“You are going to miss this.”
I can’t tell you how many well-intended relatives said this to me at a recent family wedding as I watched my children on the dance floor.
But I struggled to see it. I didn’t see happy, smiling children dressed in their fanciest clothes having a blast being silly and dancing. All I could see was the battle that took place hours earlier to get them dressed, to cajole them into those tights. I saw the time and aggravation of searching for a bow that matched my youngest daughter’s dress perfectly.
I was exhausted from traveling and worrying about whether my three young girls would behave during the ceremony. And when more relatives chimed in with “they’re so cute at this age,” those words entered my ears and went straight to my heart, landing perfectly where the guilt of every mom lives. Why couldn’t I just enjoy this moment? Why couldn’t I see it the way others did?
It goes without saying that I love my children more than life itself. But raising kids is hard. Being a parent is hard. Balancing work and family, the wants and needs, the fun and responsibilities — all of it — can be hard. As parents, it is our job to nurture, support and raise a productive human being. But how do we teach a young mind to find balance in their world of scheduled activities, academics and competitive sports when as parents we are struggling ourselves?
As a mental health professional, I know the benefits of seeking out support, asking for help, looking to others for guidance. Yet as a parent, I have high expectations to figure it out on my own. It took me some time to realize the irony. And although I am not fully there — as evidenced by my thoughts at the wedding — the gap in the irony is starting to decrease.
It all started when I asked my children a simple question at the end of the day: What didn’t go well today?
(For the record, this isn’t the first question I ask; that would be: What are three great things that happened today?)
It felt odd, at first, to ask this question. I didn’t want my kids to focus on the negative. But I persisted. Why? Because I want them to recognize that in a world of Pinterest-planned projects, happy Facebook statuses and Instagram-perfect pictures, real life is also about struggling, learning and getting back up again. Maybe they could do something differently the next time they forget their homework folder. Maybe they can say something when they see a friend being left out.
Maybe I can learn to ask for help with carpool rather than trying to be supermom. Or ask for support when my middle daughter’s anxiety impacts our family.
After all, if I ask my children what didn’t go well for them, shouldn’t I be able to ask myself the same question? What didn’t I do well today? How can I improve next time? Sometimes the answer lies in the truth that I need a little help from others — and that is OK. Because accepting that help may make it easier for me to appreciate the good instead of focusing on the bad.
Accepting help — achieving balance — may make it possible for me to focus not on my daughter’s tears as I brushed her hair or her sister’s whining that she didn’t want to wear tights, but on the scene before me: my three amazing and lovely girls, twirling in their fancy dresses, grinning ear to ear and having the time of their lives on that dance floor.
I’m going to miss this.
Erica Saum is the tired, but oh so blessed mother of three, wife to an amazing husband and senior director of Family Life & Wellness with Jewish Family Service.