One of the most valuable, practical mothering lessons I’ve learned came from a book for teenage girls. In The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, one of the four main characters named Carmen is babysitting two little boys for the summer. Her insight into mothering is probably supposed to be snarky, but it struck me as wisdom in disguise.
“Carmen walked straight back to the kitchen, where Mrs. Morgan was cleaning Rice Krispies off the floor with one hand and holding Joe, the nine-month-old, with the other.
Carmen had already learned not to give the kids Rice Krispies, because they were harder to clean up than, say, Kix. That was something an outsider could figure out in a day and a mother would never think of. Wet, walked-on Rice Krispies were part of Mrs. Morgan’s unquestioned burden.”
I doubt my kids would actually eat Rice Krispies if I offered them. But on days when the sink stays full of dirty dishes, the sibling bickering never stops, the errands multiply, and the tiredness only deepens, it’s time to figure some things out. When I feel weary of every single little thing about every day life, and I am saddened by how I feel, I remember the “unquestioned burden” line and ponder. “What are my unquestioned burdens?” As moms, we need to stay aware and ask “what are the things I put up with every day that I really shouldn’t deal with?”
The answers when you finally question the unquestioned burdens can vary greatly. Maybe it’s deciding that no, you will not make three different lunches for three picky eaters–you’ll have the same thing that everyone (mostly) likes every day and that’s just all for now. Or maybe you really will follow through with the threats of “no TV if…” or “no going to your friend’s house if…” and spend a few hard days proving to your kids that you mean what you say. Maybe you won’t answer the phone for a few days when that person who drains all your energy calls. Maybe you’ll say “no” to being on another committee. I have a friend who told me about a year ago “we don’t do play dough right now. It gets left out and dries up every time we use it.”
For me, my unquestioned burden lately has been letting my kids eat snacks on the couch. When I have to vacuum and wipe down the couch cushions every time someone says “can I stop by today?” it’s probably time for something to change. I’m also done with unplanned snacks. In order for our days to go smoothly, we need snacks to sustain our high metabolisms, but we also need times when mommy can say “Sorry, the kitchen is closed.” These aren’t big deal burdens, but it’s the little troubles that can add up to make the days hard.
Saying “no” to our children can be hard. But for the sake of your whole family’s sanity, there are times when it’s right to say (calmly and rationally, of course), “I have had enough.” Chances are, it’s not really as big of a deal as you think it is and they’ll get over it pretty quick.
Of course there are necessary burdens. Potty training, for example. Still there are times in life when we need to figure out what’s draining us and minimize those things.