The day you become a parent, there's a dramatic shift in your priorities. There's suddenly this little thing that you're responsible for. Whether you've given birth or adopted an infant, your main goal in life is to keep the freakin' baby alive. It's almost like a time management video game: feed the baby, burp the baby, change the baby, write down how many times it's pooped and peed, bathe the baby, clothe the baby, get the baby to sleep. Somewhere in there, you have to try to get some rest and food for yourself, and maybe even a shower. If you've launched the baby from your loins, it's complicated by trying to heal the damage your beloved little monster just did to your body.
It's only a little similar, I suppose, for people who've adopted an older child. There are different complications, and I don't want to minimize the new difficulties of that journey. It's just something of which I know very little, so I'm limiting my focus (as usual) to what I mostly know.
For weeks and months and even years, my parental focus was on keeping the babies alive. As they got older, the fear of their starving to death was replaced by all kinds of other fears: strangers, car accidents, asteroids exploding into my house. I quickly learned that maternal instinct is just a fancy term for paranoia. A mild SSRI helped to mitigate the anxieties of parenting when my elder son was a baby, and it was a crutch I leaned heavily upon for nearly ten years.
This is also not a post about anti-depressants or prescription drug use. That was a path I needed to take for my sake and my child's, and I don't regret it at all. I eventually came to the end of that path and needed to make a turn away from that daily dose. If you're someone whose living is made better through chemistry, more power to you—do whatcha gotta do to get through.
But eventually the process of raising the children shifted, very gradually, away from providing for their every need. The boys are old enough now that they can get their own drinks and snacks. They can be helpful citizens of the household. They can take care of themselves for short periods of time. Neither they nor I require the constant watchful eye of Mom.
My goal now is to raise them to be happy, self-sufficient young men. That was always the ultimate goal of being a parent, but it becomes more and more evident with each advancing day. They are just a few, short years from jumping out of this nest, and I have to make sure they're capable of maintaining themselves in their world.
Right now, I'm teaching them how to clean and cook and do laundry.
Like most kids, they hate chores, in general. Each of them has things they like to do in specific. My younger son loves to vacuum. Santa brought a real vacuum a couple of years ago instead of a toy one. The same son saved up some money and bought himself a rechargeable, battery-operated leaf blower. I try to persuade him to use his tools for good and not evil, but he still sometimes likes to taunt the cat with the DustBuster.
"I'll just buy new clothes when I need them," they argue.
"That will be expensive," I reply.
"But what's the cost difference in a washer and dryer and water and electricity, versus new underwear?"
They also asked if it was feasible to only ever eat off of paper plates. We talked through the ecological pros and cons of reusable dinnerware.
When I've had enough of their moaning and eyerolling, I have to patiently remind myself that I have a responsibility to them (and the world at large) to make sure they can take care of themselves. I know too many young men who went off to college or their first apartments with absolutely no idea how to load a dishwasher or do their own laundry. One guy I used to know was convinced until he was twelve that there was a laundry fairy who just magically washed and dried and folded his clothes, placing them neatly on his bed in pre-sorted piles.
I don't want their days to be nothing but mandated housework, but these are skills they have to learn sometime. And it's up to me to teach them. Sometimes it's fun—teaching them to cook, for instance—and sometimes it totally sucks—teaching them to load the dishwasher in a neatly-efficient manner.
I try to temper their complaining and resistance with normal kid fun. They are still children, after all. But they'll only be these sweet, funny, little boys for a relatively short period of their lives. So it's okay if they play video games or watch cartoons between loads of laundry. It's fun to bake cupcakes or play board games to the rhythmic turning of the dryer drum.
They may never thank me for taking the time to teach them these basic skills, but I know they'll eventually appreciate knowing how to do these things for themselves. And I'm betting their life partners will be appreciative of it, too.