On (Not) Being Responsible for Everything

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If you’re a mama who’s continued to hold down a high-powered position post-parenthood, without dropping balls on the job or at home too often, my hat is off to you. Parenthood has a way of thrusting a whole new level of being responsible onto unsuspecting grownups (holy cow, did they just let us walk out of that hospital with this little creature they’ve entrusted to us?), even if they had Type-A tendencies before procreating.

Heck, if you’re a mama who’s held down ANY job, and gets frustrated when you drop a ball – well, as one of many mamas who concluded that staying home is cheaper than child care in my local economy, let me assure you that you’re not the only one who drops balls on a semi-regular basis.

Parenthood redefines Being Responsible

I still marvel at my Type-A former self, the one who put in long hours and always got things done by the deadline. Sometimes I cut it awfully close, but the work always got done somehow. Being responsible came effortlessly, it seemed.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, perhaps you’ve noticed that my posts have been less than regular of late, between school vacations and the fact that the girls now attend different schools whose holiday calendars don’t mesh perfectly. Even though at least one of the girls is usually in school for part of each weekday, I continue to wonder why I never seem to get anything done, now that I’m a parent.

You are NOT responsible for everything

And then there are those of us who still labor under the delusion that we are somehow responsible for more than we really are.

No, you cannot ensure world peace.

No, you cannot consciously and deliberately raise your offspring to be Bill Gates or Marie Curie. Or Albert Einstein or Florence Nightingale, Gandhi or Joan of Arc, Mozart or Mother Theresa, Steve Jobs or Sojourner Truth.

No, you probably can’t get a colicky baby to stop screaming most of the time. Or a toddler or preschooler who’s mid-tantrum, for that matter.

Nor can (or SHOULD) you grant your child’s every desire on demand, regardless of whether they remembered to include a “please” or not.

After all, if you’re reading this post, then I’m betting you’re not superhuman.

Let it go, mama

The new year being a good time for reflecting, I’ve been thinking of all the stuff it’s time to move out of my life in 2016. Having said goodbye to the last of our strollers in 2015, I’m glad to bid farewell at last to our final baby gates, toy sorting bins, and changing tables, which have been cluttering our basement since sometime last year.

As far as goal-setting for the new year, I plan to build on my goals from last year: If it’s no longer useful, and hanging onto it just clutters up my life, then it’s time to let it go.

Whether it’s a piece of furniture my kiddos no longer need, a chain of no-longer-relevant emails that clicking “unsubscribe” would trim from my inbox, or a habit that only holds me back. Not to mention holding my girls back at the same time.

And while there are plenty of areas over which I can exert some direct control – and thereby make a conscious choice to let go a little – there are many others where either I have less power than I’d like to imagine (e.g., the long road of toilet-training), or I find it’s not so easy to loosen my grasp.

When to let go of being responsible

For example: the parental urge to do everything for one’s kids, if only so it can get checked off as done.

Handing over control to my kiddos, and thereby lessening my own load of things I have to be responsible for, has been high on my wish list for a long time.

Because of this, in the upcoming year I want to work, more mindfully than ever before, on teaching my kids how to be responsible for themselves, their stuff, and their choices.

How about you? I know I’m not the only mama out there who would like a smaller pile of daily minutiae on her personal radar screen.

My psychologist friend Barbara has assured me for years that I don’t have to hold the girls’ hands every step of the way. Every child is unique, but she’s seen enough of Kimmie and Essie that I trust her outside opinion when she agrees that they can, say, be taught as preschoolers to clean up after themselves – whether it’s toys or dirty dishes – without help.

After all, it’s not like their teachers aren’t imparting the exact same lessons at school. If they can do it there, then there’s no reason to let the girls off the hook at home. When it comes to managing their belongings, the buck no longer stops with Mama.

Case study: The Diaper Bag

One of the most bewildering and frustrating things for me, when Kimmie was first born, was the fact that I somehow had a whole other person’s worth of stuff to keep track of. I remember my shock, when it was time to take her to her first well-baby doctor’s visit after she left the hospital, when it dawned on me that my purse – MY stuff – did not begin to cover Kimmie’s needs.

Oh, yeah: so THIS is why parents need diaper bags, often twice the size and weight of their newborn, whenever they leave the house.

But what the heck do I put in it? (I’d already read several parenting manuals, mind you, and had thought “Duh – obviously!” to most of the sections that seemed so common-sense. Like what goes into a diaper bag. In retrospect, I realized that stating the obvious is the least you can do for bleary-eyed parents of infants, a.k.a. people who can count the hours of sleep they’ve had in the past week on their ten fingers.)

Fast-forward to the Post-Diaper Phase of Parenthood.

Pop quiz: if you’ve finally changed your youngest child’s last diaper, and that happy day was a long time in coming (as was true for our family), well, why are you still schlepping around a huge diaper bag everywhere you go? Or any “diaper bag” (read: repository of everything your child might possibly need in the next calendar year), for that matter, whenever you set foot outside your home with your offspring in tow?

Start small

The bottom-most shelf on our just-inside-the-door shoe rack is where Essie's shoes go; the next shelf up is reserved for Kimmie's.
The bottom-most shelf on our just-inside-the-door shoe rack is where Essie’s shoes go; the next shelf up is reserved for Kimmie’s.

No matter how old your kiddos are, you can probably find some age-appropriate ways to help them learn the art of being responsible for themselves and their own well-being.

Think of the baby who’s just figured out rolling over, unaided, during Tummy Time – or who is starting to learn cause-and-effect by amusing herself with a toy, or even by chewing on his own toes.

That infant is learning how to be responsible for entertaining him- or herself, without you (or a television set) being the cruise director every second of every day.

Has your toddler gotten into the “helpful” phase yet? Is your preschooler wanting to do everything, as Essie used to say, “all by self”?

Do not let these impulses pass you by.

Yes, I felt like a broken record reciting What We Do When We Get Home each time my entourage and I returned home, starting a few winters back. But after a month or two, they could chant the correct answer on cue: “Coats off, shoes off, socks off, Put ’em away, put ’em away, put ’em away now!”

child-height hooksAnd with child-height hooks and shoe spaces right inside the door, they really had no excuse not to put their stuff away where it belonged. After a few more months, I had as many as ten fewer things to pick up off the floor on a good day.

when things don't get put away where they belongEven if it didn’t all get to the right place the first time, they at least knew the right responses when I asked them whose job it was to put away all their outerwear (hint: NOT mine!), and whether strewing things all over the kitchen floor counts as putting them away.

Teach being responsible over being entitled

If your child is itching to put on his or her own clothes or shoes or socks – or even just take them off at the end of the day – then why not let them?

Sure, the shirt is sometimes on backwards, or the shoes end up on the wrong feet. They’ll figure it out sooner or later. Meanwhile, you can tell your friends with pride that your offspring dressed THEMSELVES, which meant that all of you had the luxury of an extra half-hour of sleep before the day began.

Ready to get started? See my follow-up post for more tips and hacks to help you teach your kiddos the art of being responsible.


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