I am outnumbered 3:1 by children. In my shared custody situation I either have the kids to myself, or I don’t have them. This creates an interesting dynamic that I don’t think I ever consciously envisioned, and just recently recognized: it takes greater effort and unique steering skills to maintain control of the bus. I remember the first time I ventured out alone on an outing with all three kids. My twin boys were still tiny, and their sister just a toddler. I was so excited and relieved to be back out in the world again and to open up more opportunities for activities and social interaction. There was also a sense of pride and accomplishment that I had figured out a system to get three kids under two out of the house on my own.
Today it’s a given. I can say with confidence that I have developed eyes at the back of my head. I can sense if they are close even if they’re walking behind me. We successfully negotiate shopping carts, tire swings (perfect for three kids), car seats, public pools and grocery aisles. We’re our own little solar system: I’m the sun, and they’re three planets orbiting me at varying distances and speeds, but remaining connected to me by gravitational force. It’s like a game of tetherball, and I’m the post.
Those are just the physical aspects of our little universe. Now that they’re five and seven respectively, they’re starting to orbit me emotionally, as well. They have been asked to endure a lot of change over the past few years, and there are even more changes ahead. They are at the age when they speak their mind simply and directly. They know basic manners, but they are still in the process of developing a sense of what’s appropriate or inappropriate to say to someone. We’ve all heard it and said it ourselves: “Kids say the darndest things!” Yes, indeed, they do. Now imagine three kids with no politically correct filter uniting in defiance against mommy. As I said: I’m outnumbered.
Life’s changes have required me to make hard decisions and to navigate delicate situations. I am often faced with the question of whether a choice is good for me or good for my kids. “Good” can mean easy, or meaningful, or educational, or joyful. If it’s not good it’s usually painful, or sad, or uncomfortable, or the opposite of what we want. While I have gained a new-found confidence and sense of calm in my parenting overall, I have also developed a more nuanced sense of guilt and insecurity that I believe only a single parent outnumbered by kids can experience. While I realize that their dad and other adult figures in their lives exert influence on them and are helping shape their beliefs and worldview, I definitely carry a pretty large responsibility, if not the largest among that group of adults. What if I make a wrong decision? What if I see signs in my children’s behavior that lead me to question a choice I made? Should I consider my kids my conscience? Are they a representation of the voice of reason—since they tend to speak the unadulterated truth?
One evening, while discussing one of those big changes with my daughter I assured her that she and her brothers are the most important people in the world to me. Without hesitation she then asked me, “Does that mean that if you decide to do something we don’t like you’ll change your mind?” The parent in me that is so eager to please and reassure and make her feel safe wanted to say “of course I’ll change my mind!” But luckily the grown-up parent gathered her wits and said, “I will definitely listen to you and consider what you have to say. But sometimes mommy might have to make a decision that you don’t like. Even if I do, though, you can be sure that my only goal is for you, and for us to be happy.”
That’s all I can really do as a parent: love them unconditionally and always have their best interests in mind—key words “in mind”. My kids will undoubtedly be an emotional bellwether to me. I have to remain alert to the signals they’re sending me, consciously or unconsciously. But they are not my conscience.