I'm settling for being a "good enough" mom.
Posted March 27, 2020 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
I have reached day 11 of sheltering-in-place with four teenagers. On day one, I got them out of bed in the morning so that they wouldn’t reverse their day/night sleep cycle. Good sleep hygiene is important for mental health! I prodded them to go outside, spend time in the sunshine, get some exercise. Dinner included nourishing options for the vegetarian teen, the gluten-avoiding teen, the teen who only eats two kinds of green vegetables. I nudged one of them to put some food on her plate and another to consider whether two helpings of carbohydrates was a really good idea.
On day two, I reminded my teens to limit screen time and check whether the school had posted homework—“No,” they said. I suggested they practice their instruments and tidy their rooms.
On day three, I got a look of pure animosity when I woke them in the morning. “I’m just doing what’s good for you,” I said. I was told that I was contributing to body image problems. “But I just want you to eat enough protein.” I was on the receiving end of defiance, eye rolls, derision. That night my usual insomnia, generated by apocalyptic news about the pandemic, was exacerbated by misery caused by conflict with my children. I didn’t sleep at all.
On day four, the kids really started to get under my skin. Despite my reminders, they left their dirty dishes on the counter instead of emptying the dishwasher of clean dishes. They made a Jenga tower overflowing the recycling bin, left crumbs on the table and lounged on couches while I tidied up after them. On a video call, my brother asked the two oldest whether they were looking forward to college next year, and all they could think to say was, “I’m looking forward to not sharing a bathroom with three siblings.” I snapped. I said, “Really? While people are risking their lives to save dying patients, while jobless people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, while the fabric of our society is being torn apart in ways we don’t even understand yet, this is what you complain about?” My husband patted me soothingly on the back and reminded me in a quiet voice that they’re just being teenagers.
On day five, I decided that I needed to become Quaran-Teen Mom. All of my nagging wasn’t doing much good anyway; the kids were only going to look after their physical and mental health to the extent that they were internally motivated. And I needed to keep my sanity. I decided on three simple rules that would make our continuous close proximity bearable: Be polite, keep the common area uncluttered, and clean up after dinner. Then, so as not to be an entirely negligent parent, I threw in a fourth: Do your schoolwork before playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Now in the morning I go out for a jog, have my breakfast in peace, and bundle up to work in the backyard, the one spot where I will not be bothered. I pay no attention to what time my kids wake, what they feed themselves, whether or not they choose to exercise. I greet them when I walk through the house and ask about their days. If dishes are left on the counter, I let them stay there for the kids to clean up after dinner. I do not tell them what to do unless it involves cleanliness or schoolwork. They, in turn, will look up from their screens with a benign expression, sometimes even a smile. We have a truce.
Am I happy? Of course not; the world is being ravaged by the coronavirus. But I’m happier than I was when I was fighting with my teens. Am I a good parent? Not particularly, but my kids are safe, fed and loved. They may be playing more video games and eating more cookies than are good for them, but that doesn’t seem as important as getting through these long weeks of sheltering-in-place without too many fights or hurt feelings. When the world around is full of fear and suffering, it is a good time to be gentle with one another. It is also a good time to be kind to ourselves.