Why Can’t I Be One Of Those Calm Moms?

I read everywhere that moms are tired of being shamed by other parents for their choices. I also read incessantly that we are our own worst critics.

I am glad I don’t worry much about what others think, but I do get defensive when my parenting is constantly criticized by my kids. And I often question my own parenting approaches when  I meet others who seem to have it so much more together than I do.

I marvel at mothers who seem to drift through life effortlessly, without rushing around as I always am. I heard from one today. I contacted her to ask her if I could videotape her and her family as a feature for my OverAchiever Mom TV Show.

She replied: “I watched the video about the show, I definitely think it’s an interesting and sadly very relevant topic. I work at home, so I’m not sure I’m the ideal candidate. Although I work A LOT, I actually feel blessed to be able to work without having to worry about gas prices, my wardrobe, makeup, and commuting times. I lived in that world for many years as an architect, so I definitely can appreciate the difference. On the other hand, I still struggle to find the time to wash my windows and do the bookkeeping for our business — and the umpteen other things I want to get done around the house — but Candy Crush may be partially to blame for that. My kids also aren’t overly scheduled. Most days they come home from school and go outside and play with their friends until dinner. My daughter does riding lessons one day a week; my son has “spell bowl” once a week, and we all go to karate on Saturdays and sometimes Mondays. Most days my husband and I (he works from home too – owns his own business) putter around here in our pajamas as we work.”

Wow! I never putter. My husband works from home, too — though he has appointments out of the house frequently. But he never putters either. Whenever I have a spare moment, I look at any one of several lists around the house of all the things I haven’t been able to get to, or I look at the list of things my kids are supposed to get to and remind them and keep checking with them until they do their homework and chores and music practice. We’re always “doing” and rarely just “being.” Am I doing it wrong? What secret does she know that I don’t?

I am in pursuit of that secret, which is why I am profiling mothers who are balancing work, kids and marriage to see how they manage. I do feel confident I am achieving success in those three areas, because I enjoy my work in general, my kids are doing well in school and seem happy, and my marriage is a source of love and comfort.

But it’s my day-to-day life that makes me crazy and always seems to be spinning out of control.

On a typical day like today, I work from home. I have the luxury of sleeping in, because my husband gets up with the kids, packs my daughter’s lunch, takes both kids to school, and doesn’t wake me because he knows I often stay up well past midnight working on a story — logging tape, sending emails to set up interviews, writing. When I get up, I try to force myself to get dressed right away — but I check my phone first: texts and voicemails and emails that all scream for answers.

I run two different businesses from home that require constant communication with clients, and I write for five different media outlets. So I have a continual onslaught of unfinished projects that need me to move them forward to completion and ultimately payment. I get sucked into putting out fires for my business for a couple hours, and then suddenly in my pajamas I realize I’m about to miss my chance to pick up equipment I need for one of my two part-time jobs. So I throw on clothes (ignoring my New Year’s Resolution to never leave the house without makeup) and run that errand. By the time I get back, it’s time to pick up my daughter. When I get home with her, my son begs to run an errand we’ve been trying to squeeze in for a month — he desperately wants to take the test to get his driving permit.

I promised him yesterday, so I agree to fulfill that today. But I finally delegate, so I can do a little more work before we leave. I tell him to look up all the necessary documents we must bring. He rattles off the list; I get it all (and feel confident in my organizational skills since I easily find birth certificate, social security card, report card and bank statement showing address). He’s so happy as we drive there, and we’re both crushed to learn that the birth certificate must be original, and they won’t accept a copy. We argue a little that he should have seen that on the website, but I let it go. I’m proud I don’t lash out and blame him. He’s 15; he didn’t know to read the fine print. (I look up later and realize the website was vague about that requirement; I’m glad I didn’t yell at him about it.)

An entire hour wasted — driving all the way to the DMV and home. After years of listening to dozens of motivational books from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to “3 Questions for the Frantic Family,” I still feel like I’m bouncing around my day like a pinball with no control over my direction.

On the way home, I face my daily choice — skip my one respite of the day (my beloved bike ride) and cook a quick dinner before taking my daughter to dance class, or give in to my son’s insistence on McDonald’s for dinner to ease his disappointment in not getting his long-awaited permit. I give in and get the nuggets and eat junk myself — a steak and egg burrito, since I learn McDonald’s no longer carries wraps.

I get in a half-hour bike ride; not as good as the one-hour ride I aspire to daily, but at least a chance to feel the breeze and get my heart pumping and smell the leaves before the trees are all barren. As soon as I get home, it’s time to take my daughter to dance. She says she’s ready; I throw off my bike clothes and throw on my jeans and shirt. My daughter dawdles a bit, and by the time we get out the door, the class has started. She’s late again.

I bring my makeup in my purse, hoping to put it on in the dance studio parking lot before the gifted program parenting meeting at my daughter’s junior high. I drop her off. I’m already late for the meeting. Why be later? I skip the makeup-in-the-car attempt and arrive at the meeting late. At least the custodian is setting up extra chairs, so I get to sit.

The meeting is about creating a growth mindset in kids and in parents. It’s the second meeting like this I’ve attended. I’m more interested in the discussions afterwards, when I’m asking other parents if they have to take away their kids phones to get them to do their homework and chores and music practice as I have to. No, they say. Really? What’s their secret? If the kids don’t get the work done, then they suffer their own consequences — get a bad grade, have a messy room, not perform well, they say.

Now I’m really feeling like a loser. In my house, I don’t accept those things. I have high standards, and I’m constantly trying to guide my children to reach their full potential by teaching them how to put priorities ahead of entertainment — and when they don’t do it on their own, I force it on them by taking their phone, or if necessary, every electronic device and remote in the house. Am I helping them achieve more, or hovering so much they’re not learning to do it on their own?

I come home defeated. My daughter is still at her grandparents’ house; they picked her up from dance class, so I could attend the parenting meeting. They gave her pasta for dinner, since she didn’t want McDonald’s. She loves her grandpa’s pasta. My husband is at band rehearsal. My son appears to be doing homework when I get home at 8:30 pm.

I reply to some texts — personal and business. My daughter comes home with my dad. He hangs out and talks to us for a bit. He’s always happy. It’s contagious. I always feel so grateful to have a parent who is so helpful and encouraging and healthy and interested. He’s my rock. I always make time for him; even when I’m swamped, I always answer his calls. I know lots of people who have lost parents; I’m so grateful mine is not just here but in my life nearly every day.

I remind my daughter it’s time to get ready for bed. She believes 9:45 pm at night is far too early for a 12-year-old to get ready for bed. I reply to a few emails on my phone and go in her room at 10 pm. She says it’s still too early. I try not to battle with my kids, because I know it doesn’t help. But it’s hard. They fight me on EVERYTHING it seems. She says she’ll relax and read in her room a while.

I retreat to my office in the basement, intending to answer an email or two and then get the kids — and myself — to bed. I get sidetracked and finally go upstairs at 10:30 pm. If I don’t force my kids to go to bed, they won’t. I’ve tried to let them go to bed on their own. They stay up past midnight on a school night and fall asleep on the couch. It doesn’t work, not in my house.

So now I insist she get in bed and turn out the lights. Then we have our nightly ritual of talking about the day. We often get off on tangents and end up chatting about all kinds of things that give me insight into her life or sometimes frustrate us so much we end up yelling. Most nights I try to stick to calm topics, but calm doesn’t come naturally to me. No matter if the discussion is heated or funny or just matter of fact, we learn a little more about each other. These talks usually take way too long. I don’t cut them off because sometimes it’s my only glimpse into her world. She doesn’t cut them off because my kids never want to go to bed. By about 11 pm I’m walking out of her room.

It’s this time of night I feel like the bad mommy. Why am I such a bad mom who lets her kids get to bed so late every school night? Am I really letting them, if I start trying to get them to bed at 9 pm and it takes two hours of nagging?

My son is in the living room, still doing homework. He’s been in that position on the couch, with his school chromebook on the table in front of him and his phone on the couch next to him, since about 6 pm. It’s five hours later, and he says he’s not done with homework yet. I decide not to fight with him. I go back downstairs to shut down the computer.

I get caught up in updating my calendar, catching up on some business paperwork, and my husband comes home. He’s tired and has to get up with the kids. I barely see him, and he’s off to bed. I keep telling myself to go upstairs and force my son to get to bed. If I do, it will be a battle. So I resist. Am I really supposed to make my 15-year-old get to bed at a reasonable hour? Why can’t he do this on his own?

He finally yells downstairs that he’s ready for bed. It’s 12:45 am. I go in his room to say good night. I say for what seems like the 571st time since he started high school, 1 am is too late on a school night. Why is it always so late? He claims it was a lot of homework. I remind him he was doing homework since 6 pm, and I know he didn’t have seven hours of homework. I start with my typical critical tone of complaining that it takes him seven hours to do three hours of homework because he’s texting and watching YouTube videos and who-knows-what-else on this phone every few minutes while doing his homework. He doesn’t respond. We both know it’s true. I don’t know what to do about it. He obviously doesn’t either. I’ve taken his electronics, many times before. He still ends up in bed after midnight. Instead of playing around on his phone, he’s chasing the cat, annoying his sister, eating — anything but staying on task.

Perhaps I have passed down a procrastination gene to my kids. If that really were the case, then I probably wouldn’t feel so guilty. After all, I couldn’t help that. But it’s more likely that it’s nurture, not nature.

Because here I am at 1:45 am writing a blog — after telling myself for three hours I should go to sleep. And I realize I rushed through my day so much I never did comb my hair as I would have after getting dressed, because I threw on my clothes to run a quick errand, intending to come back and finish getting ready for my day. But the day just kept whacking me with one smackdown after another. And I don’t even have young kids! I don’t have a full-time job! I didn’t have anywhere I HAD to be today, unless you count picking up my daughter from school and bringing her to dance class. Everything else was at MY discretion. But I still felt pulled along.

And I look at my list of work priorities just for today — four different stories in various states of production that need to be finished and a real estate business that always has a long list of tasks that can never be fully completed and a new consulting gig that is demanding more attention — and I wonder how much I even gnawed away at that very giant monkey on my back. Where did the hours go? I didn’t even have to work my Tuesday night job or my Thursday night job. I didn’t even have any writing assignments for one of my regular clients, or any orders to fill for my sign business. I didn’t even do any laundry or dishes or cooking…

So how did the day get away from me? Why can’t I just go to sleep and start fresh tomorrow?

Because I know when I lie down, I will think of all the things I should be doing. And if I toss and turn more than a half-hour, I will get up and go into my office and do some of those things and try to get tired. I’ll feel better that I accomplished a lot, while the house was quiet and no one was disturbing me. But that won’t happen until 2, 3, 4, 5 in the morning. Then I end up sleeping late, and the cycle continues.

So how can I get so upset with my kids for staying up late, when they know I do it, too….

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