Things to Do: Parent Children

Today’s award for mama multitasking goes to my sister-in-law, who managed to 1) drive on the freeway while 2) running errands, while 3) making a baby (8 mos pregnant), and simultaneously 4) throwing up in a Target bag.

Congratulations, sis, your prize consists of another bag to put that one in so you can tie it up and drive it around on the floor of your Suburban while you finish your errands.

She has got motherhood down. Because she knows, like any seasoned mom knows, that we can’t stop for anything. Sometimes we can’t stop because there’s no safe place to pull over, sometimes because true deadlines are looming, sometimes because we’re obsessive-compulsive, and sometimes because we simply think we can’t for imaginary reasons (probably because we’re obsessive-compulsive).

Bills must be paid, diapers changed, dishes done, people fed. We must cart people around town for school and various activites. You know that long, tedious job list you always hear alongside the fact that we should be making $200,000 a year for all these titles? (What purpose does that serve, anyway, other than to make us resentful and make more tedious conversationalists as we accusingly explain this to our husbands?)

There is the checklist of “must-do” items, the list of “should-do” items, the list of “for-the-love-of-heaven-can’t-I-just-do-one-thing-for-myself-today?” items (such as email and blogging). There are items which are public and will be noticed if not done (cleaning faces covered in PBJ before going out), and those that no one will ever know about (top of fridge).

I’ll be honest with you, it is a lame way to live. Happiness is not on the checklist. It often simply eludes me.

Then I saw this author, Tal Ben-Shahar on Jon Stewart a while back who explained why this is. He’s a Harvard psychology professor who teaches a wildly popular class called “Happiness.” The first half of the course is academic review of the relevant studies relating to why people are happy or not, and the second half is a sort of workshop, and some large percentage of the students come out happier, so the scientists say, because apparently a privileged youth, a fancy college and stellar job opportunities can’t do it for them.

On the show, Jon teased him as a fake scientist and asked for some real science. The author explained a study where they tracked women doing all sorts of activites in their lives, and had them rank their level of happiness while participating in those activities. Guess what activity ranked at the lowest happiness level among women across the board?

Spending time with their children.

Now before you bemoan the sad fate of our civilization, he went on to explain why. This was caused by the problem that when moms like me are spending time with their children (parenting) they are almost always doing something else at the same time (multitasking). Parenting simply turns to acting as referree, dictator and crowd controller while I cook, clean, email, chat on the phone, surf the web, pay bills, drive, run errands, and get sick and tired while making babies. My kids become the distraction from what I had on the list to do today.

Therefore, the kids become the obstacle to my success. I become unhappy.

I had to be honest with myself. Am I happy when I’m hanging out with my kids most of the time? Or am I constantly harping, irritated, directing, redirecting, handing out consequences and chores, feeling stretched and frustrated, then turning to chocolate for peace and guidance? (Spoiler alert: the guidance you always receive from chocolate is: “Eat more chocolate.”)

The one thing I never put on my checklist or in my planner was the one thing I wanted so much to leave work to be at home to do — parent my kids. I wanted to teach them and show them the world, play with them, sing with them, read with them, work with them (instead of around them). I intended to include them in my life instead of seeing them as a distraction from what really “needs” to be done.

The road to neglected children is paved with such intentions.

So I’ve started putting parenting on my list of things to do, and it is pathetic that it has to be there, along with paying bills and brushing my teeth, which are also very pathetic that I need reminders for them, but at least I’ve come to accept it.

And surprise, surprise, when I do that, I like the kids more, I enjoy them more, and I eat less chocolate. I am indeed happier.

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