Getting four kids up and out every day is a reckless endeavor my younger self never imagined and I’ll never master it. Today, my morning started with my teen daughter announcing, “I’ve decided to skip track team tryouts. I don’t want that time commitment right now.” It’s junior year, the worst possible time to quit a sport. I experience an exquisite moment of pain.
Then, my little girl comes down the stairs, looking upset. She can’t find her shirt for tonight’s choir performance. I washed the shirt last night and watched it walk upstairs, but now it’s disappeared. I hug her and say, “We need to go but I’ll find your shirt and bring it to you. It’s okay.” Her face falls lower. “Miss Leighton has three rules: a good night’s sleep, our shirt for the 7:30 rehearsal, and a good breakfast. I’m in trouble.” My youngest is a gentle soul who never gets in trouble, yet dreads the thought of it.
I turn away as my tween ties his sneakers. My impatience is justified. He spends more time tying his shoes than on his entire hygiene routine. We are late so I stop at the Burger King drive thru. My son fist pumps the air. “Mom, they have fries and cheeseburgers all day. Can I get a large fry, plain cheeseburger, and Sprite?” I yell, “No soda!” like it will magically make this breakfast healthier. My frowning little girl says, “I’d feel better if I drank Orange Fanta.” My mom standards are below sea level and it’s not even 7:30.
My teen daughter says, “This family is so embarrassing! I don’t want to get out of the car with a Burger King bag. Is there a Whole Foods bag somewhere? At least eat breakfast, not fries, People!” She points at her little sister. “And F.Y.I.! Your teeth are going to be orange in your choir performance.” She continues, “Fine! I’ll have the mocha drink thingy and tater tots.” Her brother points out, “Tater tots are no better than fries and the Mocha Frappe has more sugar than Sprite.” I check to see if my ears are bleeding. I say to my little girl, “Here’s an Orange Fanta. Please eat a croissant.”
Before I can cancel my workout or reschedule a meeting, the school nurse calls. She says, “Miss Leighton sent your little girl from the choir rehearsal, concerned that she’s tired, upset about a missing shirt, and has a stomachache. Did she have Orange Fanta for breakfast?” Stress breaks over me like an unruly wave.
I can’t get my day on track after this. I’m 15 minutes late for everything and forgetting things. When I pick up my teen daughter a half hour late from school, she says, “You’re late. I have a ton of homework and will be up all night; then I’ll fall asleep in study hall and someone will take a photo of me sleeping and post it. Then everyone will post comments like RIP. I’m facing total humiliation.” I’ve been milking a Starbucks Iced Latte all day and never finished it. I offer it to her, not saying anything, wondering how she gets from “A” to total humiliation in 10 seconds.
I head to the choir performance in the same faded sundress I put on at 6 a.m. My husband slips in at the last possible second, sits, and holds my hand. The choir kids come out and sing like angels. My little girl looks happy. I exhale, thinking, “There is no place I would rather be right now.”
We get home to three kids fighting. No one fed the two dogs. The kitchen is a mess. The TV is on and no one is doing homework. I say, “Please stop fighting over who has the right to enter whose room. And let’s get on the homework, guys.” On TV, a song about the best part of waking up is playing. A pretty mom is standing alone on a boat dock, waves lapping around her with a breeze blowing through her hair. She’s savoring a cup of coffee.
For some reason, I yell, “This is false advertising! No mom sits down and savors a morning cup of coffee, alone. It takes me all day to finish one coffee! Is there a house burning down behind her? I didn’t think so. It’s not real!” My son pats me on the shoulder. “Someone get mom a glass of wine. She’s yelling at the TV.” I squint my eyes at him and say, “You, go study your Spanish!” Then we start to laugh.
The essence of being a mom is keeping it all basically on track despite the chaos.
This is why moms need other moms — to have each other’s backs because we all have days like these. Guys have a bro code with simple rules like, “Don’t sleep with your best friend’s little sister, ever” — well, unless you are going to marry her. Codes help keep the peace with a baseline roadmap of unacceptable behaviors, while applauding above-board actions that lift us up.
The Mom’s Code celebrates honest friendships and decries the soul-crushing nonsense that leaves a mom isolated, disillusioned or sad. Here are five things from the Mom’s Code that I’m going to do.
1. Dedicate more time to my mom friends. I’ll be open and raw so I get realness in return. Honesty is a gift. I’ll put myself out there, flaws and all, and not pretend everything is perfect. These friendships help me feel sane in this sea of insanity as we compare stories of the good, the bad and the ugly. When everyone is honest about how it really is, we all feel a little bit better, knowing Facebook-fabulous is based on a moment, not anyone’s day-to-day life.
2. Save another mom when she’s drowning and let others help with my heavy load when there’s no end in sight. There’s never a week without a sick child, fighting kids, homework battles, endless laundry and sports and activities drama. I’ll save enough of myself to give to my children and husband and ensure there are moments of joy in every day. For five minutes every day, I will not merely react to everything thrown in my path. I’ll stop and take one item off my to-do list and then help a mom friend take one off hers.
3. Lessen the mama drama. It’s all around us and it’s exhausting. I’m in the car five hours a day, driving kids here, there and everywhere. Don’t cut me off in the pick-up line. All kids have bad moments but don’t talk about or judge my child on that moment. And please stop strategizing how to slow down my 12 year old on the soccer field so yours can get ahead. Our children don’t view the team as a battlefield where they are competing against their own teammates, so we should stop too.
4. Learn to advocate politely and encourage my children to do the same. I won’t swallow injustices until they are like bile pushing up in my throat. Mom tormentors, put down your weapons or pay the consequences. Enough with the power plays. I’m not out to crush anyone, and want to see a little more fair play, justice and transparency in our interactions with each other.
5. Limit my hyper-parenting even as I understand it is a by-product of modern-day parenting. I was raised to chase success, compete and achieve. Then I was set loose on parenting. I read all the parenting books and listened to “the experts.” I thought it was possible to design and execute a brilliant child-raising plan. Problem is my kids don’t want to go along with my elaborate plans so I hover, bribe, interfere and, in the worst scenarios, manipulate. I justify that it’s for the child’s own good, but the bigger issue is everyone is doing it and I just can’t help it. But I’m going to take it down a notch. I’m going to let my child be the hero in his/her own adventure even though I would script it differently. My children will never unleash their creativity if I’ve kidnapped it and am holding it hostage until they’ve completed all the tasks in the “super-child grid for success.”
We have to break, or at least slow down, the hyper-competitive dynamic that continues to build. It starts with me and what I’m willing to do. The day my child was born, I, as a mom, was born. I had to make room for the ‘mom me’ so I pushed some other pieces of me to the back. They’re still there but sometimes I forget about them in my quest to be a heroic mom, who is on top of everything. I searched for the remnant of my funny, well-read, spontaneous and fun self. I found her in a darkened corner under a discarded pile of wrapping paper. I’ve decided to dress her up and take her out more. I hope you’ll join me.
Eileen Wacker, a Harvard Business School graduate, has lived and worked in seven different countries, including the United States. Wacker is also the multiple award-winning author of the Fujimini Adventure Series for children and the upcoming book for women, The Mom’s Code. For more information, please visit: www.oncekids.com
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