I know my kids better than anyone.

I know how they like their PB&Js.

I know one will ask for his stuffed monkey before he even asks and I am there to hand it to him before he drifts off to sleep.

I know my daughter only likes the “soft socks” and will refuse wear anything but.

I’m always prepared for our outings with snacks and water bottles in tow, knowing we can’t seem to make it 20 minutes without someone being hungry or thirsty.

I keep a calendar of all the school activities, juggling homework and extracurriculars like a pro.

I stay up late washing “blankie” knowing my daughter will want to take it to preschool to keep with her when she feels homesick.

I spend too much on snacks at the grocery store and buy the “good cereal” against my better judgment.

I clean up pee on the toilet seat for the hundredth time that day praying someday my boys will learn how to “aim”—for my sake and their future wives’.

I do these things and a countless list of more because I love them. I love them and I realized I was beginning to resent these things, because in the midst of loving them so fiercely, I didn’t really know them enough to like them. I was starting to see them as only needing things from me, but not able to see the things I needed from them, I needed to be able to enjoy them, I needed to be able to like them, and for a long time, I just couldn’t.

You see, as a solo mom being needed and stretched so thin, it’s hard to break through the clouds to see enjoyment. Sometimes, I’m so busy stretching myself even further with trying to “do it all”—pay bills, income, plan for the future, to avert small and large crises, all the while practicing spelling words and making sure at least three sets of teeth are brushed. I’d spent so much time trying to be the “hero” of my story, I hadn’t been able to stop and realize to put my cape aside and trade it in for the role of “tickle monster” or “prince charming.” I had spent so much time ensuring healthy meals were on the table and, yet, I didn’t allow myself to sit down to enjoy it with them. I was miserable and my kids knew it. They do know it, by the way, they know when their presence isn’t enjoyed. They know when all the things they need to feel loved and taken care of trumps them actually being liked. They might not be able to verbalize it, but they know it.

After putting on my own oxygen mask and taking a deep breath, I realized what was lacking in my relationship with my kids. I realized the short amount of time I truly had to make an impression on them that will last a lifetime, and I was failing. I realized they probably wouldn’t remember I cleaned the dishes out of love for them, but rather that I chose that chore more often than spending 10 minutes with them before bed. I realized I didn’t have to “be it all” for them, I just had to be me, and after getting to know them, I realized it was they who were my heroes and not the other way around.

I took the time to talk to my son after handing him his stuffed monkey, I learned he was scared to try the monkey bars. I learned my other son wanted to learn to make his own PB&J and wanted me to teach him. I learned he wanted to be a chef in outer space someday. I learned my daughter went to sleep so much easier when I stayed for that one extra song. And that after, she needed to hear “I love you” not once, not twice, but three times. After all these realizations and changes I had made in my kids’ relationships with me, one night I was closing the door to my daughter’s room after the extra song and the three “I love you”s I heard her little voice say, “Mommy, I love you . . . and I like you.” And I replied. “I love you . . . and I like you too, sweetie.”

Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a is a widowed mom to three children. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.
Facebook: @JustAMomNicoleHastings