Last September I walked with Kiki into her school and, against the advice of a school administrator, dropped one of Kiki’s classes to replace it with a free period. Throughout the remainder of September and October I monitored Kiki’s every assignment. I set up schedules for her to get everything done and then argued or cajoled her into sticking to them. It was a very time-intensive, hands-on version of parenting and I believe it was the right choice at that time.
In January I washed my hands of Kiki’s homework and handed all of it back to her. In the same six months I have looked at exactly one of Link’s assignments. Gleek and Patch get their homework done more or less on time. I know for a fact that my kids spend far more time attached to video game screens than their neighborhood peers. This is a very lassez faire style of parenting and sometimes I feel guilty about it. Yet I also feel like it has value in allowing my children to experience their own choices and the consequences thereof. Sometimes the best thing they can have is a mother who stands back.
At the end of this month I will deliberately shed my mother duties for a day so I can participate at an author event for a Junior high school. In August I will leave my children for a week while I attend WorldCon with Howard. In September there is an event I very much wish to attend, but it would again require me to hand the care of the children over to someone else. The fact of imposing childcare on another person aside, I can’t help but feel that the choice to pursue these events is selfish. I feel as if I abandon them. I don’t. Not really. I know there are benefits. When I went on a trip a year ago, Kiki made some life-critical emotional break-throughs that she would not have made if I had been home. Being away from mother allows struggle and growth in different ways.
All around me are mothers that I admire. I see them planning educational opportunities, going on family outings, requiring chores, cooking regular meals, and enforcing homework. I want to be all of them. I want to spend copious amounts of time providing a firm and reliable structure for my children. I want to stand back and let them learn through struggle. I want to play with them and fill their lives with joy. I want to escape them so they can grow and I can grow in ways that we can’t do together. I want so many things which seem to directly contradict each other.
Then I remember a long ago guest lecturer in a college course who spoke about women’s issues. She said “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” I can be all of those mothers in rotation. I just need to let the demands of the day be my guide. The guest lecturer was also a little bit wrong. Life is limited. Sometimes when we choose leave something for later it means we are choosing not to have it because time will run out before we get there. This is okay too, so long as we choose first the things which matter most to us. Each day I will choose the mother I should be. I will know that what may appear to be inconsistent parenting may actually be a straight and steady course toward well-adjusted children and a mother who still has her sanity.