Updated: Nov 23, 2019
I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life while stuck in traffic in Atlanta (if you've ever been in the ATL, you know what a soul-crushing experience that is), leaving a theme park with two overtired, crying kids in the back seat.
My youngest son at the time had just turned three years old, and instead of a party, we spent the day at 6 Flags to celebrate. He was finally old enough to ride some of the cool mini roller coasters, and there was a whole section dedicated to his favorite character of all time - BATMAN.
I was feeling really good about myself and how successful the experience had been when my oldest son had a complete meltdown, which led to the other one having his own meltdown, because I wouldn't stop at Chuck E Cheese on the way home. That's right. We were leaving a theme park where we'd spent the day eating sugar and having thrilling experiences, and my kids were crying because Mean Ol' Mommy wouldn't take them to a rat's arcade for dinner.
"IS NOTHING ENOUGH FOR Y'ALL?" I'm sure I yelled something to that effect.
That's how most of us feel, especially as parents. You can say yes to everything you child asks for at the grocery store, but she'll still pout when you don't have a quarter for the gumball machine. Let your son have ice cream for dinner but refuse to let him stay up past bedtime, and you're the worst. Thanks for buying me a hoverboard and a pony for Christmas, Dad, but where' the Spider-Man shirt I asked for?
It's exhausting and discouraging. But here's the secret, here's the lesson I've learned. It's also very liberating.
Once you realize that nothing you do will ever be "enough," because kids (and some adults, to be honest) are programmed to push boundaries and to always want more, you're forced to realize that your relationships are not about what you do or buy or give, they're about who you are to that other person.
You will never do enough maybe, but you ARE enough.
Yes, there's something to be said for teaching your kids gratitude and not letting them be brats. Yes, of course, actions speak louder than words. Those are not the things I'm talking about here.
I'm talking about realizing that you cannot buy a child's love, either with monetary gifts or with letting them get away with things. Which means you don't have to feel guilty when you say no to something.
I don't know about anyone else, but for me, at least, I got into the habit of "giving in" and saying "yes" to things against my better judgment because I hoped it would make them appreciate me more (or for way worse reasons like how for a while there, I thought I was in a twisted competition with my ex-husband, but that's a whole other story that I'm too embarrassed to talk about right now), and I usually ended up with my feelings hurt.
Guess what? Kids don't give a fuck. Even if they're really smart, well-behaved little angels - they will always want more, and they are born to test limits. It is not a reflection of you as a person or your financial status or your relationship with the child.
No one will ever be able to live up to the role you play for your child. Letting your son crawl into your lap while you read a bedtime story, that's about you being a source of comfort and security. Showing your daughter how to fish, that's about teaching her and bonding with her over a shared skill.
You are a provider, a shelter, a safe place. You are their favorite audience member. You are the balm for every boo-boo, a light when things are darkest, a hero when things are scary, an advocate, a cheerleader, a happy place. You are pure magic.
And you are already enough.
By the way, when I asked my son what his favorite part of 6 Flags was, he straight-faced told me, "that really big leaf I found there."