For the past 21 years when someone asks about me the first thing I tell them is that I am a mom. I’ve started to wonder lately if perhaps I need to come up with a different answer.
I always prided myself on being one of those moms who didn’t talk of their children constantly. I had other activities, I had both mom and non-mom friends, my husband and I spent time with our children and also out together or with friends. The kids were my life, but also not.
And when my husband became the typical Silicon Valley start-up guy, I spent more and more time with my kids. He would be traveling or in VC meetings on a pretty regular basis. And he would remind me often that start-up hours were not 9 to 5. When he was home, he would share in many of the every day activities of parenting. The thing was, he just wasn’t around much.
So I was the one who made their breakfasts, lunches, dinners — sure, most of it was peanut butter & jelly and mac & cheese, but that was all I could get them to eat. Two of my kids were what they called back then “spirited children,” and these days are given more specific diagnoses. I was one to pick my battles, and so I fed them what they would eat and let their rooms become disasters that I would do my best to stay out of.
I was also the room mom for three different classrooms, was on the PTA and school site committees, I made cupcakes for entire classrooms on birthdays and put together holiday and end-of-year holiday gifts for teachers. I did all the laundry and kept the house as neat as one can expect to do with 3 kids and two dogs. I was the go-to person for everyone. Even my husband would default to me in matters of the kids, the house and where to find (fill in the blank).
I’m reasonably intelligent and I knew that I wouldn’t be needed by everyone forever. And, full disclosure, I didn’t always enjoy being nearly so *needed* every minute of the day. But I saw the progression of my kids becoming gradually more independent as an opportunity for my husband and me to be able to spend more time together. We would be able to travel, we could head up to Tahoe at a moment’s notice and stay for as long as we liked. We could go out to dinner, have dinner parties, finally move out of the suburb that we chose because of its schools. I saw all of that as the finishers’ medal you get at the end of a marathon.
But what happens when the marathon gets cancelled, due to unforeseen circumstances, just as you are about to cross the finish line? Did all those miles count for anything? If there’s no medal, what do I get to show that I did, in fact, run all those miles?
Two of my kids are home from college for the holidays and the other is out of school and finished with school and marching band obligations for the time being. I should be thrilled to have all my kids home. But instead, I’m learning that the “radical acceptance” my therapist and I have been working on, is a much more elusive goal than I initially thought. When they’re home, but all staying with their dad, or doing things as a family — minus me, of course — it hurts. We throw around the word literally way too much, but it *literally* causes physical pain when all my children are together and having fun without me, while I sit at home alone. This was not what was supposed to happen.
My youngest is here with me today because I insisted on picking him up last night and bringing him over. This morning I asked him if he needed any laundry done. He told me he would do it himself. Those were words I longed to hear from my kids when they were young. But this time all they did were remind that I’m not needed anymore. My kids are doing just fine without me. They all work and have money in their accounts to go out to eat whenever they want. If they need something they buy it, instead of asking me to get it for them. All good things, certainly. Great things, in fact. And things that I hoped for back when things were different. But it’s different. This was not how things were supposed to be.
It’s like the old saying of the tree in the forest…..am I still a mom if nobody needs me to do mom things anymore?