As the parent of a fairly complex medically fragile child I am aware that I have a tendency towards overprotectiveness. Not only with Matthew, but with my two typically developing children as well. Over the years I have struggled with balancing my need to keep them safe with their need to test limits and have freedom. It isn’t always an easy balancing act. I once asked my eldest if my mother bear tendencies bothered him and he admitted that they generally didn’t. For the minor stuff the boys shared that they would shrug their shoulders, or roll their eyes in the case of my youngest, know I was just “being mom”, and do things anyway. But for the serious stuff, like the time my eldest was rushed to hospital, my son admitted that he took comfort in knowing that I would be there with him and “had his back”. I was relieved that my helicoptering hadn’t caused permanent psychological damage!
Early on in my parenting journey I also learned the vital role of self-care and occasional “mommy” time outs. For the first decade of Matthew’s life I was his primary caregiver and had little in the way of extra supports. As a result I was often overextended and exhausted, particularly when you consider the fact that I had two additional young children. As a result my husband would encourage me to enjoy the odd getaway with friends or family. These time-outs became a lifeline and ensured I survived, perhaps even thrived, during the early pressure cooker years of parenting.
But as the family member who was responsible for the kids and the home I also knew that when I went away things at home would generally fall apart. The laundry would pile up, and the house would get cluttered and messy. My husband would allow far too much screen time, in my opinion, and the kids would stay up past their bedtimes and live on junk food. And I was usually right. I would return home to a disorganized house and very happy kids who had bonded with their dad over video games, pizza, and Fruit Loops. For the record I almost NEVER buy sugary cereals for the kids. Fruit Loops were reserved for camping trips (a family tradition) and very rare treats. My kids quickly developed the habit of asking me to go away on mommy trips so they could enjoy the freedom and treats associated with my absence. I will never forget returning home, wracked with guilt about the fact that I had went away in the first place, to hear my children asking, “when will you go away again mommy, we want Fruit Loops!!!”.
I learned that my family, for short periods, was fine with out me. Sure, they missed me. But they had had a great time with their dad doing all those things that mom didn’t allow. And I learned quickly that letting go of control did not equal catastrophe, but rather ensured self care for me and happy memories for my boys and their dad. An important lesson to learn before my kids hit their teen years.
My typically developing boys are now 15 and 20. They are more than capable of making a healthy meal, throwing on the the laundry, and generally taking care of themselves and the home. But yet last week I returned home from a getaway with some family members and opened the cupboard and saw the above. It seems some traditions are enduring in my house. For the record those are frosted Cheerios behind the Fruit Loops!