It’s become a chorus in my house. “Do your homework” is met with, “But Mom, I can do it later.” “Clean your room” elicits “But Mom, I’m tired. Can’t I do it tomorrow?” “Eat your dinner” is followed by “But mom, I don’t like it.”
My kids are 6 and 9 and this week it became apparent to me that I am slowly losing my dominion over them. I had been blaming this on their march towards tween-dom but I realized today that the problem isn’t gurgling hormones or natural rebellion. It’s me. I’ve gone soft.
There was a time when if I made a threat, the kids knew that I’d make good on it. When I said I’d end a playdate if they didn’t behave, and then proceeded to drag a mischievous and screaming child out of the house, my authority was secure. When toddlers threw tantrums and I simply walked away, they knew that their theatrics had no power over me.
Then Superstorm Sandy hit. And my resolve withered.
At first we were living with family and then we were living in disarray, and I myself had no desire to deal with the kids’ homework let alone force them to do it accurately and neatly. Each of our bedrooms was festooned with leaning towers of clutter, the saved remnants from our destroyed first floor. How could I require that the kids clean their rooms when I had a 4-foot-tall pile of unfolded clothing, books and assorted holiday decorations perched on my armchair? I let them live on the foods they ate without complaint: hot dogs and chicken nuggets; pasta and bagels.
I got lazy, and the kids got lazy. Trouble is, the laziness didn’t go away once the house was rebuilt.
I’m going to cut myself some slack here. The reason might come as a surprise to someone who has only witnessed a natural disaster from afar. The neglected truth is that life doesn’t instantly return to normal once your house is rebuilt.
For months, people would ask me: “How is the rebuild going? When will it be done? Why isn’t it done yet?” Once it was finished, and I had a couch to sit on again and stove to cook with, those around me breathed a collective sigh of completion. Phew! Now we can all be done with that! But the truth is that the structural rebuild is only one part of restoring the whole of what was lost during Sandy. We all need to rebuild ourselves from the inside out, and that takes time.
I’m still on that journey, and reclaiming the take-no-excuses Mom I used to be is part of that journey. So last night, my daughter stayed up past her bedtime so she could finish cleaning her room . When my son decided he didn’t like what I served him for dinner, I told him he could either eat what was in front of him or get ready for bed. He chose the latter and I, for the first time in a long time, was okay with that. I’m remembering that my kids aren’t as fragile as I feared they were during Sandy. I’m remembering that while they’ve been through a lot, I can’t give them a pass for all they have yet to have to go through. Losing some sleep or going to bed hungry isn’t torturous; it’s a reminder that there are rules to be followed.
I still have a lot to work on in this rebuilding process. Part of it is reclaiming my own mojo, my own inspiration to do more, be more and ask for more both personally and professionally. For the last 16 months I’ve been stuck, working so hard to get the external life together that the internal went neglected. Survival mode was necessary for a while but its time has passed. It’s time to remember that I’m not just protecting children for the now; I’m trying to teach them the responsibility they need to be productive adults.
So don’t “But Mom” me. Why? Because I’m the Mommy, that’s why.