How delightful it would be for everybody to be happy, all at once.  In my mind’s eye I see each person content with what they have and what they are doing.  And there I am at the centre of this peaceful dream, resting in the comforting thought that each person’s needs has been satisfied. I might even run my white-gloved finger across a surface of my home and smile in smug satisfaction that it is clean. (By the way, my hair looks nice too.)

I rouse myself from those daydreams and find that I am surrounded by children’s magazines, a partially-constructed telescope, a box of pencils with broken tips, a tiny plastic Bart Simpson riding a skateboard and a pirate cutlass constructed from cardboard and foil.  I don’t bother with the white glove test.  My hair?  Let’s pretend I didn’t mention it.  I look around me and wonder how to begin this day.

Bad hair coffee shop

It is 6.30am.  The challenges of the morning have left me sitting in my dressing gown and slippers, soiled apron tied over it, with my head in my hands.  I think, “How did I ever think that I was up to this task?”  I wonder when the intensity of parenting will abate.  I wonder whether I will welcome that moment or recoil from it, when it comes.

Children need.

In this moment I feel swept away by the spinning vortex that is family life.  Surveying the chaos, I tune in to the sounds of the seven year old yelling angrily at her sister… the 10 year old bursting into sensitive tears and retreating up the stairs with wounded stomps… the three year old complaining that he doesn’t want the breakfast he has, and can he have something else….  They all want something:  they come charging into the kitchen as I sit at the table in my semi-catatonic state and demand audience with me.  Each child, filled with a sense of righteous indignation, anger, hurt, sadness, attention, need, each of these people expects me to do something for them.

Some days I want to plead, “Don’t you realise that I’m really not very good at this?  Please go find someone who can do this better than me!”  But I know that I am choosing every day to be a mother, to meet those needs and to draw deeply from my own internal resources to keep at it, even when I feel that I can do no more.  Some days parenting is so hard.

I think many mothers wish that they could meet every one of her children’s needs, all at once.  We ask, how can I help one with her violin practice, while also reading to the younger child?  How can I make breakfast for the family when one of the children needs her hair put up in braids?  How can I sit down to nurse my baby when I need to get my older children to school/sports practice/music lessons?  How can I earn enough money to support my family and still give my children the time and attention they need?

Just this week, my eldest daughter (who is home educated) was inventing a cookie recipe for her baking project.  “Could you please write down the method as I work, so I don’t forget anything?”  And as her mentor on this learning journey, of course my answer is, “Yes, I will.”  But like a whack-a-mole, the three year old keeps popping up:

“Muuuuummmmmy, please read me this boooook.”

“NO Muuuuuuummmmmy, not THAT booooook.”

“Muuuuuummmmmy, push me on the swing.”

“Muuuuuuuummmmy, can I have a snack?”

“Noooo, not THAT snack!”

Then, he sees that she is making cookies and the litany begins: “IWANTSOMEDOUGHIWANTSOMEDOUGHIWANTSOMEDOUGHIWANTSOMEDOUGH” (regardless of the dough he already has in his hand).

(I am calling this his Eeyore phase.)

So, in the end, I abandon my attempt to help my daughter, and take the three year old into the other room to give him what he clearly needs: attention.  Later, I apologise to the 10 year old, but she is understanding and says that it all worked out fine anyway.  But to me, it didn’t work out fine.  I wanted to be there for her, and instead, someone else’s need took precedence.  Yes, I gave her a quiet space in which to work by removing her brother, but I wasn’t able to help her as she needed.

Every day there is this balancing of needs.  One child needs to be collected from school, so no, I cannot let you read one more chapter (bring the book with you!).  Another child needs his bottom wiped, so no, I cannot get you a glass of water (you will need to fill your cup yourself).  A third child has broken a glass jar on the floor, so no, I cannot carry on reading you this book as I have to go make the kitchen safe again (just look at the pictures for a while!).

Family life is full of these compromises.  And in spite of my thoughts (“I’m not up to this! Their demands are too much! How did I get myself into this situation! HELP!”), as I write these words, it hits me like an epiphany…

In my inability to meet their every need, my children receive one of the greatest gifts I could hope to give them: an invitation toward independence. 

No, I cannot do everything for them.  But should I?  That image of everyone’s needs being met: it’s an illusion.  I can’t achieve it.  That pipedream has only become yet another stick with which to beat myself.

We can all have our needs met, but it’s not necessarily my job.  When I am unable to meet my children’s needs, when I can’t do for them what they request, I leave a void, and in this void they have the opportunity try to meet their own needs.  They discover their own capabilities and they learn about compromise.

They find out:

I can reach the tap myself now and fill my own cup.

I can tie my own shoelaces.

I can wipe my own bottom.

I can put my hair up in a ponytail myself.

I can make my own breakfast.

As they get older, they can do more and more.  They become independent.  And instead of asking me to do it for them, they say, “Mummy look what I can do!”

Maybe I can get one of them to do something with my hair.

Words and photographs © Lisa Hassan Scott 2013.

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Meeting our children’s needs, all at once

13 thoughts on “Meeting our children’s needs, all at once

  • 06/09/2013 at 9:41 pm
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    Somehow your posts are always so timely Lisa xx I SO needed to read this today. I find your posts refreshing and honest every time I read one and know that among my own chaos I am for this day at least, not alone. Sending you a big hug and your hair looks great xx 😉

    • 08/09/2013 at 8:05 pm
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      Hello Charlie,
      No, you are definitely not alone in the chaos. And thank you for the hair-lovin’.
      🙂
      Lisa

  • 06/09/2013 at 9:50 pm
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    Lovely, as always, Lisa.

    It’s such a tricky balance – parenting children of different ages, without having LOTS of other adult-carers there to support and do some parenting too. Mothers all too often beat themselves up about not being able to fulfill the needs of every child, but if we really did have a whole village to raise each child it would be so much easier. But as you say, it’s important we look at this with a philosopher’s eye, and know that we are giving them an opportunity to become more independent.

    Take care, and I think the hair is fab 🙂

    • 08/09/2013 at 8:09 pm
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      Hello Marija,
      Thanks for making this point: yes, many hands make light work. When a family member comes to visit things always seem a little easier. As you say, perhaps I was never meant to do all this myself.

      Thanks for the ‘yes’ vote on the hair. In that photo I’d been in a campervan for 16 nights… trust me, I felt LOTS better after that coffee!
      Love,
      Lisa

  • 06/09/2013 at 10:24 pm
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    Lisa you’ve so hit the nail on the head there. It’s hard ot meet everyone’s needs. I constantly feel that my 7yo spends her time waiting for me to finish with her 3yo sister. And that my 3yo spends her time being dragged on the school run when she’d rather not. But when we look at it in terms of life lessons – what they’re learning from it – well I find it quite liberating. Instead of being a shoddy mother, I’m helping them to grow and start to meet their own needs.
    Thank you as always for your wonderful words 🙂

    • 08/09/2013 at 8:12 pm
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      Thanks for stopping by Louise, and taking the time to comment. I’m sure that making these little sacrifices must teach valuable life lessons. It’s easy to get caught up in binary vision, classifying things as ‘good for them’ or ‘bad for them,’ when actually there is value in every thing we do. The challenge is in finding it.
      Love,
      Lisa

  • 07/09/2013 at 3:20 am
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    yes. the void. i like the way you phrase it.

    maybe what our children “need” most is the availability of such voids, where they can explore the boundaries of their capability and confidence.

    • 08/09/2013 at 8:15 pm
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      Hi Dawn,
      I’ve been thinking of you, what with the start of the new school year and all. I’ll be stopping by your blog shortly.

      Thanks for taking a minute to comment. Those voids– we underestimate their value, I think.

      Love,
      Lisa

  • 07/09/2013 at 7:44 am
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    Yes, Lisa. You did find the wisdom in it. I will try to hold that piece. And in that, I can possibly convey my “not helping” differently. Like Louise said, I feel one is always waiting on the other. I need to look at what is *really* happening. And reading your words helps me to see that *i* feel disappointed to miss these moments with each child. And that is different from “letting them down.”
    So glad you shared : )

    • 08/09/2013 at 8:17 pm
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      Hello Jen,
      Thank you for your comment and for giving me the inspiration for this post. I like the way you describe the re-framing involved in simply seeing this ‘problem’ differently.

      Let us know how you get on,
      Love,
      Lisa

  • 07/09/2013 at 2:09 pm
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    oh it’s certainly a tricky one, with some days feeling like you’re being pulled in a million different directions simultaneously!

    I find it helps to say ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ in ‘you have to wait’ situations,,,,
    for example ‘Yes, I’d love to read that book with you as soon as I’ve finished changing the baby’
    It makes me feel more positive at least, otherwise I’m saying ‘no, I can’t’ all day and it just puts me (never mind everyone else!) into a really negative mindset which is no fun, quite frankly.

    • 08/09/2013 at 8:22 pm
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      Oh Mamacrow, I suspect you do feel pulled in zillions of directions at once! Thank you for sharing the great tip that starting with a ‘yes’ can do wonders for our mindsets. It’s easy to forget that when we’re having a hard day. A welcome reminder.

      Thank you for stopping by,
      Lisa

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