A Mom's Real Job
My husband and I recently had a "grown-up" dinner with some friends. ("Grown-up," by the way, means there were cloth napkins, no cartoon characters on the menu and we didn't have to stand in line to order). Over a bottle of wine and pasta (which wasn't shaped like Super Heroes, and which I actually got to enjoy before it got cold), we talked about how our lives had changed since we had kids. We commiserated over lack of sleep, the emotional drain of constantly being "on," and the challenges of balancing home and family life while still maintaining enough time and energy to keep our marriages intact.
The conversation was nothing earth shattering, nothing I hadn't heard before or lived myself, 24 hours a day, for the past two-and-a-half years. What did strike me, though, was how the responsibilities of being a parent cut across economic and social boundaries.
At the extreme, there are wealthy parents who use their money to make sure they aren't "bothered" by having kids, shipping them off to a series of boarding schools and summer camps and limiting interactions to an occasional dinner at the Plaza and Christmas skiing in Vail. In these instances, the cushion of financial success, sadly, is used to ensure that the parents' lives continue unaffected by the presence of their offspring. But these people are parents in name only, and I'm not talking about them.
Instead, I'm talking about the 95 percent of us who care deeply about our role as mothers and fathers, who strive to be a guiding force in our children's world, who have kids because it means something more than the passing on of genes. And for parents who really care, a bank balance of any size cannot shield us from the needs of our children - nor should it.
If there were a job description for parenting, it would read something like this: "The buck stops here."
When you're a parent, there's no one else to turn to and say, "Hey, this isn't my job - you take over." Because when it comes to your kids, everything is your job. The disciplining. The question-answering. The day-to-day chores such as wiping tushies, shopping for school clothes and monitoring homework. Even if you hire someone else to help with these tasks, the ultimate responsibility still falls to you, the mommy or daddy.
If your daughter eats nothing but sunflower seeds, Twinkies and Gatorade for a week and gets sick, whose fault is it? Not the cook's. If your son gets caught stealing Playboy from the corner market, who will the police want to talk with? Not the nanny. If your kids turn out to be complete amoral social deviants, who will be held responsible? Not their French tutors, their Little League coaches, or their ballet instructors. You, as the parent, will be seen as the sole source of your child's various failings - even if you've contracted out their care to someone else. After all, what else could be the problem?
In contrast, if your children go on to reach amazing heights, you'll be the last person who gets thanked. If my daughter-to-be ever receives the Nobel Peace Prize, for instance, I fully expect a phone call half an hour before the awards ceremony. "Mom," she'll say, "I just wanted to tell you something."
"Yes, dear?" I'll answer, knowing better than to expect some grand declaration of love and thanks, but still hoping against hope for a Kodak Moment.
"Don't wear that blue dress you bought last week on sale," she'll reply. "It makes you look fat. Oh, and remind Dad not to call me 'Baby' in front of everyone. It's really embarrassing."
I could feel bad about this, but somehow, I don't. I know in my heart that all parents - regardless of their fame, glamour and fortune - are the bane of their kids' existence. From Goldie Hawn to Ivana Trump to Larry Flynt (in fact, especially Larry Flynt!), I know parents are an embarrassment to our children. And just how do I know? Hey, it's in the job description.