My kids spent exactly four hours at daycare yesterday, but the tearful reception I received when I arrived to pick them up made it seem like four days. Weeping and wailing, they clung to me like barnacles, elbowing one another to get a better grip on my legs. And all the while, their dad was standing right there next to me, completely unassaulted.
It isn’t often that Nick and I retrieve the kids from daycare together, and I’d imagined the kids would feel excitement at seeing us both. In reality, Nick may as well have waited in the car, because neither kid showed the slightest interest in his presence. At their ages, it’s all mom, all the time.
Most of the time, Nick pushes right through the prickly exterior of our children, fending off their swatting hands and irritated whines every time he tries to hug or hold them. Lately, it seems as though every effort he makes to show them affection is rebuffed. He isn’t mom, and all they want is mom.
I can appreciate being needed by my children. I know that won’t always be the case, and sometimes it feels awesome to be loved and wanted by these small humans even when I’m having a bad hair day, or trudging through an unsuccessful week of writing. In a world that judges and rejects me constantly, it does feel nice to experience the unconditional love of my kids.
And yet, I see the disappointment and despair on my husband’s face when he’s not the hot commodity, and it kills me. In those moments, I want to sit the kids down and explain to them how much their dad loves them, that he dreamt of being their dad long before they even existed, and probably wanted parenthood much more than I ever did. I want to tell them how lucky they are to have a dad like him, who changed his diet, gave up alcohol, does yoga religiously, and restructured his entire life in order to be better at fathering them– more present, more physically capable of wrestling and playing chase for hours on end. Don’t they know how good they have it?
Most days, we share the parenting responsibilities equally, and Nick engages intentionally with our kids, whether or not they appreciate or accept his efforts. But there are difficult days when he wants to give up, and give the kids what they want: MOM. I don’t blame him. I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel unwanted. I live in fear that he’ll eventually stop trying so hard, because that’s exactly what I’d do in his shoes. But I desperately need him to stay engaged. I can’t do this alone. The constant neediness of my children drives me batty. I need breaks. I need a moment to myself. And I’m grateful Nick’s undying desire to be the best dad and partner possible keeps him going when the road gets rough.
He’s playing the long game, surviving on the belief that our kids deserve, and will one day appreciate, the energy he puts into loving them. That’s true for all parents, isn’t it? The long game is what drives us to stay focused, and stay engaged when all we see are ill-mannered, cranky, unappreciative little jerks. It’s the thought that one day, they’ll have their own little jerks, and they’ll call us up (or beam over to our house using some fancy, futuristic contraption that I won’t understand), and they’ll say OH MY GOD! THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE! THANK YOU FOR NOT STRANGLING ME!
But I suppose, as parents, we have to also embrace the possibility that this might never happen. They may never say thank you, or appreciate our sacrifices and sleepless nights. They may, in fact, hate us, think we did a horrible job, and never forgive us. It’s really a crapshoot. If and when that happens, I’m ready and willing to apologize for not being whatever it was they needed, or thought they needed. I’m ready to apologize for coddling them too much, or not coddling them enough. I’m ready to apologize for all of my mistakes, the mistakes Nick makes, and all of the ways I’m sure we’ll fall short of what they want from us (and for writing about all of it for the world the read).
Because, in the end, I will know better than anyone that we did our very best. I will know about all of the times Nick felt rejected and unnecessary, but picked himself up and got back in the game. I will know that we flipping rocked it. And that’ll be enough for me.