If you are anything like me, you more than likely saw the title of this post and thought, “I’d like to be invisible sometimes!” Being invisible as a mom is next to impossible. We are almost always the default parent, even when our spouses do their fair share (which mine does), and we can’t even go to the bathroom alone. Being invisible to our children for just enough time to drink a cup of coffee in peace seems like a dream.
If you hoped that this post would teach you how to find those moments, I am sorry to disappoint you. That’s not the invisibility I am talking about. That stealth seems strangely reserved for the fathers whom children manage to walk right past on their way to demand a snack of mom.
No, the invisibility I am talking about is the invisibility that happens when you become an ever-present, ever necessary part of your family’s lives, to the point where they never really see you or all the things you do for them on a daily basis.
They might know their clothes are washed and put away; they more than likely witness you sorting, washing and folding the laundry, but they don’t appreciate it – they just complain when the favorite shirt they wore yesterday isn’t clean yet.
They might eat all of the snacks in the house that you made sure were available; they might have enough presence of mind to tell you to put something on the grocery list; they might even thank you for a particularly tasty dinner, but they are also quick to complain to mom that there is “nothing” to eat in the house or that they don’t like the meal you planned and cooked.
They constantly ask you to share your food, they always want their choice when it comes to car music or TV programming, and restaurant choices are entirely dependent upon whether or not mac and cheese is on the menu.
In short, children believe the world revolves around them, and mom’s role is to make sure it does through hard work and sacrifice. She’s not actually a person.
I knew when I decided to become a parent that children could be selfish and demanding, and it’s my job to teach them to be observant, patient, and respectful. I have done this by making my children wait for something when they ask for it right after I sit down. I have done this by pointing out to my children the actions I am taking or have to take before they can get what they want (I will help you when I am finished washing these dishes). I have done this by suggesting different ways for my children to talk about their needs (Instead of saying, “Mommy, you forgot my apple juice,” when I am running around the kitchen making everyone something different for breakfast and anxiously listening for the beep that indicates that the coffee has finished brewing, just say, “Mommy, I asked for apple juice.”) I have always been bothered by my seeming invisibility, but I have also always tried to remind myself that it is my job to teach them not only to see me but to see others as well. And though I have certainly not always handled situations with calm and fineness, I have worked hard to try to explain to my children, on their level, why they must observe what others are doing, be patient, choose their words wisely, and accept no as an answer.
Then the quarantine happened.
After nine weeks at home with my family all day, every day (and staring two months of summer in the face), my patience and understanding have started to fray, and I feel myself starting to snap.
I just can’t take the invisibility anymore.
Maybe it is the fact that we are having to have the same conversations over and over again, and I’m not seeing my children change their behavior. Maybe it’s the fact that I hate cooking and am now having to cook and clean up three meals a day, plus all the snacks. Maybe it’s the fact that my children’s attention span is about 20 minutes, and I’m just so tired of having to constantly shift gears, fight with them to clean up messes, and throw away markers because the caps have been left off –again. Maybe it’s the fact that my husband has returned to work, so it’s just me, all day. Maybe it’s the fact that the move we had planned for April is now happening a month late, in the middle of a pandemic, and during the same week I am asking my online students to submit their final exams. Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t had true ME time in over two months.
Whatever the cause, my less than subtle cry to be seen by my children for all the things that I do has manifested itself through all the words and actions that “good moms” aren’t supposed to use. This mama has thrown a tantrum (or two). This mama has yelled, “What the [heck] do you think I’m doing?!” when my children implied that I was not getting things for them fast enough. This mama has cried, “please shut up and let me think!” when my children have asked a 100 questions while I was clearly trying to grade essays. This mama has said “no,” without following up the answer with a task that must first be completed or a reason why it can’t be done, simply a “no” because I don’t feel like it. This mama has refused to play and buried herself in her phone or a book because she just needs a few minutes to tune out. This mama has yelled at instead of talked to.
I fully realize that these are far from the best ways to handle such frustrating situations, and I have certainly felt almost instantaneous guilt each time I have yelled in anger and frustration, but I am not, as my children seem to believe, an invisible force who makes the world go round. I am, in fact, a flesh and blood human who has physical and emotional limits. Just as children need positive reinforcement to encourage them to learn something new and adopt good habits, sometimes moms need words and actions that tell us we are seen. I don’t expect my 3-year-old to thank me for doing the dishes or my 7-year-old to clean the playroom without being asked, but asking their dad for help when he is available, noticing when I am busy and waiting patiently, or (Please, Lord!) actually listening to me the first time I ask, are all things that would tell me that my efforts to raise good humans are not completely futile and that they recognize mom is a person, too.