Parenting Philosophies: You’ll Always Let Someone Down Edition

Roan for Farmacy/Clementine Events photo shoot. Photograph by Kristina Hill

My seven-year-old son, Roan has to be one of the most even-tempered, balanced and good-natured creatures that has ever walked this earth.  I’m not bragging, it has nothing to do with me.  He was born with a certain ease and happiness, and it has carried him through his life.  He is not terribly competitive, and has mused to me that he is really good at sports but doesn’t enjoy them because he doesn’t care if he wins.  Moreover, he doesn’t like to see his friends lose.  That is a conundrum for a would-be athlete.  Once in a while you can see a flame burst up when an injustice is perceived by him, but overall, this kid is pretty zen.

So on Sunday night, as I was lying in his bed singing the same seven songs we always sing at bedtime, I heard a sniffle.  Then a bit of a whimper.  I stopped singing and asked if he was crying.  He at first said no, but then said yes.  Obviously I asked him why, and my son had no answer other than saying he just felt sad.  I started giving him other words, trying to offer vocabulary to help him describe it to me but nothing fit.  Sad.  Roan was just sad, and there was no impetus, there was not an event or a person or anything at all that he would or could name to let me in on why.  So I gathered him up in my arms, which is a huge feat because Roan is a giant and is not much smaller than me.  But I held onto him tight and told him to just go for it and he did.  He sobbed for a while then said he felt better and then he fell asleep.

And obviously it was my fault.  And obviously I needed an industrial-grade vacuum cleaner to pick up all the pieces of my heart that broke all over the room.

Roan for Farmacy/Clementine Events photo shoot. Photograph by Kristina Hill

I walked out and needed to hear these things:

  1. Sometimes we all feel sad, and Roan is human and so sometimes he’s just going to feel sad.
  2. It is not my fault.  Has nothing to do with the time that has been subtracted from him and added to his brother’s lives.
  3. It’s actually a credit to me that he trusted me with his vulnerable feelings.

I went to Anson and described the scene, to which he said, “Wow.  He’s really feeling it – you not being so focused on him.  What a big change for him.  So much attention goes to Shep and Smitty, and Roan sometimes just sits at the table….alone….”

So Anson’s score for the evening was exactly 0 – 3.

I turned on my “Please stop talking” face and suggested as nicely as I could that we should watch TV and not say any more words to each other.  Starting now.  Right now.  Boo hoo for me.

Monday morning rolled around and Roan had a cough and I said stay home from school, little guy.  He lit right up and I told him we were going to relax and watch a lot of TV and just hang out.  I spent the day attention-intensive on Roan, and on auto-pilot for the twins.  Everyone went to bed feeling happy – except me.  I felt a little guilty – I hadn’t coaxed enough smiles or stimulated these babies enough.

In relating this story to a girlfriend of mine she told me the secret of having three children: you will always be letting somebody down. Just try to pass it around.  Don’t let the same person down over and over, and you are a successful parent.  Who knew?

Roan for Farmacy/Clementine Events photo shoot. Photo: Mark Feigenbaum

I suppose that’s the truth.  If I’m totally honest here – I have to admit that I do miss the days where I could put all of my energy into Roan, and I could go to bed knowing that I’d done my best and had been a good parent to my child.  It wasn’t every night that I felt like that – there were plenty of times where I felt like I’d blown it.  But now those times are more frequent and it’s harder to make it up to him – especially when I’m not sure what it is I’m trying to make up for.  But as I said in the beginning – I’m fortunate to have a happy child who is actually just built that way.  He is perfectly fine, I know.  It won’t stop me from trying to do some special things for him though.  Like this weekend – we’re going to try to get a babysitter for the twins, and Anson and I will take Roan to a fancy dinner, just the three of us.  We will get dressed up and I’ve promised Roan I will wear high-heels which is basically all he wants from me anyway.  My son is more than a little disappointed with my resistance to being more fancy.

How about you?  Is it true – with more than one kid, we’re destined to be disappointing someone almost all the time?  This parenting thing – not as easy as one might think.  Help me out.  Commiserate.  Get a better score than Anson.

17 thoughts on “Parenting Philosophies: You’ll Always Let Someone Down Edition

  1. It’s true…we’re always going to be letting someone down. I love the advice of your friend. Just make sure you spread it around. Sometimes in my life, it’s the 17 year old who feels shortchanged. Sometimes, it’s the 14 year old who feels left out. And sometimes it’s the 12 year old feeling like not enough attention is coming her way. It’s a juggling act, but if the days they feel the glow of love and attention on them outnumber the days they’re not feelin’ it so much, then the glow is what they’ll remember. That’s the success, even when it doesn’t feel like it to us.

  2. I have no answer, due to my single child, which, if I’m always honest like I should be, was never what I wanted to begin with. I wish I had your heartache, as silly as it sounds.

    It is important to take the time to focus on everyone, just one on one. Even with my lone child, I need to take time and just be with him. He needs that quality time with me, even when he is the sole focus of most everything I do. And even staring down his 17th birthday (wait…. wtf? Ack. Even when I say it out loud it still sounds crazy) it doesn’t mean that I can let up in the attention department. In many ways, I think he needs me a lot more now that he’s learning how to let go.

  3. Oh Jodi. I have wondered how hard it must be to spread yourself to all three kids. A couple things I know…one, you are a genuine and amazing mom and your children will always know of your love for them. Two, I actually think part of building character and confidence in ourselves in through the things we don’t get. Does that make sense? You will always be able to give your little ones enough (remember “the good enough parent”) and the times you can’t be their everything, they will learn to be that to themselves. Which is valuable in and of itself. BTW: I can’t believe how similar Roan and Isaac are when I read your posts. I just laughed my head off because Isaac begs me to wear high heels (which I don’t own) and is quite unimpressed that I don’t wear jewelry and paint my nails.

  4. Big ole hugs to you, Mama. Here’s what’s awesome about this situation: Roan trusts you enough to show you how he feels. He is close enough to you to feel the change with two littles around. You are aware and in tune enough to make sure he knows he was heard and you are changing your focus as he needs. The twins don’t know they didn’t get every ounce of you that day (and when they are able to recognize it, they will trust you enough to let you help). It’s a vicious circle and all you can do is give the focus where it’s needed most at that time and continue to love, love, love. It’s a delicate, impossible balance.

  5. Wow, thanks for the great post. I’m a mom to 3 also, and my 4 yo middle child has been acting out, I’m sure due to the lack of attention from me. Not only do we have the baby, but we have a ranch, so I’m frequently running out the door checking for new baby goats, milking the cows, etc. I’ve been trying to give her more positive attention lately, but you’re right, you will always let someone down.

  6. I agree with many things both you and other moms post, but think there is something else to consider. First – I’m sure I’m not alone with having those “I just want to be a baby and have my every need taken care of” moments – and I’m 40+ !!! These are especially frequent when I’m sick or overloaded, and yeah, I even cry to my mom still, and it still makes me feel better. Even an only child will have these moments…and for me, when my kids cry to me its something equivilent to a gold star of trust. Also, even if Roan is sharing his time with you, I don’t think that counts as less. He is gaining a different role, a new experience…instead of perpetual child, he now gets to be helper and confidant, as well as managing on his own. I think we forget to count independence as an achievement in our kids…since we never want a time where they don’t need us…but (refer to point 1) when you’re a good mom, there is NEVER a time they don’t need you…but like my supermom, most of her advice comes to me in my head remembered.

  7. I only have two, but I have massive guilt as well. Vicki Iovine said, in her Girlfriend’s Guide, that when you have a choice between loving on the newborn and loving on the older child, pick the older child, bc he will notice the lack of attention more than the newborn. I guess that’s an ok rule of thumb, though of course you can’t always neglect the babies.

    I had way less time with my oldest than you – Jack was 26 months when liam was born. The plus to this is that he will never remember time when it was just us – and that’s also the minus as well. I think Roan has such a special gift – the life he had, for so many years, when he was your one and only. It’s over, and it’s ok to mourn that – it’s ok for both of you to mourn that, just like I’m sure you (and we all) mourned the end of our childless days . . . the end of our single days . . . etc. etc. I, like everyone else, am impressed that he is mourning that end in your presence, and with your permission. You’re doing it right, mama, day in and day out.

  8. Oh, how my heart broke reading this. I know when my son tells me he’s said (he’s three), I physically feel the pain. And I felt that again reading about Roan and you. I have no words of advice or wisdom, except that you’re being the best you that you can be and that’s what your children need from you.

  9. Dear Jodi,

    I can only speak as the mother of an only child so I hope this applies. Every day, every hour, every minute I live for my son, Otto and think of him and how he benefits in many ways. All our attention is always shining right into his beautiful blues eyes and that is how it is. But with all that attention and focus comes the hidden worry that I have not given him everything, namely, let him down by not having more children. All of his friends have siblings and Otto lavishes attention on the babies like they were his own. And as much as I tell myself that I feel great about our decision to be singletons, and mostly I do, those heartbreakingly cute moments always crack one of my ventricles a bit.

    Otto has cried for no reason a few times and both times, looked at me with puppy pitiful eyes and told me that he is simply, “Just sad.” I can’t help but think that I can make a fart sound or give him a Matchbox car or an M&M or another baby to cure that sadness.

    But that sad happens for so many reasons and sometimes, no reason at all. As far as Roan is concerned you gave him life, you give him love and you give him respect and for that you have never and will never let him down. Kids are smaller, more complicated versions of us. They will tell us what they need but when they don’t know, they will be left wondering and wanting an answer, just like us, except without credit card debt or scathing fashion insecurities.

    You are a mother to be reckoned with and a shining example of great parenting filled with Fonzi cool. Give yourself a break and know that all the kiddies will have their moments of sadness and joy and most of the time it will have very little to do with us. You are the vessel that has taught all your children to feel and live. Keep giving them your all and the rest is up to them. Those wings you told me about are not only made of feathers and fierceness, they are covered in tears and laughter and love.



  10. I only have one child, but am a twin and had an older brother too. If it is any consolation, I don’t remember my folks being unequal in their love for us (well, I do remember one time when my dad took my sister on a day trip w/o me….). We grew up knowing mom and dad would never have enough time for us, that as siblings, we would provide to each other the missing attention.

  11. I don’t know yet. Lo is only 2 months old now, but I look at my oldest (4y) and I feel that break and her want to be independent but needing me and I find myself reminding her that I am still her mommy that loves her. Maybe that reminder is more for my self. I don’t know how to find that balance, but it helps so much to read your eloquent words about that break and balance, and that it just might not be there, that equality we expect to find. I ache for my good days with her, too, and look forward to my girls having their relationship. I don’t know, and I’m really struggling too. She was so sick today with an ear infection, and I felt that need to devote to her just as you felt Roan’s call. I am going to go cry now. But not until I thank you for your words. Cheers.

  12. I have a 10 (almost 11 yo) son and 2 girls ages almost 3 and 15 months. My son was 8 when his first sister was born and it was a fun adjustment for him because he loved to spend time on the floor playing with his sister. He started curling up on my lap a lot more that year. After our 3rd child was born he did it even more. He learned that if he wanted some time with me that he could just curl up to me and I would spend time with him. Do I feel guilty that he has to take that step? Of course. I feel that I have always taught him to go after something that he wants. I warned him before each of the girls came that they were going to demand a lot of attention. I told him that if he ever felt that he was missing my attention and needed it he should just come curl up to me. Luckily it seems to be what works for us. I know how he doesn’t like to talk about his feelings so curling up to me lets me know without him needing to say it that he wants my attention.

    My advice is for you to find what works for you and Roan. What works for other people may not work for you and Roan. Try different things until you find your solution or talk to Roan about it and let him come up with his own solution. It’s always amazing what kids come up with if you give them time and trust to think about a problem. Not only do you get something that works for them but they feel valued that you trusted them to come up with a solution instead of just demanding that they do it your way.

  13. As the Mom of four ( ! ) I feel your pain. The only thing I can say is how awesome is it that your boy can come and tell you when he needs a little extra from you? That’s the sign of doing lots of things right. So – to echo everyone else – spread it around – and ask Roan what would make him feel better. It might be that he knows – he just doesn’t know he knows.

    Hang in there. You’re a great Mom!

  14. I am a mother of 3 and feel guilt all the time. There is no way to avoid it. My philosophy is, at the end of the day these children are loved in an unimaginable way. All successes and mistakes made are resulting from that love and wanting what is best for them. THAT is the feeling I want them to carry through life. This is the remonder that gives me peace when I realize that I haven’t been the perfect parent I wanted to be to each child on a given day. At the end of the day they are loved.

  15. AMAZING photos………just AMAZING! His eyes tell such a story……they “sing” , they “sparkle”, and that is nothing a lens or the right lighting can do. He is a gift. He knows you love him. Kids know love and they feel the connection even when it is not always engaged. He is a smart little guy, he knows you love him… are probably going thru more emotion that he; you have the hubby, the three babies (okay….sometimes you could say four babies 🙂 and the laundry, cooking, cleaning oh…then there is you…….lots to juggle and many to please. Dont be too hard on yourself……U r only one woman….but sounds like a pretty fancy one. Have fun in the shoes!

  16. I broke down crying for my first born child when I saw him stuggling for attention after we brought home his little sister. My mom looked at me and said ” You are the oldest of four children. What if I had never given you the gift of siblings?” Suddenly everything gained perspective. Now that I am pregnant for a third time I know it will be a struggle to maintain balance, but I am trying to build a happy, close family and that means all of us loving eachother and growing up together. I am so thankful for my sister and best friend, and my younger brothers were like my first “children” and are now some of my closest friends. Spread the love. . . although that family on t.v. with sixteen kids . . . that’s crazy. Those kids must be raising eachother. also Jodi, love love love your blog !

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