Life with a Smile: Kids’ neediness stems from love

Published 1:01 pm Monday, March 13, 2017

By Kate Snyder

Contributing writer

The hardest part of single parenting for me is that, when my kids are with me, I’m the sole object of their bottomless need. Children demand every ounce of self that you have to give ­— and then some — and at times I feel like I’m being crushed under the weight of their neediness.

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It’s a Tuesday night and I’m trying to make dinner. Nothing fancy — beef stir fry and rice — but preparation is complicated by the constant stream of interruptions. My oldest daughter is working on a sewing project on the couch in the living room and she needs me to thread her needle. “Mom! Mom! Mom!” My son is working on his spelling homework, writing sentences using this week’s list, and needs to know how to spell crocodile. “Mom! Mom! Mom!” My youngest child has decided she’s going to create fuse bead art, using teeny tiny plastic beads, and she needs help aligning them correctly. “Mom! Mom! Mom!”

Kids aren’t patient. It’s not how they’re wired. When they want or need something, it’s always an emergency. I’ve been trying, mostly in vain, to train my children to give me at least a synopsis of what they want when they holler for me instead of just shouting — “I need you! Come here!”  I’ve got to triage those requests, as they range in urgency from “There’s a spider!! Kill it!!” to “I’ve spilled a carton of orange juice on the floor!” to “Look at how beautiful my handwriting is!” They don’t differentiate between those scenarios. Every single request is critical in the eyes of a child.

I chose to have my children close together — three kids in four and a half years — but sometimes I can’t quite remember why. I know it seemed like a good idea at the time when my husband and I were dreaming about our future family. Something about them being good friends as they grew older, I think. Ah, but will they live to be older if they keep shrieking at me while I’m trying to take a shower?  These are the questions we never considered back when we were well-rested newlyweds.

Closely-spaced children mean extra needs. None of my kids can cut their own pork chops at dinner. Lunch-packing and tooth-brushing and hair-combing all require assistance to some degree, although my oldest does a fabulous job of getting shoes onto the feet of her younger sister and I give thanks regularly for such small mercies.

My kids are needy, but I know that the weight of their need is equal to the size of their love. And on those rare occasions I manage to perfect the juggling act, the results can be profound. I’ll color with my 3-year-old while the older kids shower and finish homework. I marvel at her dexterity while smiling at her abstract renditions of our family — “That’s you mommy!” She needs me to exclaim over her purple trees and alien self-portraits. And I need to hear her giggle and see her brow furrow in concentration as she carefully prints her name in bold, off-kilter letters.

Sometimes the girls will bathe together — filling the tub with suds and Barbie dolls — and I’ll steal a few minutes with my ever-active son. He needs me to shoot Nerf arrows at his bedroom wall and to watch him demonstrate his newly-invented martial arts moves. When I tuck him in, he needs me to scratch his back and sing to him, and I need to hear the news of the day that comes pouring out of his sleepy soul as he finally slows down.

My oldest child actually needs with the greatest intensity. She craves one-on-one attention and needs me to look through every single piece of paper she brings home, to sit next to her while she finger knits or to play a quick game of cards before bed. She needs to bask in my undiluted attention and I need a few minutes to remind myself of how fast she’s growing up.

There’s a popular song by Christian musician Matt Maher whose refrain is — “Lord, I need You, oh, I need You. Every hour I need you.” Although addressed to the almighty, the song could clearly have been written as an ode to the mothers of the world. “Mom, I need you, oh I need you. Every second I need you.” But there’s a holiness to both kinds of need, isn’t there? A beautiful vulnerability and a sacred yearning for connection.

My kids need me. Incessantly, unendingly and with a desperation that sometimes threatens to overwhelm me. But I need them just as deeply.

We’re a tangled up jumble of hearts and souls, bound together by love and glitter glue and knotted shoe laces. We’re a family.