To Coddle or To Cuddle — That Is The Question

By E.J. Gordon

I sat at the kids’ gymnastics class, biding my time until class was over. At my little table there were two other women. One of them was a nanny, who clearly cares dearly for her charge, a five-year-old boy who has to wait with her while his older sister is in class. The little boy said, “Nanny,” because that’s what he calls her, “will you come with me to the bathroom?”

“No,” she replied. “You’re a big boy. You go by yourself and wash your hands.”

“Please! Please! Please! Take me, Nanny! I don’t want to go alone.”

M’ijo, you need to go by yourself!”

They went back and forth like this until the kid was in full-out hysterics, which was when she put him in a time-out.

She turned to the other woman she was sitting with and said, “It breaks my heart, but he has to learn.”

She then grabbed her phone and responded to her texts and phone calls while the kid cried in the corner.

Suddenly, my daughter came out of class and says, “Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom. Will you come with me?”

I went with her and helped her wash her hands, even though she was quite capable of doing it herself.

My husband would tell me I was wrong by taking her, that I should have been like the nanny. He says I baby all of our kids. He was the one who made our son finally give up his bottle at almost two years old; he was the one who said it was time to get our kids out of their pull-ups; and he was the one who makes them get up and get their own Kleenex and their own water.

And sometimes I think he’s right, like when he makes them get their own shit, because being a servant to my children isn’t one of my hopes and dreams.

But sometimes I have to say to him things like, “You know, she’ll be out of the pull-up by the time she’s walking down the aisle at her wedding – this won’t go on indefinitely.”

And I always insist that there’s a difference between cuddling with your kids and coddling them.

The other night my husband offered to put the kids to bed because he could see that I still had a lot of housework to do, and he wanted to give me a hand. He also hadn’t seen them all day, so putting them to bed was preferable to him than doing the dishes. I happily let him. But as soon as he was done, my girls called me up for “cuddle time”.

I went upstairs to lie down with my daughters and sing them the lullabies I sing them every night that I’m home. My husband stuck his head in the room and said, “They don’t have to cuddle with you. I already cuddled with them. You can say ‘no’.” And honestly, he’s trying to help me because he knows I won’t go to bed until every dish is done, and all toys put away.

I try to explain to him why I cuddle with the kids, even though I have stuff to do, and even though he can be the one cuddling with them. And it’s the same explanation I use every time I do anything that allow them to lean on me longer than they really need to:

One of these days we’ll be going to bed before our children. They’ll be locking their doors. They’ll get annoyed if we don’t knock before we walk in. They’ll slam doors in our faces and complain that we’re ruining their lives. They’ll hide their diaries and put passwords on their computers. They’ll tell us everything is fine when it’s not. They’ll lie to our faces about who they were with and what they were doing, whether or not they drank or made out or ignored their childhood friends that they feel they are outgrowing.

So I’m going to lay with my just-turned seven year old and scratch her back and sing her the lullaby that has been tattooed on my brain. I’m going to tell her what we’re doing tomorrow from sun up to sun down. And then I’m going to tuck her in 52 times, even though I’m so tired and want to strangle her. But she wants me to give her one last kiss and tell me she loves me one more time, and I tell myself to do it because we can’t go backwards.

Yesterday I was cleaning off the dinner table getting ready for our homework routine, telling all the kids to, “Hurry! Hurry! Get your folders and your books. Let’s go! Let’s go!”

It had been raining all afternoon, and my little thumbsucker yelled, “Mom, the sun’s out! And it’s still raining! Let’s go see if there’s a rainbow!”

I had to stop myself from saying, “No! It’s homework time!”

I never want to be the person who is too caught up on homework and cleaning and getting to the next step, so caught up that I completely miss the rainbow.

And I never want to get so sucked into my fatigue and my To-Do list that I miss a cuddle or a hug because like the rainbow, the time they want my hugs is only here for a short while, and then it vanishes. In fact, just the other day my 10-yyear-old son told me I was no longer allowed to kiss or hug him in front of his friends.

For her seventh birthday last week, my daughter was given a very sparkly diary. I asked her if she wanted to return it, because, frankly, she can’t really write yet. She said, “No, I love diaries!” Later that night she asked me to help her lock it, and she said, “Now don’t look in here, Mom, because I wrote private stuff about you, and I don’t want you to see it!”

I thought to myself, “Crap, she’s only seven and already venting about me in her diary,” which would have been really impressive, knowing that she could only write a few words. I’d figured that perhaps she saw on one of her Nick shows that big girls write stuff about their mothers in their diaries. “Ugh,” I’d thought. “It’s starting already!”

Now don’t tell anyone this, but after she’d gone to sleep, I broke a huge Mommy Rule. My curiosity got the best of me, and I just had to see what she possibly could be saying about me. Was it that I packed her too many grapes at lunch? Was it that I brushed her hair too hard? Was it that I embarrassed her with my jamming out to Katy Perry’s new and fabulous song, “Roar”? So I took the cheap key and opened it up. Page after page all it read was, “I LOVE MOM. LOVE MOM. MOMMY LOVE.” So I’m going to make this the last time I’ll ever read her diary, and just assume that in the next 10 years, that’s all her diary will ever say.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois.  She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.  Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice. 

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