore, but I still sometimes wonder whether I'm meant to grow old alone.

mama mama quite contrary said...

Oh Snick, I am also of the perfectionist inclination and it's a real drag since I am far from it. Why is it so hard to let it go then? All I can say is I have seen you in action and I know you're a good parent.

I also can tell you (being on both sides of the singleton/twin coin) that having two newborns at once is far more difficult than having one. I had the experience of one baby at a time and I miss it everyday-- if not for less work than for the chance not to have to split my focus.

Roads said...

Parenting isn't easy, and sometimes perhaps it's recognising that it's not easy to do alone is exactly what makes it hard.

As you say, there is a huge satisfaction in doing this on your own which is something special and unique which comes with the experience. The bond you have with your kids is on a different level entirely.

More than that, you will never wonder 'Would I be able to cope, if the worse happens?' because (of course) it already has. And you did. That's assurance, of a kind.

FWIW the transition back to dual parenting isn't all that straightforward, either. I do things my way, and she has hers.

Opinions on that stuff don't always meet, especially since I've discovered there is more than one way to do it -- a luxury and a realisation which simply didn't exist before...

BethGo said...

You know what I don't trust? People who boast about their excellent mothering skills. I stay away from those "I'm a good mother" types because IMO the ones who boast usually aren't.

I do not think I am a good mother but I'm the only one my kids have so I'll do.
And really, it doesn't matter if I think I'm a good mom but if my kids think I am. I hope in the end that they do.
I just try to steer my boat in the right direction.

Jane said...

I can really relate to that wish for having had the singleton baby experience. We'll never have more kids (We don't want to, anyway) and sometimes it really bums me out having missed out on that. And, at the same time, it's wonderful in a thousand other ways. But still.

Of course, that's nothing compared to not having a healthy partner to share the experience with.

Parenting twins is hard enough. Parenting twins by yourself, while grieving a lost husband? You should get a lifetime achievement award. I can't imagine how hard it must be.

We were at an outdoor concert for kids at the Robbins library the other night and when I first got there my thought was: hey, maybe we'll run into Snick & Co.! And then I remembered you weren't here anymore -- bummer.

Vanessa said...

I've had a lot of similar worries lately. I knew how to be a mother when my daughter was little, but now that she's transitioning into "preteen" (she's 10, 11 in January) I feel more unsure of myself than I ever have before. But then yesterday she slung her arm around my shoulders and said "I'd never want to live anywhere but with you, Mom," so clearly her assessment of me is not the same as my assessment of myself. And it's probably the same with you and Maddie and Riley. To them, you're the greatest mom in the world because you're THEIR mom.