The other morning before school, my four and a half-year old daughter went into our attached garage to wait by the car for me. I was 5 feet behind her carrying all of our bags. She opened the door and quickly tripped over a snow-shovel. I picked her up and brushed her off. I hugged her and asked if she was alright. She said: “Mama, if you had turned the light on for me, I wouldn’t have fallen.” It was like a slap across the face.
Later that week, my daughter was playing in the living room while I was making dinner. She suddenly ran into the bathroom at the speed of light. I asked her if everything was okay. She said, “I peed in my underwear a little. You should have reminded me to go to the bathroom when we got home.” Again, this smarted.
The last few nights my daughter has been crawling into my bed for a snuggle at 3:30 in the morning. Of course it’s always the night before a big thing at work. Needless to say after 3 nights of this, I was not my best in the morning. I overslept. I then let my daughter sleep in for 10 minutes longer than I should have. It was a mad rush to get her out the door. I helped her put her winter coat on. She said, “Mama, one day last week you forgot to put on my coat and I was cold.” The day in question had been 60 degrees. I sent her to school in a sweatshirt over her sweater. I finally lost it. In my defense, I was mildly hallucinating from the lack of sleep. My eyes filled with tears. I said, “Baby, can you tell me some good things I’ve done for you?”
She first said, “You let me go on trips with Daddy.” (This one hit me hard. As a divorced mom who has primary custody, my heart sank. It shouldn’t have. Outcomes are best for kids who have two involved parents. I know this. It’s great that she loves her dad and loves that she gets to spend time with him. What hurt at this moment was that she thought I controlled this thing that she loves to do. And also that she loves being away from me).
I started openly weeping. Then she says, “oh, and you give me the sweet Cheerios. I love them. And you let me snuggle in your bed late at night.” I laughed as I cried. I cried as I laughed. I strapped her into her car seat, kissed her forehead, and stole a few Cheerios from her bowl. “I still love you,” she said. “I should hope so,” I replied. And off we drove.
After I dropped my daughter off to school (on time!), and I got myself to work, and I had my fourth cup of coffee, I texted a mom friend, Elizabeth. I told her about the exchange. I was feeling sorry for myself. Really having a full-on pity party. I was a terrible mom. I had scarred my child because I had left her dad. I had repeatedly failed to give her what she needs.
Elizabeth texted back, “Don’t you just love when they tell you that YOU forgot something? Like they don’t have any responsibility in the matter?”
I thought about it. First off, thank goodness this kid judgment wasn’t just a single mom phenomenon. I was so quick to chalk this up to just another ramification of being a single mom.
Secondly, I need to figure out a way to teach my daughter about age-appropriate personal accountability. Because the girl was right. In each of the times that she said I had missed something, I had. But she was only partially right. She needs to learn that she has a responsibility to watch where she’s going, to go to the potty when she needs to, to tell me when she’s cold in her sweatshirt. So, this parenting thing. It’s a learning process for sure. For her and for me. I have to step up the teaching. And not take it personally when she points out my missteps. Because I’ll continue to make them.
Finally, and this is a big one, I need to be a little more gentle with myself. Reaching out to other moms totally works. We are not in this alone. In the vacuum of my two-girl house, I sometimes feel lonely and insufficient. When I talk about it with others, I feel a little less so.