Picking Your Shots as a Mom: A Fresh Look at Fall Commitments
By Jennifer Bingham Hull
It’s the time of year when parents are sorting through sign-up forms and school calendars, figuring out how to do it all.
But doing it all is not an option here this fall. A hip injury is forcing me to reconsider my commitments on the home front.
The injury has been frustrating. Medical appointments take forever, and limping is exhausting. But on the positive side, my setback has forced me to reassess how I spend my time.
It’s easy to get on autopilot, isn’t it? You drove the carpool three afternoons last year so you commit again, though new work demands make that schedule difficult. You sign your child up for Saturday soccer, as if last spring’s great soccer stress-out never happened. You agree to run the bake sale though you just vowed to lose weight and can’t resist brownies.
School Meetings. I’ve always attended the parent-teacher coffees though they’re often so early one is barely awake.
This year, though, I skipped my older daughter’s eighth grade advisory meeting after realizing that 10 minutes with the advisor would cost me an hour of travel time. Oh, the guilt! What a terrible mom! But you know what? No one missed me. On the contrary – young teens are quite happy not to have their parents on campus.
I did attend my sixth grader’s meeting, as she is new to the school and wanted me there. I’ll meet the eighth grade advisor soon individually, which will be time well spent.
Kids’ Behavior. An injury raises the question: is it really worth it to walk down the hall and ask them to pick up their clothes – especially when I just checked on homework?
Was it ever worth it? Children can only absorb so many messages at a time. Remind them to do three things within the same 15 minutes and you become an ineffective nag.
So the heck with the clothes. How’s the homework coming?
After-School Activities. Having your child do extracurricular programs feels a lot less important when you can barely walk yourself. This fall, I’ve taken a laissez-faire attitude towards activities, leery of adding to a schedule full of medical appointments.
So of course with mom backing off, one daughter wants to dance. Great! But I’m checking the requirements carefully before committing.
Some activities are more demanding than others but this often isn’t apparent unless you ask about specifics. Speaking to the instructor at one dance school, I learned that you can try out a class, recitals are optional, and you can pay by the month.
Flexibility! That’s the class for us. We will not be doing ballet with the teacher who gets in a snit because a girl’s bun is not just so.
Driving. I love picking up my children at school and getting that first take on the day’s events. But sitting in a car is terrible for my hip and driving is time consuming.
So I’ve asked the woman who helps us at home to do more pickups. I hadn’t planned on doing this. But picking your shots also means thinking about how friends, relatives, babysitters and others can support you.
The hour I used to spend driving is now spent doing physical therapy. And unlike Miami traffic, the later is healing. This arrangement also leaves me with more energy to drive when I don’t have help. We’ll probably continue it, even after I recover.
Volunteering. I get anxious making class cupcakes and would lose sleep running an auction. So I’ve never volunteered much at school.
This fall, though, I agreed to help lead a parent discussion group at the middle school. Why? Because unlike baking or raising money, talking is up my alley. One of my priorities is to connect with other parents, who are a critical part of our support system since we don’t have relatives nearby. This is perfect!
Commitments look different when you do something you enjoy. Then again, it’s called “volunteering” for a reason, right? It’s optional!
Gosh, why didn’t I think of this stuff earlier?
The reason, of course, is that mommy guilt knows no limits. My hip has gotten me off the hook, serving as an excuse to draw some lines and be selective about activities.
But don’t wait until some limitation forces your hand. We all have good reasons to pick priorities and stick with them. And life rarely remains static from year to year. If your needs haven’t changed, your kids’ probably have.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll end up calling my little breakdown a breakthrough.
Jennifer Bingham Hull is the award-winning author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life, a book about managing life after the second child. Her blog, MidAge Mom, is for women who had children later and are raising them in midlife.