Here is the thought stream that flows through my mind: My daughter is twelve years old. My son is eight. I only have so many years left with them in my home. I had so many plans about how parenting would be. The memories we would create and the examples I would set. But I’m falling so far short of what I want to do and I’m running out of time.
My frustration largely can be explained with one word – intentional. By that I mean I’m not intentional. Barely at all. I struggle to do much of anything in my day with plan and purpose. Instead, I find myself running on a hamster wheel and taking things as they come.
I always have intended to keep a journal for each of my children. Even if just a sentence or two, I planned to write daily about a funny moment or something profound they said. I did pretty well with this when my daughter was little. While I never wrote every day, there was a significant amount of pen to paper for the first couple years of her life. Now? The journals I have for each of my kids sit on my bookshelf right next to my bed but haven’t been opened in over a year. I am a failed documentarian. The best I’ve managed to do is occasional Facebook posts when they say something that amuses me. Every time I visited my grandmother’s house as a child, I poured over her stacks of family photo albums that covered generations, memorizing every page. What am I creating for my children as a keepsake of their history?
I always have intended to sit down to a home-cooked, nutritional dinner every day. The kids and I would eat delicious vegetables and good sources of protein and we would have a conversation for a half hour without any distractions. But the truth is that I’ve never gotten around to prepping a week of food on Sunday afternoons and cooking a big meal is one of the last things I feel like doing when getting home from work at 5:30pm. Add that onto a sports practice or Cub Scout meeting (or one of my evening classes) right at dinner time, and I am rushing to throw together my go-to “breakfast for dinner” option or chicken nuggets and fruit or grabbing sandwiches from Subway. The food gets consumed in four minutes while my daughter complains about the way my son chews.
I always have intended to have a quiet space for homework and studying to occur. We all would gather at this table and I would be on hand to help as problems arose or to review as tests approached. Extra papers and pencils would be within an arm’s reach. Perhaps soft classical music would play in the background. Now that I am back in school, I would sit with my own textbooks and provide a good example of study habits and lifelong learning. The reality, however, is that my son is worn out after a full day and, if he hasn’t already completed his homework in his two hours of aftercare, he fights his way through worksheets while I clean up after dinner or even while he eats breakfast the following morning. As for my daughter, I have not been around her while she has done homework since she started middle school. As for my homework? I’m doing it at 10:30pm after the kids are in bed and household chores are done. So, that tranquil setting of educational growth remains a myth.
I always have intended to spend fifteen minutes every night with each kid. With my son, perhaps I would read a chapter from a beloved book and recap his day. With my daughter, we could use these quiet moments for honest conversations about the social goings on at middle school or to tackle some of the big questions she ponders. I would tuck them each into bed and not see them again until they blissfully rise nine hours later well rested and ready for a new day. My children would look back in thirty years and think about those treasured moments as ones that brought them great comfort. But this isn’t what happens. The reality is my children fight until I separate them and I yell at them to get into bed. My son falls asleep a page into whatever I’m reading. When my daughter was an infant and an only child, I would massage her with lavender lotion every evening and then rock her as I sang lullabies. Now that’s she is a preteen, those days seem like a different lifetime and my conversations with her depend on the mood of the day.
To read through this list of grievances against myself, it seems as if I am just complaining instead of taking steps to become more intentional in the areas I’ve mentioned. Perhaps. But I write this wondering if other moms are struggling with the same problem. Do you have wonderful plans for the time you spend with your children but have trouble making these plans a reality? If you are intentional in the way in which you clean house or tuck your kids into bed at night or make time to exercise, how do you succeed in these efforts?
My kids are loved. My kids are cared for and safe and doing well. But that’s not good enough for me. I can use the excuse that I am single mother who is working full-time and in school. But I would counter with the argument that I should do a better job of setting my priorities around my reality. Maybe some of you can help me figure out how 2018 will be the year that the word “intentional” no longer is a word that breeds frustration but instead becomes my operating mantra. Or maybe if you also feel your days and nights proceed without the schedule and routines you desire, you can be reassured that you are not alone.