Being there matters more than being perfect

June 21, 2016

 I had a really great day a while ago. I managed to get four of my girls mad at me within a minute. When my children were younger, I could do even better. I could get all eight of my girls mad at me in short order. The boys take a little longer, but I could do that, too. Then I really was batting a thousand. I must have a real talent in that area. I don’t think too many parents can make their children angry with them in such a short time. It takes practice.

Actually, it wasn’t that great a day. Okay, it was a tough day, but some days are going to be like that. It’s inevitable when people are living together. Imperfect parents are raising imperfect children under imperfect conditions with imperfect neighbors, cars, relatives, finances, teachers, and so forth. On those days, bedtime sounds pretty attractive. But that’s not a bad thing. Starting fresh in the morning can be nice.

After that day, I realized something. I was doing it right after all. Even though the situation didn’t go as well as I would have liked, I learned from it, the children learned from it, and we are still friends most of the time. Did I do exactly the right thing? Probably not. But I did something. I was involved in my children’s lives. And that was why I did a good job.

Raising children is hard. They have so many needs and issues, so many demands. It’s easier to escape by becoming too involved in work, politics, hobbies, or myriad activities that take us away from our families.

Some activities and hobbies are good. We all need some fun of our own. But if you have ever called home to tell your babysitter or spouse that you are on your way home, and heard a child or two wailing in the background and wondered if you could stall longer until the children were in bed, then you understand.

It’s not easy wiping noses all day. It’s not easy changing dirty diapers that should be classified as toxic waste. It’s not easy trying to figure out what to have for dinner, considering the eating habits of a two-year-old and a teen on her fourteenth diet.

It’s not easy facing the dinner dishes when exhausted, and four children haven’t done their chores, three children need baths, two need help with homework, and one forgot she needs to have her pants hemmed that night so she can wear them the next day.

Oh, and then at bedtime, a child is certain to come downstairs in a panic, having just remembered his science project is due the next day and he hasn’t even started on it. Or she needs three dozen cookies and cupcakes for the bake sale, which is tomorrow, and she’s sure she did tell you about it three weeks ago, and, Mom, you were supposed to remember!

Maybe they don’t think parents have a life of our own. Oh, wait, maybe we don’t. Or maybe children forget that parents need time to themselves. Maybe children forget that parents have our own talents and things that we like to do when we have a minute. Children likely don’t realize that sleep is important to adults. Kids wish sleep were optional, so why wouldn’t parents?

Sometimes being good enough is perfect. Sometimes that is all we can do. Often we feel guilty about that and about having to choose the most important activities. Jobs really do get in the way when we wish we could be there, but just knowing that helps children realize how much you care.

You might be having pizza for dinner for the third time in a week, but if you are truly listening to your child while they are eating, it’s good enough.

It’s all about attitude—your attitude. The children pick up on it rather quickly. They know you want to be there, so even though sitting at a ball game in the pouring rain isn’t on your list of favorite activities, your son notices your presence.

Your daughter will remember that you magically made her Halloween costume in one night after she went to bed. You might not have been able to pull off a princess dress, but she still felt beautiful. Your best efforts are good enough. They really are.

Parents who are present are generally doing the right thing. They are there for their children. They may not be able to be there all day every day with a huge smile, but when they are there, the children have their attention. They might not make every single game or concert, but they are there when they can be. And when it’s not possible, they are ready to listen to every detail and cheer on their children.

We might not always be patient and smiling, and we might even be tired and stressed out and have to hide that as best we can. We might even have to give up on the smiling thing while helping with that science experiment until midnight. But you are there, and your children know it, and that is what is important.

Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of six, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.

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