Here’s how I went from “I’m an awesome mom” to “I’m failing as a mom” to “I might be ok at this mom thing” in about an hour.
You know, because being a mom always brings out the most stable emotions.
We’re working on finishing our basement. After dear husband has spent hours upon hours working on it, I was happy to be able to participate by painting. Knowing how involved my mini-ions wanted to be (especially after keeping them mostly away from priming the walls) I was prepared. I had them each pick out their own paintbrush. I dressed them in old clothes. I know how helpful they wanted to be (just like me!) so I wanted them to feel like they were helping in a meaningful way.
There are two keys to doing projects with children. The first is to have low expectations. They may participate for a minute or three hours, but either needs to be ok for a good experience. The second key is being prepared so you aren’t snapping at them to stop touching while you are getting them prepared.
While they were occupied, I headed to the basement to get prepared. Because this is a huge project, financially and time intensive, I’ve tried to save money where I can. In this case, it was the roller brush I used to prime with, I did a thorough job of rinsing to use it again for painting. As I’m getting set up to paint the ceiling, I accidentally dump paint all over my shoe. Like a huge glob of paint. Sigh. Then, as I start to paint the ceiling, I evidently didn’t didn’t get all the water out of the roller brush from cleaning it, so my first pass on the ceiling dumps watery paint all over my face and hair. This is a really bad start for me.
However, the mini-ions came down, and I was prepared. I gave Mini-ion #1 an old yogurt container with some paint in it, his brush, and gave him the corners to paint. He started working very intently, humming as he painted. I gave Mini-ion #2 an old yogurt container with some paint in it, her brush and showed her how to paint around the outlets and she got to work.
I can always tell when Mini-ion #1 is proud of what he’s doing. His voice gets lower, he speaks from a place of authority and has no problem telling everyone what to do. His proud voice was in full effect.
Mini-ion #2 skipped around to each outlet, painting around it. She finished quickly and I had her start cutting in on the floor (the floor isn’t finished yet, so if she made a few drips, the world wouldn’t end).
I felt pretty deep satisfaction. Like I was killing it as a mom. Here my mini-ions were contributing to the family, with real things to do, that were helpful, even if I had to do a quick pass to clean up drips. I’d pass through, remind them to keep it even, to keep to their task. Mini-ion #2 would start to lose focus and paint other things, but I’d remind her what she was working on.
We all worked merrily for a while. In my head I’m thinking, “hey, even if they don’t do the job I would have done, they are doing their best and learning as they go. And this is pretty good for a six and four year old!”
I take a break from the ceiling to check in and saw that Mini-ion #2 was channeling Jackson Polluck on the walls and floor. As I’m grabbing her brush to try to even out the paint, she knocks her yogurt container of paint. I yell to pick it up, but she stares at me blankly, so I push past her to pick it up. I sternly tell her that she can’t paint this way. The situation heats up. She wants to do it her way (Jackson Polluck method), I want her to do it my way. She starts running away crying.
Worst mom ever.
As she’s running away, I call to her telling her I appreciated what work she did, it was good work and very helpful, but the damage was apparently done.
As I sit on the bottom of the steps, deflated, dear husband comes down. With the most disgusted look his face, he asks me if I’ve re-used the roller brush from priming, in which case I retort, “yes! I worked hard to clean it up!” without mentioning how it poured paint all over my face and hair.
I go back to my painting of the ceiling (after showing her Mini-ion #2’s masterpiece) and start to say to him, “hey, even if its not the best job……” when dear husband interrupts me with a lecture about how I can’t leave big globs of paint on the floor. You know, the big glob of paint that poured all over my shoes.
I instantly understand how Mini-ion #2 felt. I was just trying to do my best, and despite that, I get criticism. I end up finishing my sentence with, “……words can hurt.” And know that I need to make it right with Mini-ion #2.
She ends up coming back down and lets me hug her while I tell her I’m sorry. From very recent experience, I say, “its hard when you are trying really hard to help and someone comes in and tells you that you aren’t doing a very good job. It doesn’t make you feel very good. I’m sorry that I made you feel that way. You did a very good job painting around the outlets. I really appreciate the help you gave. I really appreciate you. Will you forgive me?”
I can’t get it all right, but at least I can fix it when I screw up. She did forgive me. We hugged it out and she left as, “painting isn’t that much fun.” I was relieved to be able to paint by myself.
And, completely unprovoked, dear husband did come down and say that I was doing a good job. We’re all trying the best we can, right?