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I’m a Mom Who Didn’t

I’m a mom who didn’t.

When my children were young, I felt like I was surrounded by amazing moms who did… with and for their kids.

But I was a mom who didn’t.

I didn’t craft with my children. When my older daughter had the chance to finger paint at preschool, she told her teacher, “Oh, no, my mom wouldn’t like it.” I quickly assured her that preschool was the perfect place for her to finger paint.

I didn’t cook with my kids. I’m a mess-averse control freak.

I didn’t let them have many sleepovers. Mostly I was afraid their friends wouldn’t have a good time.

I didn’t play “pretend” with my children. Honestly, I was more of a board game mom.

I didn’t do elaborate birthday parties. (I just… didn’t.)

And on it goes, my list of didn’ts.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with doing any of these. Not one bit. It might have been a very good idea for me to have done some of the things I didn’t do. My children probably would have been thrilled if I’d done any of them. I’m not saying I think other moms shouldn’t do them.

I’m just saying I didn’t do them.

I looked on as other moms created gorgeous scrapbooks for their kids and sent school lunches with fruits and vegetables and sandwiches cut into creative shapes, and I felt as though I should be doing those things. No one put that “should” on me, mind you. I put it on myself and felt mildly guilty for being an “I don’t” mom in those areas.

But I also knew myself.

I knew I had a low threshold for stress and busyness and, as an introvert, for social interactions away from home. Also I knew that when I felt overloaded, I got angry and yelled at my kids and generally acted like a crazy mom. I knew full well those out-of-control moods were going to upset my children far more than me telling them I wasn’t going to host a sleepover for them and ten of their closest friends.

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Instead, my girls honed their crafting skills at friends’ houses. They cooked with messy abandon in their grandparents’ kitchens. They played make-believe on their own without my assistance.

Every mom has to mother the best she can under a specific set of circumstances only she knows.

Every mom has to figure out what she can handle… and what that is may not be obvious from the outside looking in.

What I could handle, as it turned out, was cooking for my children, just not with them. I couldn’t handle sleepovers, but I did set up one-on-one playdates at the park. I didn’t do fancy birthday parties with my kids’ entire elementary classes on the guest list, but I did host themed parties for my girls and a few close family members. We didn’t have much in the way of craft supplies, but we did have lots of musical instruments and books.

And now that the children I didn’t craft with, didn’t cook with, and didn’t let have sleepovers are older, I have a prime view of how all my didn’ts turned out. This is one of the joys of having big kids: you finally get to read some of the later chapters in the story you’ve been writing.

For her 21st birthday “party,” my young adult daughter hosted a weekend-long sleepover at our house with her college suite mates.

Among other activities, they did a craft. They found the idea on Pinterest, made a shopping list, drove themselves to buy supplies, and finished the project before I even knew they had started the whole affair. Afterwards, I took a picture and oohed and aahed with genuine appreciation.

A couple weekends ago, my teenager had a rare full day at home and asked to spend it baking with me. She also asked if she could make dinner one night during the week. I bought the groceries while she was at school, enthusiastically ate the meal she prepared, and then went off to do something else while she cleaned up.

Both my children have forged lasting relationships with cherished friends. They’ll ask for family game nights. They are creative and know how to entertain themselves by themselves. They love coming home and being home.

This is a story worth reading.

I’m a big fan of this perspective from author and speaker Jill Briscoe: “There is an art of leaving things undone so that the greater thing can be done.” Loving our kids and building relationships with them is every mom’s “greater thing.” It’s just that how we do that greater thing looks different from one mom to the next.

Looking back on what I didn’t do, and looking in front of me at how that all turned out, shows me that just because another mom is doing something doesn’t mean I need to feel like I have to do it. And just because there’s something I didn’t do with my kids when they were little doesn’t mean I can’t do it with them now that they’re older—or that they won’t do it on their own while I buy supplies and take pictures.

For me, what I didn’t do gave me more time, energy, and patience to love my children the best I can, just like other moms are trying to do. I have enjoyed my children, cherished them, laughed with them, and cheered them on. I love spending time with them, talking—and listening—to them, and I want so much joy and purpose for their lives.

These are my greater things. For all my “I didn’ts,” these are my “I dids.” Given the chance, these are the things I will gladly and gratefully keep doing. And fortunately for me, there are no craft supplies required.

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.

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